-by Rev Timothy Norris, pastor of St. Paul in Ham Lake, MN, delivered at Sunday Mass, Oct. 27, 2013
“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” In my homily today I would like to talk to you about the very difficult and painful subject of the clergy sexual abuse scandal which is once again very much in the news here locally as a result of the recent investigative reports conducted by Minnesota Public Radio news into some recent cases of actual and alleged sexual misconduct by some priests of our archdiocese, and allegations of how archdiocesan officials may have mishandled their response to these events.
I hope that what I say here does not add to the pain or alienation that anyone here may be feeling; rather, my aim is to search for hope and healing, as difficult as that may seem given the present circumstances.
First and foremost, I want to apologize to all victims of sexual misconduct by priests or other members of the clergy, and to their families and loved ones.
I know the shame and anguish I feel as a member of the Church and of the clergy that you have been subjected to such a horrific betrayal of trust, and I can only imagine the depths of your suffering. I want to apologize also for the many failures of our Church leadership and others who have left you feeling doubly victimized by their failure to prevent the abuse or to acknowledge their mistakes and to seek to make amends.
I hope and pray that you can find healing. And, if there is any way that I can be of assistance in that healing, I would be glad to help you to the extent that I am able.
We are all sinners
Secondly, I must acknowledge and confess that I, too, am a sinner, and that I am very sorry for all of the ways that I have failed in thought, word and deed to reflect the purity and love of our Lord Jesus Christ in my priestly ministry and life. I ask forgiveness from God and from all of you. “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Pope Francis was asked in a recent interview that received much publicity, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” And, his response was, “I am a sinner . . . . I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
He then goes on to explain using the image of a famous painting known as the calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio (above): “That finger of Jesus pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew. It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff. I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”
St. Matthew was a publican, a tax collector. In the Gospel reading today, Jesus uses the simple prayer of another publican, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” to point out an awful truth: That no matter how self-righteous and holy we think we might be, we are all just sinners.
Archbishop Nienstedt in his column this week in The Catholic Spirit acknowledges that, in regard to the efforts to prevent and address clergy misconduct during this past decade, “serious mistakes have been made. . . . There is reason to question whether or not the policies and procedures were uniformly followed. There is also a question as to the prudence of the judgments that have been made.”
Now, we who look at those failures from the outside may be tempted to scoff and judge like the Pharisee: “Thank God I am not like those jerks — more interested in their own reputations and protecting the image of the Church and pedophile priests than they are in protecting children.”
But, in all honesty, have we ever tried to put ourselves in their place? Hindsight is always 20/20. But are we really so certain that we might not make the same mistakes or misjudgments, whether out of ignorance, fear and cowardice, pride or ambition?
We might think, “Thank God I am not like those pedophile priests.” But how many of us struggle with lustful inclinations, viewing adult pornography, masturbation, pre-marital sex, infidelity, etc.? Do those things make us a danger to be around children?
We think, ‘But I would never harm a child.’ Yet, how many of us have ever come close, losing our temper with the kids perhaps? Our society is rightly intolerant of child sexual abuse, but why do so many in our society champion the right for a child’s life to be extinguished before it has even been born?
I mention these things not to make excuses for or downplay the gravity of the offenses of pedophile clergy, or Church leaders who fail to protect the young and vulnerable. Those offenses are rightly to be condemned, and they need to be corrected.
Rather, the thing that I want to point out is that there, but for the grace of God, go I. Sin is a universal human condition. Nobody can say, “Thank God I am not like the rest of humanity,’’ because we are all sinners.
I am a sinner. Archbishop Nienstedt is a sinner. Pope Francis is a sinner. We are all sinners. And, we come to the Church as sinners in search of mercy and redemption. The scandal of clergy sexual abuse is the problem of how the Church is at the same time holy and yet sinful in its members. It is a problem that has existed ever since the Church began.
Now, I have spent much time in prayer and reflection this week agonizing over this problem, at times almost to the point of despair. The contradiction between the holiness of the priest who is called to serve and love the Church in the image of Christ the Good Shepherd, and the priest who betrays that trust by abusing a child is so great that it boggles the mind.
How is this possible?
Why can this happen?
Why doesn’t anybody stop it?
It has been announced that next year Pope John Paul II will be canonized a saint. Some critics claim that Pope John Paul II should not be canonized because they think he did not do enough to address the problem of clergy sexual abuse. But let me suggest for a moment that I think the scandal goes even higher up than the pope.
Well, who is higher up than the pope? Let me suggest that the scandal started with Jesus. It sounds blasphemous. But hear me out.
Who after all was responsible for appointing the first pope and bishops in the Church? Was it not Jesus when he chose the Twelve Apostles?
Why did he choose men like Peter, who tried to turn down the job by saying, “Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man,” or like doubting Thomas, or Matthew the greedy tax collector — men he knew would all deny and abandon him like cowards in his hour of need?
True, all men are weak and sinful. Jesus had to choose somebody, but were these really the best men he could find?
Most scandalous of all, why did he choose Judas Iscariot, who he knew full well would betray him and, unlike the others, would despair and take his own life, and not turn back in faith? At least the pope and bishops are mere human beings, who may not know if a priest they are about to ordain will turn out to be a pedophile or not. But we believe that Jesus is the all-powerful, all-knowing God, and yet he knew Judas would betray him. Why did He do nothing to stop it?
After all, we believe that God gave special grace to the Blessed Virgin Mary to preserve her from all stain of sin, so that she could be the mother of his son. If Jesus is truly the head of his Church, then why doesn’t he give special grace to his priests to keep them from sin?
Or, at the very least, why doesn’t he prevent the pedophiles from becoming priests in the first place? How can God let innocent children suffer such abuse? Doesn’t he care? Is he punishing us? Doesn’t he love us? Does he even exist?
The question has been asked so many times before. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God put an end to war, crime, poverty, and injustice? Why does God allow rapists, and murderers and pedophiles to run rampant in our streets? Why does God allow the weeds to grow with the wheat? Why, oh why, oh why must these evils exist in our world?
The scandal of clergy sexual abuse of minors is the very face of evil glaring at us, mocking our faith and hope in a loving, caring God, challenging us to deny that such a God exists, and daring us to leave the Church behind as just a bunch of deluded, hypocritical fools.
Of course, abandoning faith in God and the Church won’t really change the sorry lot of humanity. One will still have to resign oneself to living in a risky world, full of pedophiles and predators and evil lurking around every corner with little hope that things might get any better. Is there any alternative to just simple resignation, or even worse, giving up on it all in despair?
At this point I want to cry out like Job, “I have spoken but did not understand; things too marvelous for me, which I did not know. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.”
And all that I am left with is the disturbing image of Jesus suffering and dying on the cross, with his mother Mary crying in anguish beneath him.
What terrible suffering Mary must have felt at that moment knowing that Jesus had been betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends — the same sort of suffering I imagine a parent must feel when their child has been abused by a priest. “How could you do such a thing to my son?”
Why did Jesus allow his innocent mother Mary to experience such pain? She had done no wrong. She did not need to be punished for anything. And, yet, he allowed it. Seeing his mother suffer must only have added so much more to his own pain and humiliation, and yet he accepted it.
Our faith teaches us that he accepted it as the price that needed to be paid for our salvation from sin — the mystery of Christ crucified, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” The absurdity that we dare to believe is that the cross, that suffering, and that all the evils that exist in our world, including the devastating scandal and pain of clergy sexual abuse, can be instruments of redemption, if we, by faith in the grace of God, do not let the power of such evils to overcome our ability to love.
That is what Jesus showed us by pardoning his persecutors from the cross. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing.” That is what he showed us when he gathered Peter and the other disciples together again after his resurrection, that he still wanted to be their friend, despite how they had hurt him with their denials and abandonment.
That is the grace that he must have given to his mother Mary for her, too, to be able to forgive and gather together again as friends with the disciples in the upper room when they all received the Holy Spirit.
