Monday, July 13, 2015
A homily I didn't want to give: Responding to (alleged) clergy sexual abuse--15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
(Listen to this homily here).
“Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.”
Many of you probably know that I love preaching each week—even daily. It is a humbling honor to proclaim the Gospel and it excites me. I have to confess though, that this is a homily that, I don’t want to give. But I must. I need to address the fact that on Tuesday, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate released a list of seven priests who have been credibly accused of misconduct. Bishop Sirba has asked that I read the following letter on his behalf:
Even without knowing all of the facts—who did what, when and where—this absolutely breaks my heart—as I am sure it does yours. As a priest, I find myself disgusted, embarrassed, ashamed, angry and a whole lot of other words that I can’t say in church, whenever I hear of crimes—or alleged crimes—committed by a member of the clergy, especially against a child.
Yet my reaction—our reaction—only pales to the damages done to victims of clergy abuse and their families. First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go to anyone who has been harmed or abused by a priest. On behalf of our parishes, diocese and Church, I am so sorry. I beg you—if you have not already—go to law enforcement. As a beloved son or daughter of God, you deserve justice. As the Psalmist says, “Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.” You deserve healing. You deserve wholeness. Please take that courageous step to speak with law enforcement about what happened. You do not have to suffer in silence and you could help stop current abuse from happening again.
I pray also that victims of clergy abuse—or any other abuse—may find healing through Jesus, through our Church and through the sacraments. Know my door is also open if you have faced such egregious behavior in your life.
I want to be clear—priests who have harmed children—like any other person—are criminals. They are not above the law. Their actions represent neither Jesus Christ, who said “Let the children come to me…” nor the Catholic Church, nor the Diocese of Duluth nor our parishes. They reflect the actions of criminals and the ugliness of sin and evil. Frankly, such men are sick and they must experience justice and healing through our civil and ecclesial systems.
Sadly, we live in a world and society where abuse is far too common. While the Catholic Church makes the front page for such crimes (which isn’t the worst thing in the world, as it keeps us accountable), the Catholic priesthood is actually among the lowest percentage of offenders in any demographic—less than 2% of priests have been accused or convicted of such crimes. In no way does this excuse any misconduct—one case is far too many—but the fact is that abuse is a national problem.
And, despite what you may see (or not see) in the media, the Catholic Church in the United States is on the front lines to combat this issue. I have seen this firsthand in my time in seminary. Before I could even enter seminary I had to pass a thorough psychological examination and a background check. Throughout my time of formation, education on safe environment, boundaries and best practices were consistently taught.
In the United States, the Diocese of Duluth and our parishes, safe environment training is required for all priests, religious, employees and volunteers, as is a background check, for anyone working with minors. I also have the right to ask for such training and a background check from anyone else who works or volunteers in our parish.
We are trained—to various degrees based on our profession (think here of our teachers)—to look for signs of abuse and have been consistently told to call the civil authorities if we suspect abuse. Our Catholic churches and schools today are actually among the safest places your kids can be.
Many of you know the men whose names appear on the list I read from Bishop, and I would like to speak to you. I have heard you share your own shock, disappointment, confusion and grief: “Fr. so and so did my wedding,” “I was a good friend of his,” “He baptized my children.” Again, I am sorry for the pain you may be feeling now.
Please remember, our Church has been and will always be made up of sinners. Think of the 12 apostles—Peter denied Jesus, Judas betrayed Jesus and only one out of the twelve were with Jesus as he hung upon the cross. Yet our Church, made up of sinful members, is “without spot and wrinkle.” If Christ worked in your life through a priest—even if this priest did bad things on the side—Jesus still worked, especially in the sacraments. It is Jesus who presides at the sacraments. In the ancient church there was a famous saying, “When Judas baptizes, Jesus baptizes.” The mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ is that it is perfect—yet made up of imperfect people.
Finally, as I have prayed through difficult situations in my priesthood, I find we must remember two things. First—when evil strikes, how do I respond? What is my personal answer to evil? How do you respond? I hope you respond with holiness. I hope you respond in the exact way the evil one hates—by growing closer to God. Our world and our Church—both going through some dark times—needs saints. This is your call.
Second, I am reminded of a line at Mass. It is one of my favorite lines that I and other priests proclaim: “Lift up your hearts.” Lift up your hearts! God has given our parishes many blessings: joy, excitement, new families, growing school, growing faith formation, hospitality, service to the poor and yes, even donuts. Let these continue in the name of Jesus Christ!
Jesus Christ has led the Church he has established for 2000 years. He has now led the Diocese of Duluth for 125. For nearly the same time he has led our parishes. Anyone who has studied Church history knows we have been through a lot during this time and have lived through some crazy times. For me, one of the greatest proofs that our Catholic and Christian faith is of God is that we are still around! We have tried to mess it up over and over, yet here we are. Because we are all about Jesus Christ. He promises to heal the brokenhearted and to be with us until the end of the age.
So we turn to him in the most holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We offer our prayers on behalf of victims of abuse and their families. We offer our prayers for truth, justice and forgiveness. We offer our prayers for our own parishes, community and diocese.
Lord, let your truth spring out of the earth, and your justice look down from heaven.