More than likely you have heard about the latest in the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. 300 priests accused of horrible sexual abuse. Bishops covering up, moving, and hiding, rather than disciplining and demanding accountability. And I’m about to tell you that this report is a good and necessary thing.
Not the abuse. Not the cover-ups. Not the shifting and moving around of problem priests. These acts were heinous, egregious, disgusting, criminal, and absolutely, unequivocally wrong. Period. It sickens me to hear the details and to think of the pain and suffering that was inflicted on the victims. None of that is okay on any level.
The men who did this were not shepherds of God’s people. The people who covered up the crimes and protected the criminals were not shepherds of God’s people, and they should each receive consequences proportionate to what they have done. This is not the Catholic Church. This is not what Jesus intended the shepherds of the people to do, and has no place in the Church. It must be stopped and it must be removed.
This report is good and necessary because there has finally been a thorough and honest look at what has happened. Sadly, the Pennsylvania report is more of what we’ve already heard from previous reports. A lot more. It won’t be the last, and it shouldn’t be.
This was a systemic, worldwide, cultural problem and it has to be rooted out. We have healing to do, and it can’t happen if we don’t get rid of the infection.
We have to find what we can, correct what we can, and minister when we can’t. We need to do everything possible to make sure that this culture has nowhere to thrive – in our churches, in our schools, in our businesses, in our world.
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful to even mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” (Ephesians 5:11-13)
Predators go where they can easily access their victims and avoid detection, and shamefully, the Catholic Church was one of those places. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one.
The #MeToo movement shows us that a predatory culture has been the norm for a long, long time. Even when complaints were brought forward, the victims were knocked right down and the blame placed on them. Actresses sleeping with producers for a part is cliché because it was so well known. The consequences? Nothing but bad press for the women who didn’t play the game.
The military has many stories of people being sexually assaulted and then being moved from their units and labeled as trouble-makers, or even discharged rather than the perpetrator being disciplined.
And I could go on.
How many victims of sexual assault in their homes, schools, churches, or places of business have lasting psychological issues exacerbated by the lack of response from the people around them? How much damage has been caused by the judgment being placed on the victims rather than the perpetrator? The whole thing has been distorted everywhere for a very, very long time.
But I believe a new day is dawning.
This behavior is no longer acceptable. It is being exposed and driven out. And the more we learn about what happened, the more we can do to prevent it happening again. The more we bring the actions to light, the more the victims will be heard and given the chance to heal.
Our hearts will be broken again. We will be sick from the details of what happened. We will be rightly outraged that something like this was allowed to happen in an institution that is supposed to be the champion of the weak and vulnerable.
Let us welcome each report, encouraging justice and light to be brought into each of these places of darkness. Let us be saddened and angry enough to protect and support the victims of the past and to renew our resolve to protect the vulnerable now. Let us be ready to clear out all that we can and start to build on a better foundation, holding ourselves and others accountable for valuing and protecting each person in our churches, our homes, our workplaces, and our world.
Let us use these moments to clarify our own beliefs and understandings of ourselves and of God. The men who did all of these things are just that–men. They are not God. They are not the Catholic Church. Nothing about what they have done is based on the mission or the ministry of the Catholic Church. The distortion of faith used in the abuse is obvious and twisted. The pain and suffering is real, but we can’t throw out the good because of the bad.
Most of all let us remember that this does not reflect the behavior and attitude of all priests in the Catholic Church. It doesn’t reflect the behavior and attitude of men who are entering the priesthood now. Signing up to be a priest in the Catholic Church cannot be easy right now. So, why would they come? Why are so many seminaries in the country filled to capacity right now?
Bishop Robert Barron has a lesson in his study on “David” about the priesthood of Eli. Eli’s priesthood was a disaster with his priestly sons doing abominable things in the Temple. When Eli does nothing about it, God wipes out his priesthood and that of his sons. But God didn’t do this until there was someone ready to fill in the void. Samuel, the prophet, was there and was listening to God. David was coming up in the wings, and someone much greater than Eli was coming to take his place.
In the wake of the first sex abuse scandal, Bishop Barron interviewed men who were entering the seminary and asked them why they were there. Consistently, their answers showed that they wanted to be a part of the solution. The priesthood of the past is being taken down, but we have an army coming.
The answer to this crisis is not to destroy the faith of the people or to eliminate a Church that is there to lead us to God, but to tear down what was wrong and build up what is right. I have seen some of this new flock of priests, and I can tell you that they are impressive, and they will be a part of the healing process.
This is a trying time, but it is a time of great change. May we trust that God is with us as we discover what has been hidden for so long. May the light that shines on these events transform our Church into a beacon of hope, love, and grace filled with shepherds who will care for the broken, the weak, and the poor as Jesus intended for His Church to do. And may God use each one of us to help make that transformation possible.
This is my prayer. Will you join me?