In this moment, Jesus is inviting us to not lose faith and hope in the power of his love to overcome and heal the wounds of sin. Jesus says to each one of us, “I have forgiven you for all of the pain and sorrow you have caused me by your sins. So do not let your hearts be hardened by the pain and suffering that others’ sins have caused to you, even the terrible betrayal of clergy sexual abuse. I know its hurts; I know it is hard, but do not let the pain overcome your ability to love and to forgive. Forgive even if those who have hurt you do not acknowledge their sins or change their ways. Forgive 70 times seven times. Trust in the power of my grace and love, to help you carry your heavy burden, to heal your broken heart, and to live once again in love, compassion and peace.”
Working to do better
As a member of the clergy I do acknowledge that many of my brothers in the clergy have sinned against you, that many in our Church leadership have sinned against you, that I have sinned against you.
While I may not be personally responsible for all the acts of sexual abuse, and negligent in preventing those abuses that have occurred, I cannot, of course, ask for your forgiveness of these sins without expressing true contrition and a resolve to make amends.
I hope you know by now how truly sorry I am for the pain that so many children and families have had to endure because of the evil of clergy sexual abuse.
I know that many people are rightly angry and frustrated with our Church leadership for not doing more to acknowledge our failures and to correct them. While I cannot speak directly for them, I believe that Archbishop Nienstedt and the others in our Church leadership responsible for supervising our clergy are indeed sorrowful as well, and regret very much the pain that has been caused to people because of the abuse.
I think that they are imperfect human persons, like myself, who, given a very tough job and responsibility, have tried to do what they thought was best at the time, but nevertheless have made mistakes and questionable judgments, as the archbishop admits in his column [Oct. 24] in The Catholic Spirit.
Out of love and justice for those who have been victimized by clergy sexual abuse, I know there is so much more that we need to do to make amends for our past failures, and to change our ways and correct our faults, so that we can do better at protecting our children and the vulnerable from further abuse in the future.
To this end, Archbishop Nienstedt in his column has spelled out some initial steps that the archdiocese will implement, including a special independent task force to investigate all matters related to sexual misconduct by clergy and to recommend further changes and improvements for preventing abuse in the future.
The archbishop has also ordered a review of all clergy personnel files by an outside firm to evaluate whether anyone who is currently serving in active ministry might be a risk to public safety.
For my part, as your pastor, I promise to do all that I can here at the Church of St. Paul or in other spheres where I might have influence, to make sure that our policies and procedures for the protection of the vulnerable and young are being implemented and followed and improved as needed.
If you or someone you know has been victimized by clergy or others and you are in need of help, don’t be afraid to seek it. There is help available from trained civil authorities in government child protection, social services and law enforcement agencies.
With the exception of what I hear in the confessional, I, as a member of the clergy, as well as teachers, and other counselors, are required by Minnesota law to report any suspected abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult to these same civil authorities. However, if there is any way I can be assistance to anyone struggling with these problems, I offer to do what I can to help. Our archdiocese also offers victim advocacy and assistance services.
It is an unrealistic and impossible expectation that we will ever be able to completely eliminate all risk of clergy sexual misconduct and abuse from our Church, no matter how hard we try. But that is no reason for not trying and doing all that we can to do better.
Ultimately, however, as weak, imperfect, sinful human people, we must rely on God´s grace and mercy to sustain us and help us in all of our efforts to heal, to reconcile and to protect each other from harm.
O God, be merciful to us sinners.”
Matthew, a sinner
“You may criticize something, if you love it.”
– cf St Catherine of Siena, OP
Pope Pius VII ran afoul of Napoleon Bonaparte who invaded Italy in 1809 and took the Pope prisoner. Napoleon announced to the Pope that he was going to destroy the Church, to which Pius VII responded, “Oh my little man, you think you’re going to succeed in accomplishing what centuries of priests and bishops have tried and failed to do!”
-by Rev Tom Doyle, OP, JCD (I met Tom on several occasions.)
“A letter sent by the vicar general of the diocese of Lafayette, La., to the papal nuncio in June 1984 was the trigger that set in motion a series of events that has changed the fate of the victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and clergy of all denominations.
The letter informed the nuncio that the Gastal family had decided to withdraw from a confidential monetary settlement with the diocese. It went on to say the family had obtained the services of an attorney and planned to sue the diocese.
This began a long process that has had a direct impact on much more than the fate of victims and the security of innocent children and vulnerable persons of any age. It has altered the image and role of the institutional Catholic church in Western society to such an extent that the tectonic plates upon which this church rests have shifted in a way never expected or dreamed of 30 years ago.
I cannot find language that can adequately communicate the full import of this monstrous phenomenon. The image of a Christian church that enabled the sexual and spiritual violation of its most vulnerable members and, when confronted, responded with institutionalized mendacity and utter disregard for the victims cannot be adequately described as a “problem,” a “crisis” or a “scandal.” The widespread sexual violation of children and adults by clergy and the horrific response of the leadership, especially the bishops, is the present-day manifestation of a very dark and toxic dimension of the institutional church.
This dark side has always existed. In our era, it has served as the catalyst for a complex and deeply rooted process that can be best described as a paradigm shift. The paradigm for responding to sexual abuse by clergy has shifted at its foundation.
The paradigm for society’s understanding of and response to child sexual abuse had begun to shift with the advent of the feminist movement in the early 1970s, but was significantly accelerated by the mid-’80s.
The paradigm of the institutional church interacting in society has shifted and continues to do so as the forces demanding justice, honesty and accountability of the hierarchy continue their relentless pressure. The Catholic monolith, once accepted by friend and foe alike as a rock-solid monarchy, is crumbling.
The single most influential and forceful element in this complex historical process has not been the Second Vatican Council. It has been the action of the victims of sexual abuse.
There are a few of us still standing who have been in the midst of this mind- and soul-boggling phenomenon from the beginning of the present era. We have been caught up and driven by the seemingly never-ending chain of events, revelations and explosions that have marked it from the very beginning and will continue to mark it into the future.
It has had a profound impact on the belief systems and the spirituality of many directly and indirectly involved. My own confidence and trust in the institutional church has been shattered. I have spent years trying to process what has been happening to the spiritual dimension of my life.
The vast enormity of a deeply engrained clerical culture that allowed the sexual violation of the innocent and most vulnerable has overshadowed the theological, historical and cultural supports upon which the institutional church has based its claim to divinely favored status. All of the theological and canonical truths I had depended upon have been dissipated to meaninglessness.
Some of us who have supported victims have been accused of being dissenters from official church teachings. We have been accused of being anti-Catholic, using the sexual abuse issue to promote active disagreement with church positions on various sexual issues.
These accusations are complete nonsense. This is not a matter of dissent or agreement with church teachings. It is about the sexual violation of countless victims by trusted church members. It is not a matter of anti-Catholic propaganda.
It is, however, direct opposition to church leaders, policies or practices that enable the perpetrators of sexual abuse and demonize the victims. It is not a matter of defaming the church’s image. No one has done a better job of that than the bishops themselves.
For some of us, the very concept of a personal or anthropocentric God has also been destroyed, in great part by an unanswerable question: “If there is a loving God watching over us, why does he allow his priests and bishops to violate the bodies and destroy the souls of so many innocent children?”
Much to the chagrin of the hard-core cheerleaders for the institutional church, there is no question that the victims and survivors of the church’s sexual abuse and spiritual treachery have set in motion a process that has changed and will continue to change the history of Catholicism. The Catholic experience has prompted members of other denominations to acknowledge sexual abuse in their midst and demand accountability. It has also forever altered the response of secular society to the once untouchable churches.
The default response
For much of church history, the default response to a report of child, adolescent or adult sexual abuse was first to deny it and, when denial failed, to enshroud it in an impenetrable blanket of secrecy.
The perpetrator was shifted to another assignment. The victim was intimidated into silence. The media knew nothing and if law enforcement or civil officials were involved, they deferred to the bishop “for the good of the church.”
A small number of perpetrators were sent to special church-run institutions that treated them in secrecy and in many instances, released them to re-enter ministry. The founder of the most influential of these, Paraclete Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, firmly believed that no priest who had violated a child or minor should ever be allowed back in ministry and should be dismissed from the priesthood.
He made his unequivocal beliefs known to bishops, to the prefect of the Holy Office (1962) and to Pope Paul VI in a private audience in 1963. He was ignored.
