My brothers and sisters, during these past couple of weeks, as information about the failures of some priests and bishops has been revealed, my mind and heart as a Catholic has been a whirlwind of emotions, perhaps it has been for you also. But for me also as a priest, the devastating news has taken some time to process what I’ve been feeling in light of this renewed and new scandal in the Church. Today’s readings help to shed light on what emotions and thoughts I have had, maybe they will be of some help and encouragement to you.
One of the first emotions I am feeling is anger. In our 1st reading, Joshua gathered all the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel together. It reads, “When they stood in their ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people: ‘If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve’”. I admit that, No, it does not please me to serve the Lord right now. It is not easy to be a priest, or a Catholic, in this time. And in some ways, instead of standing with my fellow priests with the bishops, speaking to you, I want to turn around, link arms, and stand with you, and accuse all the clergy who has caused this scandal, ‘So, I say to you abusive priests and bishops, and bishops who have covered it up- stand before God, and before us, the people, and choose today whom you will serve! Will you serve the self-pleasuring idols of your heart or will you serve the Lord? Will you serve the worldly mentality of turning your eyes, ignoring the problems, complacent selfishness, or will you serve the Lord? You cannot serve both, so choose today whom you want to serve. I want to yell at them, “Will you stand up, man up, and call a sin a sin, and not tolerate or ignore the problems? And not be a cause of more sin and scandal by your silence’! Indeed, I am angry at the sinful actions of the abusers, as well as the sinful inactions and silence of these men of the Church and supposed representatives of God. Believe me when I tell you these men are not representatives of the Church that Christ established, any more than Judas Iscariot was. So, I am angry these men have caused such a scandal in our beloved Church. I am also deeply saddened by the wounds infected on the many victims. And for the complacent and self-serving actions or inactions of clergy and Church leadership. And on behalf of God and the Church, I say I am deeply and heartily sorry. I and the good bishops, like our shepherd Bishop Olmsted, stand with you, are angry and hurt with you, cry with you, and grieve with you. We pray with and for you, and we ask you to please forgive us as leaders of the Church.
At the same time, I am grieving and questioning. This past week I had a conversation with a man from another parish whom I have known for a while. This man, is a good, holy, compassionate man, has made God the core of his very being. He has seen God work mightily and lovingly in his life and in the life of others. Yet still, this man has been rocked by this scandal, and his faith has been shaken. Perhaps like many of you, he cannot fathom how a God would let this happen in His Church-- what happened to “God being our refuge and shelter, never abandoning or forsaking us?” What happened to “the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against the Church?” (MT. 16:18). If God is a loving father, why didn’t He protect these innocent children from being molested, violated, and abused? Why didn’t God protect them? Ultimately, the heart of the question is: Why did God allow these men to commit such sin knowing that innocent people would be dramatically and tragically wounded? Deep down we know that it is because of free will, so what we really want is for God to not allow people to sin. We know that every sin--no matter how gruesome or run of the mill it might be and no matter how public or private the sin might be--every sin has consequences and affects others. Every sin is a turning inward in ourselves and a separation from God and others. We all sin, and don’t we all try and hide, to cover up our sinfulness and darkness? Even though there is a big difference in the gravity, every sin is a sin, and must not be hidden or ignored, but must be faced, no matter how difficult it might be. That my brothers and sisters, is what our good and loving God is doing, He is bringing to light the sin that has remained in the darkness for way too long. It has to be brought out in the open so that the victims, the perpetrators, and the entire Church can begin to heal and become who we are made to be.
Even though we are all sinners, one of the reasons why it is so hard for us to fathom is because we are so disgusted by that sin of molestation and abuse of the innocent people. There is a young man in our parish who shared with me that when he was 12 years old he was abused and molested by a sports coach. He has encouraged me to share his story so that the awareness will be heightened. This coach, or I should say molester, was a mentor to many boys, he was charismatic and respected by many families. I read the transcript of the interview that the detective had with this abusive mentor many years ago, and I will tell you, I was disgusted. It was so clear that he was grooming this young boy, and I was shocked. I thought, how can this man think this action is OK, how can he be ok with this such gruesome and unfathomable act? From the transcript you could see that he was so clearly wrapped up in himself, that he didn’t see or care about the severity of his actions, because that is what sins does. That is consistent with the abusive priests and bishops, they were so wrapped up in themselves, and wrapped up in their sin, seemingly without any concern about how it would devastate and hurt others.