The Lafayette case involving Gilbert Gauthe was the beginning of the end of the default template.
I suspect that none of the major players in the case had any idea of the magnitude of what they were involved in. I was one of them and I certainly could never have imagined how this would all play out. The case sparked attention because of the systemic cover-up that had gone on from before Gauthe was ordained and continued past his conviction and imprisonment.
Jason Berry was singlehandedly responsible for opening up the full extent of the ecclesiastical treachery to the public. The story was picked up by the national media. Before long, other reports of sexual abuse by priests were coming in from parishes and dioceses not only in the Deep South but in other parts of the country.
In 1985, Ray Mouton, Fr. Mike Peterson and I, believing that the bishops were looking for guidance on how to proceed when faced with actual cases of sexual violation and rape by priests, authored a report or manual that outlined a clear response.
Many of the bishops I spoke to at the time admitted they were bewildered about what to do. None expected the series of explosions that were waiting just over the horizon. Some of the bishops I consulted with were men I had grown to respect and trust. I believed they would support whatever efforts we suggested to deal with the developing situation.
Peterson, Mouton and I did not see it as an isolated, one-time “problem.” Rather, we saw it is as a highly toxic practice of the clerical culture that needed to be recognized and rectified.
Some of the men I consulted with and to whom I turned for support and guidance became, in time, major players in the national nightmare. The two most prominent were Cardinals Bernard Law of Boston and Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia. Both men I once counted as friends.
It was not long before I realized that the major force of opposition was the central leadership of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the General Secretariat in particular.
We had initially hoped the bishops’ conference would look at the manual and consider the action proposals that accompanied it. Our realization that the reactionary attitude would be more extensive began when the bishops, through the office of the general council, publicly accused Mouton, Peterson and me of creating the manual as a potential source of profit, with the hope of selling our services to the various dioceses.
At this point, the three of us had to accept the painful reality that episcopal leadership was far more interested in their own image and power than in the welfare of the victims.
At the 2014 Vatican celebrations canonizing Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, George Weigel, conservative Catholic commentator, and Joaquín Navarro-Valls, John Paul’s press secretary, created an outrageous fantasy about the role of John Paul, claiming that he knew nothing until after the 2002 Boston debacle.
This was patently and provably false. John Paul was given a 42-page detailed report on the sex abuse and cover-up in Lafayette, La., in February 1985. It was sent as justification for the request from the papal nuncio that a bishop be appointed to go to Lafayette to try to find out exactly what was going on. Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia carried the report to Rome precisely because the nuncio wanted it to go directly to the pope and not be sidetracked by lower-level functionaries.
The pope read the report, and within four days the requested appointment came through. The bishop appointed, A.J. Quinn, auxiliary of Cleveland, turned out to be a big part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.
Quinn visited Lafayette twice and accomplished nothing. Mouton, Peterson and I were suspicious of his intentions by the end of 1985 and quite certain by 1986.
In 1990, Quinn addressed the Canon Law Society of America and advised that if bishops found information in priests’ files they did not want seen, they should send the files to the papal nuncio to be shielded by diplomatic immunity. Quinn, a civil lawyer as well as a canon lawyer, was then subjected to disbarment proceedings as a result of his unethical suggestion.
Cardinal Pio Laghi, papal nuncio to the U.S. from 1980 to 1990, was supportive of our efforts and was in regular telephone contact with the Vatican. Cardinal Silvio Oddi, then the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, visited the nunciature in June 1985 and asked to be briefed. I was deputed for the task.
By then, we had more information on the rapidly growing number of cases in all parts of the country. I recall that by that time we were aware of 42 cases, which I naively thought was a significant number. I prepared a lengthy report that was not only detailed but also graphic in its content.
I read the report to the cardinal and responded to his many questions. At the end of the meeting, at which only he and I were present, he announced that he would take this information back to the Holy Father. “Then there will be a meeting of the heads of all the dicasteries [Vatican congregations] and we will issue a decree.”
I understand that he did take the information to the pope, but there never was a meeting of the dicasteries and no decree ever came forth.
Our efforts to get the U.S. bishops’ conference to even consider the issues we set forth in our manual, much less take decisive action, were a total failure. Looking back from the perspective of 30 years of direct experience, I believe they acted in the only way they knew how — which was completely self-serving, with scandalous lack of sympathy for the victims and their families.
There were individual bishops who were open to exploring the right way to proceed, but the conference, which represented all of the bishops, was interested in controlling the fallout and preserving their stature and their power. The culprits were, in the pope’s eyes, secular materialism, media sensationalism and sinful priests. He never even acknowledged, much less responded to, the thousands of requests from individual victims.
We sent individual copies of the manual to every bishop in the U.S. on Dec. 8, 1985. We still had hope that perhaps someone would read it and stand up at the conference meetings and call the bishops’ attention to what we had insisted was the most important element, namely the compassionate care of the victims.
In 1986, Peterson arranged for a hospitality suite at the hotel where the bishops were having their annual November meeting. He invited every bishop present — more than 300 — to come and discuss the matter of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy. Eight showed up.
The bishops’ approach in the U.S. and elsewhere followed a standard evolutionary process: denial, minimization, blame-shifting, and devaluation of challengers. The bishops’ carefully scripted apologies expressed their regret for the pain suffered. Never once did they apologize for what they had done to harm the victims.
Likewise, there was never any concern voiced by the Vatican or the bishops’ conference about the spiritual and emotional damage done to the victims by the abuse itself and by the betrayal by the hierarchy.
It became clear by the end of the ’90s that the problem was not simply recalcitrant bishops. It was much more fundamental. The barrier to doing the right thing was deeply embedded in the clerical culture itself.
The Boston revelations in January 2002 had an immediate and lasting impact that surprised even the most cynical. The continuous stream of media stories of what the bishops had been doing in Boston and elsewhere provoked widespread public outrage. The number of lawsuits dramatically increased and the protective deference on the part of law enforcement and civil officials, once counted on by the clerical leadership, was rapidly eroding.
Grand jury investigations were launched in three jurisdictions within two months, with several more to follow. It was all too much for the bishops to handle.
The most visible result of the many-sided pressure on the hierarchy was the Dallas meeting. This was not a proactive, pastorally sensitive gesture on the part of the bishops. It was defensive damage control, choreographed by the public relations firm of R.F. Binder.
The tangible result of the meeting was the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and the Essential Norms. The impact of the charter and the norms has clearly been mixed. The lofty rhetoric of the bishops in the charter has not been followed up with action, to no one’s surprise.
The Essential Norms have not been uniformly and consistently followed. As proof, we can look to the steady number of exceptions from 2002, whereby known perpetrators either are allowed to remain in ministry or are put back in ministry.
The National Review Board showed promise at the beginning, especially after the publication of its extensive report in 2004. This promise sputtered and died as the truly effective members of the board left when they realized the bishops weren’t serious.
Those very few bishops who have publicly sided with the survivors have been marginalized and punished.
The general response has been limited to the well-tuned rhetoric of public statements, sponsorship of a variety of child safety programs, constant promises of change and enlightenment, and, above all, the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in attorneys who have used every tactic imaginable and many that are not imaginable to defeat and discredit victims and to prevent the hierarchy from being held accountable.
While the institutional church has essentially remained in neutral, various segments of civil society have reacted decisively.
Between 1971 and 2013, there have been at least 72 major reports issued about sexual abuse in the Catholic church. Some of these have been commissioned by official bodies and are the result of extensive investigations, such as the U.S. grand jury reports, the Belgian parliamentary report and the Irish investigation commission reports. They come from several countries in North America and Europe. A study of the sections on causality has shown a common denominator: the deliberately inadequate and counterproductive responses and actions of the bishops.
John Paul attempted to persuade the world that sexual abuse by clergy was an American problem, caused primarily by media exaggerations, materialism and failure to pray. At the conclusion of his first public statement on sexual abuse, a 1993 letter to the U.S. bishops, he said, “Yes, dear Brothers, America needs much prayer — lest it lose its soul.”
By 2014, there was no doubt anywhere that geographic boundaries are irrelevant. This highly toxic dimension of the institutional church and its clerical subculture has been exposed in country after country on every continent.
The focus has finally shifted to the Vatican. In September 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights assisted in the filing of a case before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In January 2014, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child delivered a blistering criticism of the Vatican’s response to sexual abuse by clerics. In May 2014, the U.N. Committee Against Torture issued a report equally critical of the Vatican’s handling of sexual abuse claims and its opposition to U.N. policies.
This is truly momentous. The world’s largest religious denomination has been called to account by the community of nations.
Thirty years on
Any conclusions at this point, 30 years later, are obviously temporary, since this is not the end of the issue but simply a milestone along the way.
In spite of all that has happened, I do not believe there has been any fundamental change in the hierarchy. It may be true that individual bishops have either changed or been compassionately supportive all along, but in general the hierarchy is behaving today just as it did in 1985. The dramatic events in St. Paul-Minneapolis and the ongoing scandalous bankruptcy process in Milwaukee are the latest examples of this intransigence.
The institutional church’s abject failure has revealed fundamental deficiencies in essential areas, all of which have been instrumental in perpetrating and sustaining the tragic culture of abuse:
- The erroneous belief that the monarchical governmental structure of the church was intended by God and justifies the sacrifice of innocent victims;
- The belief that priests and bishops are superior to laypersons, entitled to power and deference because they are ontologically different and uniquely joined to Christ;
- A lay spirituality that is dependent on the clergy and gauged by the degree of submission to them and unquestioned obedience to all church laws and authority figures;
- An obsession with doctrinal orthodoxy and theological formulations that bypasses the realities of human life and replaces mercy and charity as central Catholic values;
- An understanding of human sexuality that is not grounded in the reality of the human person but in a bizarre theological tradition that originated with the pre-Christian stoics and was originally formulated by celibate males of questionable psychological stability;
- The clerical subculture that has propagated the virus of clericalism, which has perpetuated a severely distorted value system that has influenced clergy and laity alike.
Has Pope Francis brought a new ray of hope? He is a significantly different kind of pope, but he is still a product of the monarchical system and he is still surrounded by a bureaucracy that could hinder or destroy any hopes for the radical change that is needed if the institutional church is to rise above the sex abuse nightmare and become what it is supposed to be, the people of God.
The victims and indeed the entire church are tired of the endless stream of empty statements and unfulfilled promises. The time for apologies, expressions of regret, and assurances of change is long gone. Action is needed, and without it, the pope and bishops today will simply be more names in the long line of hierarchs who have failed the victims and failed the church.
A few recent actions give some hope that Francis will supply more than words to the church’s efforts. He laicized Jozef Wesolowski, the former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, and placed him on trial for numerous charges of sexual abuse of children. Prior to that, he laicized Bishop Gabino Miranda, auxiliary of Ayachuca, Peru in July 2013 for sexually abusing a young girl.
Additionally, he has instituted a new tribunal to hold bishops accountable. This was urged by his own abuse commission, which indicates he is listening to it. In a period of less than two months, he has forced the resignations of three U.S. bishops who failed in handling sex abuse cases: Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.; and Archbishop John Nienstedt, and his auxiliary, Bishop Lee Piché, of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
I believe there is reason to hope, not because of Francis’ engaging personality. This pope’s overtures to victims are grounded on three decades of courageous efforts by survivors. Without these efforts, nothing would have changed.
Survivors have changed the course of history for the church and have accelerated the paradigm shift. If the Catholic church is to be known not as a gilded monarchy of increasing irrelevance but as the people of God, the change in direction hinted at by the new pope’s words and actions are crucial. If he does lead the way to a new image of the body of Christ, it will be due in great part because the survivors have led the way for him.”
Please pray for all victims of sexual abuse and betrayal.
Lord! Save us! From ourselves, most of all! Lk 22:62 Mt 27:5
St Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
I wish I could tell you, over the past eight years, Marie’s story is unique. It is not. It is all too, too tragically familiar. Dealing with evil is difficult. But, as disciples, it is required. The Catholic Church is an institution with a 400 year cycle time.
“The problem of evil is the most serious problem in the world. It is also the one serious objection to the existence of God. No sane person wants hell to exist.
When Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his great Summa Theologica, he could find only two objections to the existence of God, even though he tried to list at least three objections to every one of the thousands of theses he tried to prove in that great work. One of the two objections is the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God; and the other is the problem of evil.
More people have abandoned their faith because of the problem of evil than for any other reason. It is certainly the greatest test of faith, the greatest temptation to unbelief. And it’s not just an intellectual objection. We feel it. We live it. That’s why the Book of Job is so arresting.
The problem can be stated very simply: If God is so good, why is His world so bad? If an all-good, all-wise, all-loving, all-just, and all-powerful God is running the show, why does He seem to be doing such a miserable job of it? Why do bad things happen to good people?…
If God is the Creator of all things and evil is a thing, then God is the Creator of evil, and He is to blame for its existence. No, evil is not a thing but a wrong choice, or the damage done by a wrong choice. Evil is no more a positive thing than blindness is. But it is just as real. It is not a thing, but it is not an illusion..
Second, the origin of evil is not the Creator but the creature’s freely choosing sin and selfishness. Take away all sin and selfishness and you would have heaven on earth. Even the remaining physical evils would no longer rankle and embitter us. Saints endure and even embrace suffering and death as lovers embrace heroic challenges. But they do not embrace sin.
…The cause of suffering is sin. …
We are single creatures, not double: we are not even body and soul as much as we are embodied soul, or ensouled body. So the body must share in the soul’s inevitable punishment, a punishment as natural and unavoidable as broken bones from jumping off a cliff or a sick stomach from eating rotten food rather than a punishment as artificial and external as a grade for a course or a slap on the hands for taking the cookies…
If the origin of evil is free will, and God is the origin of free will, isn’t God then the origin of evil? Only as parents are the origin of the misdeeds their children commit by being the origin of their children. The all-powerful God gave us a share in his power to choose freely. Would we prefer he had not and had made us robots rather than human beings?…
The worst aspect of the problem of evil is eternal evil, hell. Does hell not contradict a loving and omnipotent God? No, for hell is the consequence of free will. We freely choose hell for ourselves; God does not cast anyone into hell against his will. If a creature is really free to say yes or no to the Creator’s offer of love and spiritual marriage, then it must be possible for the creature to say no. And that is what hell is, essentially. Free will, in turn, was created out of God’s love. Therefore hell is a result of God’s love. Everything is.
No sane person wants hell to exist. No sane person wants evil to exist. But hell is just evil eternalized. If there is evil and if there is eternity, there can be hell. If it is intellectually dishonest to disbelieve in evil just because it is shocking and uncomfortable, it is the same with hell. Reality has hard corners, surprises, and terrible dangers in it. We desperately need a true road map, not nice feelings, if we are to get home. It is true, as people often say, that hell just feels unreal, impossible. Yes. So does Auschwitz. So does Calvary.”
Please pray and ACT for the safety of ALL children!!!! Lord, be merciful to us ALL!!!! Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, Mother of the Church, Mother of Christian Families, pray for us!!!
“…He shall come to judge the living and the dead…”
“If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us.” -1 Jn 1:10
I had the…displeasure, you might say, of witnessing a communal penance service during a Catholic Mass in my life. Mass was going on in a large auditorium in the Chicago suburbs. The celebrant said some prayers, and then asked people to stand up when they felt forgiven. One-by-one the entire congregation, or the majority, stood. I did not. I was in too much shock. I don’t “think” I’m a wet towel? I like to think I try to keep it real? Hip? As much as I can at 49? Externally, I was in physical control. Internally, I needed to be sedated. I did finish Mass, though. Yeah. 🙂
I realize Penitential Rite III of Vatican II, in very extreme circumstances, allows something along this vein. None of these extenuating circumstances were present in this regular Sunday Mass, whatsoever. I am not the Sunday Mass police, whatsoever, however, as an amateur Catholic wonk, I did drop a dime to the chancery, such was the scandal I personally encountered and felt. 🙁
IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING THE COMMUNAL CONFESSION:
A Communal confession is valid only for emergency or unusual circumstances such as for those who live in remote areas or in a situation where there are insufficient priests available to hear everyone’s confesssion prior to attendance at the Holy Mass. (We are to be in the “state of grace”, absolved of all guilt due to mortal sin through the Sacrament, right? Prior to receiving communion? Remember that part? I know you do, gentle reader. I know you do. I have faith, and trust, and confidence in you. I do. Pray for me, when I receive the Sacrament, and my examen is “fuzzy”. Please, pray for me. Please.) Under ordinary circumstances it cannot replace individual confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1483 and Code of Canon Law # 961 and # 962).