The other reason I share that story is because some people today are saying that the Church hasn’t done enough since the first awareness of the Scandal in 2002. I do not agree, I say it was a good start. Because of the current commitment of the Catholic Church to education and abuse prevention, over 15,000 victims have come forward and hopefully started their journey of healing. Investigations from third parties are being done, and the guilty priests are being held accountable. Background checks are being run on clergy, seminarians, employees, and volunteers. The Church is committed to making our communities safe through increased awareness and Safe Environment Training, which every parish volunteer must receive because it is all of our responsibility to keep our children safe. Thanks to the Safe Environment training this mother received here at Corpus Christi, she was able to recognize the red flags and apparent boundary violations this coach had crossed on numerous occasions with her son. This mother took this information to the police, and there was an investigation. Unfortunately, other families were not educated, or were turning a blind-eye to the highly questionable actions of this coach. Because of the lack of evidence from others, this coach was able to continue in his ways for many years. But, I am happy to share this courageous young man has now come forward and testified what his coach did to him 10 years ago, the abuser is arrested and awaiting trial; and the young man is much freer, happy to have so much burden and weight off his shoulders and heart.
Those priests who did such horrendous violence to those young boys, as well as those bishops and others who did not see and ignored the problems and did not stand up and call a sin a sin; God is making sure their actions, and inaction, are being held accountable. So, what are we called to do as a Church? First, I ask you to stand with me as we continue to faithfully implement the Safe Environment policies here in our parish, to help make our parish and community a safe environment. Second, we cannot be complacent or silent, but we must stand up, call a sin a sin, and hold each other accountable! Our 2nd reading uses a husband and wife and marriage metaphor to illustrate who the Church is called to be. St Paul says, “wives be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. And husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and handed himself over to sanctify her.” Priests and Bishops are called to be a representative of God, and to set themselves apart for the service and sanctification of his bride, the Church. Every priest is called to lay down his life, just as Christ did, for the Church. So, for all the priests and bishops who have served themselves instead of serving you, who have puffed themselves up and did whatever made them happy instead of laying down their life in service of you, I am sorry, you deserve better. So, I urge you to pray for me, pray that God will make me the priest God wants and that you deserve. But also, to support me just as a good wife supports her husband as he tries to follow God’s will in serving and sanctifying. Pray for all the priests and bishops, and for the entire hierarchy of the Church to continue to be open, honest, and transparent. My brothers and sisters, we must not turn our eyes, or be silent, but we must hold fast to the faithfulness of God, even in the midst of the unfaithfulness and sin of others. Even though each one of us are weak sinful human beings, we are all called to saintly holiness. And so, we must help each other and hold each other accountable for our whole-hearted pursuit of holiness. God and each other deserves that we face the reality of our inward self-serving ways, confess our own sinfulness, and give ourselves whole-heartedly to the pursuit of holiness.
My brothers and sisters, even though this is a difficult time in our Church, and there will be many others in our future, God is still God. As St. Peter truthfully declares in our Gospel, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God”. Indeed, our God is a faithful and loving Father calling us and strengthening us in our pursuit to holiness. And Jesus is still our Savior whose death and resurrection has brought victory over sin, every sin. And that healing touch of our Resurrected Lord is made present in this and every Eucharist, which thankfully is independent of the sinfulness of the priest. Let us avail ourselves to the Sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist, they are our vehicles to holiness. And pray that as each priest and bishop, and you and I receive our medicine in Holy Communion, that we too will be whole-hearted in our pursuit of holiness.BACK TO LIST