However, sin is communal. No sin is EVER a strictly personal matter.
3/12/2009, -by Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia (retired)
“In a book which he wrote about his famous father, Enrico Caruso, Jr. described the atmosphere in the villa where Caruso lived and worked. The mood of the place was always determined by what the great tenor was doing. If he was sleeping, everyone was quiet. When he awoke, his enthusiasm for life was infectious and everyone seemed to rejoice with him. If his southern personality was expressed in anger, everyone in the villa trembled!
We don’t have to live with Enrico Caruso to know how the mood, words and actions of one person can affect an entire home. This can likewise be true of a place of business. One person can affect the entire atmosphere of a place and either raise it up with joy and enthusiasm or lower it with tension and anger.
This is also true of the community or family which we know as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The actions of one member can either build up the Church of Christ through virtue and fidelity or weaken it by sin. It is mysterious how the actions of a human person can affect Christ’s Mystical Body but such is the power of human freedom that God not only allows us to make free choices but also allows our choices to build up or weaken the Church he has founded. This is why we can say that sin has both a personal and social aspect.
In the Exhortation, which followed the Synod of Bishops that had discussed the Sacrament of Penance, Pope John Paul II wrote: “By virtue of a human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others. There is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the ecclesial body and the whole human family. In this sense every sin can be considered a social sin” (Reconciliation and Penance, 2 [December 1984]).
The Sacrament of Penance
The Sacrament of Penance is always a vital part of our Christian lives but we highlight it in a special way during this Lenten season. This great Sacrament of God’s mercy has always manifested both the personal and communal aspects of sin and forgiveness. However, it has done this in different ways down through the centuries.
In the early centuries of the Church, there was a role given to what is called public penance. This was a penance performed in the midst of the community to highlight the truth which we have been discussing, namely the social as well as the personal aspect of sin. Public penance was not imposed upon everyone and it depended on the nature of the sin.
Saint Augustine wrote, concerning public penance: “If the sin is not only grievous in itself but involves scandal given to others, and if the bishop judges that it will be useful to the Church, let not the sinner refuse to do penance in the sight of many or even of the people at large, let the sinner not resist, nor through shame add to the mortal wound a greater evil” (Sermon 151, n. 3).
It was the confessor who would determine the necessity and the extent of the public penance imposed upon a penitent. This was done not to cause shame to the penitent but to highlight the communal nature of sin and the weakening of the Body of Christ caused by it. These periods of public penance often took place during the Lenten season, with the penance beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with a formal ceremony of reconciliation on Holy Thursday. This practice of public penance gradually changed.
Although public penance was once a part of the celebration of the Sacrament, we must not confuse the manner of celebrating the Sacrament of Penance with the Sacrament itself. Penance is the Sacrament which Christ established to bring about the forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism. The Church is given the power to dispense the mercy of Jesus in this Sacrament. The priest, who acts in the person of Jesus, forgives sins in the name of the Church.
In this way, the public nature of forgiveness continues to be represented when this Sacrament is celebrated. It is the priest who, as the minister of the Sacrament in the name of the Church, also represents the public life of the Church. In this very private and intimate Sacrament, in which individual sin is confessed and forgiven, there is still a public role exercised through the ministry of the priest, who represents the entire Church.
In his Encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ, Pope Pius XII beautifully expressed this mystery. He wrote: “As Jesus hung on the Cross, he not only satisfied the justice of the Eternal Father, but he also won for us, his brothers and sisters, an unending flow of graces. It was possible for Him personally, immediately, to impart these graces but He wished to do so only through a visible Church that would be formed by the union of people, and thus, through the Church, every inspanidual would perform a work of collaboration with Him in dispensing the graces of Redemption. The Word of God willed to make use of our nature, when in excruciating agony, He would redeem mankind. In much the same way, throughout the centuries, He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure.
“Jesus Christ wishes to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because he is indigent and weak, but rather because He has so willed it for the greater glory of His unspotted Spouse.
“Dying on the Cross, Christ left to the Church the immense treasury of the Redemption. Toward this she contributed nothing. But, when those graces come to be distributed, not only does Christ share this task of sanctification with His Church, but He wants it, in a way, to be due to her action” (Mystici Corporis, 44).
A life beyond
We have all heard the word “supernatural.” This means something which goes beyond or above the natural. In our natural understanding of what is public and what is private or personal, we tend to think in physical or visible terms. If we can see something, it is public. If something is hidden or known to us alone, it is personal. The Christian life, however, is a great reality which is real while not always being physical.
In the Sacrament of Penance, we may see just the priest and the penitent. However, because we are dealing with an action of God’s grace, given through the Church, we are actually dealing with something public and communal.
The sin of the inspanidual, which may be known to that person alone, has an effect on the entire community, thereby giving it a communal aspect. The forgiveness of God transmitted by the priest in Confession is an action involving the Church. It is through the ministry of the Church that the inspanidual sinner is reconciled to God and the family of believers.
Once this reconciliation has taken place, the inspanidual is able to go out once again and fulfill his or her communal role in building up the Church of Christ.
In speaking to the Bishops of the United States on their ad limina visit to the See of Peter, Pope John Paul II described this unity this way: “Only when the faithful recognize sin in their own lives are they ready to understand reconciliation and to open their hearts to penance and personal conversion. Only then are they able to contribute to the renewal of society, since personal conversion is also the only way that leads to the lasting renewal of society. This personal conversion, by spanine precept, is intimately linked to the Sacrament of Penance” (Address, 15 April 1983).
Jesus wishes us to have a relationship with Him which is real and living. He has given us dramatic signs of His love. However, in order to live that life fully, we must go beyond what is natural and visible. We live that life in union with the community of the Church which He founded and which, according to His plan, is the dispenser of that life.
When we sin, we weaken the entire Body of the Church and when we are sorry and ask forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive forgiveness from Christ but through that same Church. This is the wonderful plan that God has designed for our salvation.”
I am not only a teacher of youth, but an activist for their protection.
Legal Pot Is a Public Health Menace
-by William J. Bennett and Robert A. White
“The great irony, or misfortune, of the national debate over marijuana is that while almost all the science and research is going in one direction—pointing out the dangers of marijuana use—public opinion seems to be going in favor of broad legalization.
For example, last week a new study in the journal Current Addiction Reports found that regular pot use (defined as once a week) among teenagers and young adults led to cognitive decline, poor attention and memory, and decreased IQ. On Aug. 9, the American Psychological Association reported that at its annual convention the ramifications of marijuana legalization was much discussed, with Krista Lisdahl, director of the imaging and neuropsychology lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, saying: “It needs to be emphasized that regular cannabis use, which we consider once a week, is not safe and may result in addiction and neurocognitive damage, especially in youth.”
Since few marijuana users limit themselves to use once a week, the actual harm is much worse for developing brains. The APA noted that young people who become addicted to marijuana lose an average of six IQ points by adulthood. A long line of studies have found similar results—in 2012, a decades-long study of more than 1,000 New Zealanders who frequently smoked pot in adolescence pegged the IQ loss at eight points.
Yet in recent weeks and months, much media coverage of the marijuana issue has either tacitly or explicitly supported legalization. A CCN/ORC International survey in January found that a record 55% of Americans support marijuana legalization.
The disconnect between science and public opinion is so great that in a March WSJ/NBC News poll, Americans ranked sugar as more harmful than marijuana. The misinformation campaign appears to be succeeding.
Here’s the truth. The marijuana of today is simply not the same drug it was in the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s, much less the 1930s. It is often at least five times stronger, with the levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, averaging about 15% in the marijuana at dispensaries found in the states that have legalized pot for “medicinal” or, in the case of Colorado, recreational use. Often the THC level is 20% or higher.
With increased THC levels come increased health risks. Since Colorado legalized recreational use earlier this year, two deaths in the state have already been linked to marijuana. In both cases it was consumed in edible form, which can result in the user taking in even more THC than when smoking pot. “One man jumped to his death after consuming a large amount of marijuana contained in a cookie,” the Associated Press reported in April, “and in the other case, a man allegedly shot and killed his wife after eating marijuana candy.” Reports are coming out of Colorado in what amounts to a parade of horribles from more intoxicated driving to more emergency hospital admissions due to marijuana exposure and overdose.
Over the past 10 years, study after study has shown the damaging effect of marijuana on the teenage brain. Northwestern School of Medicine researchers reported in the Schizophrenia Bulletin in December that teens who smoked marijuana daily for about three years showed abnormal brain-structure changes. Marijuana use has clearly been linked to teen psychosis as well as decreases in IQ and permanent brain damage.
The response of those who support legalization: Teenagers can be kept away from marijuana. Yet given the dismal record regarding age-restricted use of tobacco and alcohol, success with barring teens from using legalized marijuana would be a first.
The reason such a large number of teens use alcohol and tobacco is precisely because those are legal products. The reason more are now using marijuana is because of its changing legal status—from something that was dangerous and forbidden to a product that is now considered “medicinal,” and in the states of Colorado and Washington recreational. Until recently, the illegality of marijuana, and the stigma of lawbreaking, had kept its use below that of tobacco and alcohol.
Legality is the mother of availability, and availability, as former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. put it in his 2008 book on substance abuse, “High Society,” is the mother of use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, currently 2.7 million Americans age 12 and older meet the clinical criteria for marijuana dependence, or addiction.
Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, has estimated that legalization can be expected to increase marijuana consumption by four to six times. Today’s 2.7 million marijuana dependents (addicts) would thus expand to as many as 16.2 million with nationwide legalization. That should alarm any parent, teacher or policy maker.
There are two conversations about marijuana taking place in this country: One, we fear, is based on an obsolete perception of marijuana as a relatively harmless, low-THC product. The other takes seriously the science of the new marijuana and its effect on teens, whose adulthood will be marred by the irreversible damage to their brains when young.
Supporters of marijuana legalization insist that times are changing and policy should too. But they are the ones stuck in the past—and charting a dangerous future for too many Americans.”
Pray for our young people. Pray for Mara, please. They are in such need of our prayers and active protection. We will be judged by Him on how we defended the most vulnerable, I firmly believe, and the Gospel says.
“Christian, remember your dignity, and the price which was paid to purchase your salvation!” -cf Pope St Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.
“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember Who is your head and of Whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” -CCC 1691, St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.
“Oh! how many are lost by indulging their sight! – St. Alphonsus de Liguori
Mk 9:47-48, Lk 11:34-36
WHAT IS IT
At its most basic level, custody of the eyes simply means controlling what you allow yourself to see. It means guarding your sense of sight carefully, realizing that what you view will leave an indelible mark on your soul.
Many of the saints, in their zeal for purity, would never look anyone in the face. “To avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects,” says St. Alphonsus de Liguori.
Now, staring at the floor at all times is a bit extreme for most of us, but it does demonstrate the seriousness with which the saints viewed the importance of purity. They teach us that is simply impossible to allow hundreds of immodest images into our minds, however innocently, and remain pure.
Of course, to the modern mind, this guarding of the eyes is rather quaint and even ridiculous. How prudish, many would think, to think that we should exercise any control over what we see. And yet, if we care about our souls, we have no other option.
HOW TO PRACTICE IT
The best place to begin practicing custody of the eyes is in the things which we can control, such as movies, magazines, or television shows. If your favorite TV show has a sex scene every 5 minutes, you need to cut it out of your life. It’s not worth the temptation. In short, don’t consume things that are occasions of sin. Carelessly putting yourself in spiritual danger in this way is a grave sin itself, so take it seriously.
It’s actually rather easy to edit what you consume. But what about the things we can’t control, such as the immodestly dressed person walking past you? This takes far more prayer-fueled discipline and practice. That said, here are some suggestions.
First, if you’re struggling with the way someone else is dressed, immediately look elsewhere, perhaps their face. I don’t care how beautiful anyone is, it is essentially impossible to lust after someone’s face. The face is the icon of each person’s humanity, and it is far easier to respect a person’s dignity when you’re looking at their face and not her body.
Second, it may just be appropriate to stare at the floor sometimes, especially if there’s no other way to avoid temptation. This doesn’t have to be the norm, but if the situation warrants it, it is foolish not to do so. (Ed. better to appear foolish, or daft, in the eyes of man, than guilty before the eyes of Jesus at our particular judgment.)
Third, avoid places you know are especially problematic for you. For most, the beach can be a problem. Dozens of people in tiny bikinis is just too much. If that’s the case for you, avoid the beach.
Finally, fast and pray. This should go without saying, and yet I am always amazed that people think they can control themselves without God’s help. (Ed. Grace. It’s ALL ABOUT GRACE!!!! Jn 15:5) It simply isn’t possible. (Ed. PRAY!!!! And it will be given to you! I promise! Mt 7:7-8) We always need grace in the battle against concupiscence, and if we trust in ourselves and our own willpower, we will do nothing but fail. (Ed. We are powerless. He is ALL-POWERFUL!!!)
Yes, temptation is everywhere, but we are not helpless victims. (Ed. We have THE GREATEST ALLY in our battle with sin!!! We do!!! We do!!! Praise Him, Church!!! Praise Him!!!) We must take the need for purity seriously, and that means guarding carefully what we allow ourselves to see. Through prayer, fasting, and practice, we can learn to take control of our eyes and avoid temptation. This isn’t quaint and archaic—it’s basic to spiritual survival.
Let us call upon our most pure Lady and her chaste husband St. Joseph, begging their intercession for our purity.”
Male saints holding lilies symbolize their purity of life, St Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse, pray for us!!!!
“It is a common doctrine of the Saints that one of the principal means of leading a good and exemplary life is modesty and custody of the eyes. For, as there is nothing so adapted to preserve devotion in a soul, and to cause compunction and edification in others, as this modesty, so there is nothing which so much exposes a person to relaxation and scandals as its opposite.”—-St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
Cardinal George Pell, a member of Pope Francis’ advisory Council of Cardinals, former archbishop of Sydney, has an interesting perspective. Pell gave video testimony from the Vatican to an Australian government inquiry looking into responses to child sex abuse by the Catholic Church and other institutions.
Using a hypothetical example, Pell said the church was no more responsible for cases of child abuse carried out by church figures than a trucking company would be if it employed a driver who molested women.
“It would not be appropriate, because it’s contrary to the policy, for the ownership, leadership of that company to be held responsible,” Pell told the inquiry. “Similarly with the church and the head of any other organization.”
“It is, I think, not appropriate for legal culpability to be foisted on the authority figure.”
“He shows that he really has absolutely no conception of what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior and what are appropriate or inappropriate things to say to survivors,” said SNAP’s Nicky Davis, who attended the inquiry in Melbourne, Australia.
Victims were also outraged by the Vatican’s refusal to hand over files requested by the Australian inquiry since the pope has signaled a tougher approach to fighting clerical sexual abuse and established a Vatican committee that includes Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins.
Out-of-touch is too kind a description.
Prayer of a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse
I just want to crawl into a hole and die….
but maybe if I just pray….
I’ll come out alive?
Its so hard to hold the child I was….
with her innocence lost.
Jesus, hold me for a while….
never let me go.
If I wasnt in so many pieces,
maybe Jesus could save me….
He could hold me and I wouldn’t crumble.
I have been involved with SNAP since 2007. There are things in life we wish we could forget. We wish we didn’t know. That has been my experience with SNAP. If anyone should, no one has, ask me how to get involved to support survivors of clerical sexual abuse, my first and only question would be, “How strong is your faith?”, never implying mine is.
And now I hear from survivors I am personal friends with that they are unwelcome, a more accurate term is “banned”, from worshiping in certain Catholic churches. They have made no public statements in approaching these places of worship, they have merely been upfront with the pastor or diocese as to their identity, and been reticent in disclosing such to other than said pastor, and been told they are unwelcome.
Scandal within a scandal within a scandal. WWJD? 1) The sexual assault of children 2) The cover up and deception and endangerment of additional Catholic families 3) The un-Christian response of bishops and dioceses 4) The re-victimization of survivors by 2-3 and the above lack of Christian charity, welcome and hospitality.
I, too, have had my options limited of service to the Church in my faithfulness of support to survivors of abuse. I am only too eager to join survivors in being banned from Catholic property. I do, because I know that is where He will be, and I want to be with Him, no matter what. His will be done. His Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in Heaven. And, it will. I pray for the salvation of perpetrators and enablers as I do for my own.
Kelly and I are monthly contributors to SNAP. Barbara Blaine, founder and survivor herself, and I are dear personal friends. She blows me a kiss or gives me a hug when she sees me.
(You may listen to the audio here.)
“Good morning. I want to start off reading something that many of you may be familiar with.
‘A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?’
He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ -Lk 10:30-37
As most of you in this room know, this morning, there’s a very dark and desolate place in this world. A place where a multitude of hurting and traumatized souls lay on the side of the road alone, a few still holding out hope that someone, anyone will stop. While most others have long since given up. See, this is a side of the road where precious children wake up each morning fearing that they will be once again sexually violated by an adult they have been taught to trust and obey, an adult that is supposed to love and protect them. This is the side of the road where children live in fear each night about what will happen when the lights go off.
This is the side of the road where the lives and souls of children are eviscerated by those in power who profess Jesus, as they betray and violate his little ones. This is a side of the road where the church ignores the painful cries of these victims while embracing their perpetrators as trusted leaders and model Christians. This is the side of the road where adult survivors are marginalized and allowed to drown in their hopelessness by the very church that is called to pursue and embrace them in love and charity. This is the side of the road where the unique and beautiful lives of those who are made in image of God are left to die.
See this dark and desolate place is inside the church and many may even say is the church. When I say church this morning I come to you as a Presbyterian. So when I say church this morning I mean Christendom, and I can tell you from somebody who’s grown up as a Protestant, child sexual abuse within the Protestant church is rampant, and largely to this day unrecognized, but that is changing, and I’m grateful for that. You see, this is a church, a place that all too often betrays and abuses children while telling the world how much it values and love God’s little ones.
It’s a church that shames survivors into deathly silence as it walks by making pious excuses for not crossing the road to welcome and care for those who’ve been left alone. It’s a place that exploits power and authority to silence the hurting. It’s a place that claims to be the bride of Jesus, but doesn’t even know what He looks like. I’ve met some of these amazing souls and have the distinct honor of calling many of you my friends.
You’ve shared with me the horrors of being violated by those you trusted and the deep indescribable pains of living alone on the side of the road as you are marginalized, shamed, and ignored by family, friends and the very faith community that have eviscerated your body and your soul.
See, I grew up thinking that the purpose of the church is to reflect hope, joy, self-worth, peace, love, life; that’s what I learned. I’m the grandson of Billy Graham and that’s the world from which I come, and to his credit that is the church he showed to me.
But instead what I’ve learned is that it’s a place that has brutally robbed so many of those very treasures. Instead of reflecting Jesus, the church is too often reflected nothing but a cold, dark abyss.
Some amazing survivors have shared with me things like this and many of which would be very similar to some of the amazing people in this room this morning. One told me: “Because of my abuse on the mission field, I absolutely despise anyone who calls themselves a Christian.”
Another told me: “At age 13, I was so disillusioned with Christianity that I preferred to be in hell, I was committed to following Satan. I saw the native people worshiping the devil, and they were getting what they needed from their religion.” Most recently, somebody wrote me and said, “So I don’t understand how he, the perpetrator, is so righteous and how everyone is standing strongly with him to defend him, to defend his ministry. They see him as under attack, just because I finally spoke. He is righteous and I’m tainted, they see me as evil, I’m scared mostly because I’m not always sure what is true. Does God see me the way they do? Is God against me? Is he angry that I can’t forget? Is he angry that I haven’t forgiven in some ways that hasn’t allowed me to forget? I don’t want to be broken anymore.”
Any institution that is responsible for such horrors and then fails to accept its complete responsibility, grieve at the indescribable pain it has caused, and then demonstrate authentic repentance; demonstrate, not just by empty words, is rotting at the core.
I have a friend of mine who is a Christian and he writes these…I guess he calls them poems. I’m not sure if they’re really poems, but they are pretty good, and he…I took a part of his poem out the other night that says, this, and it is so true, he says, “Like let’s dress up the outside make it look nice and neat. But it’s funny, that’s what they do – that’s what they used to do to mummies while the corpse’s rot underneath.”
See, I grieve that much of the church is asleep, and doesn’t even realize it. I grieve that it’s so far – hard to find Jesus in the midst of all of this. For too many people inside the church it is always Winter, but never Christmas. As a follower of Jesus, I have struggled with how to understand and respond to this appalling darkness and pain, perpetrated by individuals and institutions that profess to love and follow the same Jesus that I do? How do I respond? How do I respond to the beautiful individuals who have been so broken by those who profess Jesus? How do I respond to survivors who get up each day, struggling with trauma, shame, self-worth, abandonment, and a lifetime of processing abuse?
How do I respond when the vulnerable have been overwhelmed by the darkness and kicked to the side of the road? How do I respond when the church is often the one doing the kicking? Interestingly enough, the parable of the Good Samaritan is beginning to help me process these painful questions with a little bit of hope. See it’s a parable about the most unlikely persons who move towards the hurting in order to get down into the dirt with them and bring hope by helping to lift him up and begin healing.
It’s about authentic compassion. A compassion, whereby we are so moved and overwhelmed by the distress of another that their distress and pain is as if it is our very own. It is about a compassion that overrides all fear and risk and is fueled by love, time and time again, the story points me to God. Not the God of the self-righteous and the self-important, nor the God of those who use his name to exploit and destroyed vulnerable in order to seize and protect power. And not the God of those in the church who are so busy doing religious stuff that they don’t even have time for those who are lying on the side of the road.
No, that’s not the God I’m talking about. This parable and God’s kindness, this parable has pointed me to a much different God. A God whose very character helps me as I spend my days and nights swimming in Christian cesspools, confronting abuse and searching for those who are drowning.
Let me give you an example. Just a few examples of what I mean. The parable is helping me to get to know a God that is not silent, a God who is not silent when confronted by evil regardless of the un-ultimate consequence.
I cannot be silent when I am confronted by the evil of child abuse, (Ed: me either!) regardless of where it happens, who commits it or the consequences that I may face when I confront it. I’m getting to know a God that pursues hurting people. This beautiful truth encourages me to pursue those around me who are hurting and have lost all hope, as a result of the abuse they have suffered inside and outside of the church. See, as you well know too many survivors lying on the side of the road has never even been noticed, let alone pursued by the church.
I’m getting to know a God, who is safe, not only does He pursue us, but He’s approachable because He’s safe. Oh His people so often times, or at least those who profess to be his people, are not safe. But the God that I’m getting to know is – don’t we see this in the life of Jesus? Remember the story in the gospel where the little children want to come and talk to Jesus and Jesus, he’s preaching. The God of the universe is preaching and these kids wanna come up and talk and sit around and probably goof off and probably don’t really care about what He’s saying.
And who was it that pushed the children away? It was those who’ve spent their days and nights with Jesus. It was the holy guys, the guys who were with Jesus all of the time. They were the ones that push the kids away and who spoke up about this travesty, nobody except Jesus. There was a silence and Jesus when he spoke up – I have some friends who would know a lot more translation than I do. What they said He, you know, in a very crossway Jesus really was pissed off. I mean like the words in the Bible don’t really explain it, that well, but He was just pissed.
Now think about this – think about this at that time in history children were valued just a bit over a slave and Jesus is pissed at His disciples because they’re getting in the way. Because Jesus was speaking great truths and they all wanted to listen and these little precious ones made in the image of God simply wanted to be with Him. See that is an approachable God. That is a God that I’m getting to know who is safe. So many of our faith communities are not safe places for survivors.
Many survivors are forced into silence because they don’t feel safe with those who may be closest to them. You know that more than I do. Responses such as why can’t you just forgive and move on? Are often no less traumatizing than the very abuse itself. See unsafe churches are abusive churches. I’m getting to know a God who treasures transparency and healthy vulnerability. You see, as a Christian I believe that God did his most powerful work when he was vulnerable and transparent.
He was lying naked – hanging naked on a cross. The God of the universe that doesn’t make sense to me to be honest with you, it’s so upside down. It’s so not the way we think, is it? The God of the universe would expose himself and be vulnerable to the point of death. But that’s what changed, in my belief, the course of history. See this truth frees me to be transparent and vulnerable with those who have lost all hope. It frees me to weep with those who weep. To get angry and pissed off with those who are angry and pissed off.
But I’m afraid not many churches and Christian institutions understand this fundamental truth because what all too often happens with an institution, as you all well know, instead of embracing transparency and for vulnerability, which is the character of the very God in which they claim to worship. They protect themselves; they protect themselves by sacrificing individuals. That’s exactly the opposite of what God did because God sacrificed Himself for individual souls.
But too often today our institutions are sacrificing individual’s souls themselves. It’s backward people. It’s not – it is not Christianity. It is not. I’m also getting to know a God who doesn’t let go. His love for each of us is forever. He doesn’t let go. Even when I don’t even think He’s around He’s still holding onto me. And this may be difficult for some of you to hear, but I’ll be just brave enough to say he’s still holding onto you. You may wonder where He is. I wonder that often, but He is.
See one of the great tragedies of the church is that it’s always letting go, especially those who are hurting the most. That’s not Jesus. Yes, the God I’m getting to know treasures the rejected, the marginalized and the ignored. He crosses the road and gets down into the dirt with the hurting and brutalized. The God that I’m getting to know is so overwhelmed by the distress of others that their pain becomes His own. He’s a God whose very essence is light. In the Bible there is a verse that says, “The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” -Jn 1:5
As a Christian I hold tightly to that verse. So where is this God of light? There many days I wake up, and think, “Where are You? You say you’re a God of light, where are You?” And then He gently and sometimes not so gently lets me know that the God that I’m getting to know is reflected in the faces of so many who are sitting here today and outside of this room who are spending their lives crossing roads and getting into the dirt with those who can’t move and have given up hope. Whether you realize it or not, each time you cross the road you’re carrying light into darkness. A darkness that is slowly being defeated.
Aren’t we witnessing this beautiful light as we hear the voices of so many amazing everyday people stepping forward, refusing to be silent any longer? Aren’t we witnessing this beautiful light through the lives of those who are speaking on behalf of survivors whose voices are simply tired? Aren’t we witnessing this beautiful light as more and more brave souls are calling Christian leaders to repentance and demanding them to turn down the volume of their own voices? So they can hear the suffering cries of others. Aren’t we witnessing this beautiful light in organizations like this who helped shine light into the very dark places?
I believe this person was Catholic, but I’m not sure Knuin? – Knowen?, no one ever heard of him – okay and I don’t know really much about him, so if – so he may be somebody that none of us will like. But I – but I don’t know, but I do like this quote, he says, “Though do not deny the darkness they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself, and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God”
See, I realize that we’re all on a long journey as the death of darkness is very slow. I also realize that many of us are simply tired. On those days I simply want to quit, I’m reminded that I’m not alone in this journey. In fact I walk this journey alongside some of those most amazing heroes ever to walk the face of the earth. Heroes, who cross the road and get down into the dirt and lift me up to press forward for another day. On one of those days when I simply couldn’t go any further I received a precious thought from one of these heroes. One of these flashes of light, who said thank you from all of us who have been languished by the road, bloody, beaten and robbed and watched the Levi’s and the Pharisees just walk on by.
Each of you in this room are a beautiful flash of light, who reveal the hidden but real presence of God. A God who does deeply care and He will never give up. Such a God, quite frankly, for me, gives me great hope that one day the darkness will die and our long journey will come to an end. But until that day I have the privilege, I have the great privilege of pressing forward alongside each one of you carrying light as we search for roads to cross. Thank you very much.
Not many in the Protestant world, and this is not a very accurate statement, but – but you know, I think we’re like 20 years behind the Catholic world in dealing with this issue.”
by CLAUDIO LAVANGA & CASSANDRA VINOGRAD
ROME – Pope Francis begged forgiveness for the Church on Monday and cited the need for “reparation” as he met with victims who had suffered at the hands of Roman Catholic priests.
The pontiff invited six victims of abuse from Ireland, Germany and Britain to attend an early-morning private Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the residence next to St. Peter’s Basilica where he lives.
Francis called the abuse a “grave sin” decrying how it was hidden for “so much time” and “camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained.”
“I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons,” the pope said in his homily. “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse.”
“Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God”
He said abusive priests’ actions “profane the very image of God” and are “more than despicable.”
“It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God,” the pontiff added.
Francis strongly praised the victims’ courage in speaking up and shedding “light on a terrible darkness,” telling the mass he is deeply aware of their deep and unrelenting pain.
“Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God,” he said, adding that the victims’ willingness to come to the Vatican “speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness.”
The pope gave his strongest response yet, saying “sexual abuse is such an ugly crime … it is like a satanic mass”, and calling for “zero tolerance” for anyone in the Church who abused children, including bishops.
The pope then met privately with the victims, spending at least half an hour with each. While Francis’ predecessor met with abuse victims several times during his pontificate, this was the first time a pope had received victims inside the Vatican.
The meeting was first announced by the pope on his flight back from a visit to the Holy Land, when Francis noted called child sex abuse “very serious” and “like celebrating a satanic mass.”
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi defended the pope, saying critics don’t understand the pontiff’s “positive intentions.”
“If you look at the time the pope dedicated to them, and their emotional reaction, it’s clear this was not a public relations event. It was a profound encounter between a pastor and a person he loves and tries to understand deeply,” Lombardi said. “I witnessed the profound gratitude they expressed to the Holy Father for the chance he gave them to speak about their experience.”
Since his election last year, the pope has pledged that the Vatican – accused of not doing enough to bring abusers to justice and to protect victims – will introduce a “zero tolerance” policy against crimes against children of a sexual nature.
At the end of 2013, he overhauled Vatican law and broadened the definition on child abuse to include sexual acts with children, child prostitution and child pornography, making them punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
Shortly after, he set up a panel of experts to advise him on ways to better tackle the widespread problem. Among them, the Irish abuse victim Marie Collins, and U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, who has a lengthy track record of cleaning up dioceses shattered by child sex abuse.
He reiterated his pledge to stamp out the scourge on Monday, saying that all bishops must carry out their ministry with “the utmost care” to protect minors.
“They will be held accountable,” he added.
March 30, 2009
Thank you so much for your words of encouragement, and for the beautiful crucifix. The crucifix is just the right size to fit in the palm of my hand and that’s how I fall asleep at night, holding on tight to it.
And, congratulations on your (new) daughter. I didn’t even know you were expecting a baby. It warms my heart to know that your new baby girl has parents who will not only love and provide for her, but will also teach her the things she needs to know to keep herself safe from sexual predators.
You truly are a leader and a warrior in God’s army. I saw that in the first VOTF meeting I attended. Keeping kids safe from sexual predators is a fight, but it’s a GOOD fight! As in 1 Tim 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith!”
When I am well again (Ed: this person suffers from debilitating, chronic, clinical depression, and this often causes absences for periods time) I will be rejoining in that fight. My depression is just part of the collateral damage of what was done to me as a kid. But, I’ll come out of it. I always do.
Finally, I want to thank you for keeping keeping me in your prayers. That means MORE to me than you know. In my state of mind, it is REALLY hard to pray, so to know that you have me “covered” in prayer really helps.
All the best to your wife and your precious baby girl. And know that when I CAN pray, I’ll be keeping you in the MY prayers.
In His Love,
(A Survivor of Clergy Sexual Abuse)