As Catholics, we are living in very difficult and trying times. The recent news revealing the large-scale sexual abuse of so many innocent children and its cover-up by high-level leaders in six dioceses of Pennsylvania came as a bombshell when the long-expected grand jury report was released. Over a period spanning seventy years, well more than one thousand children were abused by over three hundred priests, and in most of the cases, little was done by bishops and high-level diocesan officials to stop it. Out of fear of scandal, or fear of harm being done to the Church or the reputations of her leaders, or fear of monetary losses, these cases were kept quiet, away from the eyes of law enforcement authorities. In many cases, priests who were accused of abuse were simply transferred from one parish to another, whether sent for treatment and evaluation or not, and in most cases, the people of the parishes were never informed. Thus, ongoing abuse was facilitated, more children were harmed, and as we see, far more damage was done over time, first to the many victims whose lives were forever altered and in many cases even ruined, and ironically, to the Church itself.
The situation laid out so starkly in the report of the Pennsylvania grand jury is indefensible and to be deplored at the deepest level. It cries out for acts of penance and reparation on the part of the Church of today and its leaders. While we cannot change or rewrite the past, we can do whatever we can to insure that this does not happen again. This calls for determination, for vigilance, for strict adherence to the standards in place for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. These standards have been in place since 2002, and have been reviewed and updated consistently since then. The only brightness in the gloom of this dark time in the Church is to be found in the fact that far fewer cases of sexual abuse have been reported in the years since 2002, and virtually all have been handled properly and not buried in the sand.
This can be attributed to the fact that many more people are aware of the scourge of sexual abuse, that people are likely to speak up about it, and report it to proper authorities both within the Church as well as in law enforcement. The admission standards to seminary and ministerial formation programs have been greatly strengthened. All employees of the Church, all members of the clergy, and even those who volunteer in the parish must have undergone a background check and completed training in recognition of what sexual abuse it and how to recognize signs of it. Our parish complies strictly with the requirements of the bishops of the United States and the Archdiocese of Hartford. By now, all registered Catholic households in the Archdiocese have received a mailing containing a letter from Archbishop Blair as well as a letter from Kathleen Nowasadko, the Archdiocesan Director of the Office of Safe Environment. I hope that you have taken the time to read these messages carefully.
The report of the Pennsylvania grand jury, taken with the other story of scandal that has emerged in recent weeks, namely the resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington, from the College of Cardinals, after revelations of sexual misconduct with a teenaged boy in the 1950's as well as misconduct involving his own seminarians and young priests as Bishop of Metuchen and then Archbishop of Newark, both in New Jersey, indicate that more work needs to be done, namely in establishing ways for holding bishops accountable for their own misconduct or their inaction in the face of reports of sexual abuse. Until now, there has been no way for someone to raise the alarm in the Church about a bishop and his misconduct or improper handling of complaints. This needs to be addressed and corrected, and this should involve the laity in the Church. The Pope should also take action, drastic action as needed.
Several weeks ago, Deacon Bob Magnuson delivered a magnificent homily at St. Mary’s on the effect of these recent scandals. He delivered essentially the same message last weekend at St. Agnes. While many are questioning why they are Catholic or why they should remain Catholic, Deacon Magnuson gave an eloquent witness why he is a Catholic and why he will remain. In no way did he sugar-coat or gloss over the effects of these terrible sins which we are facing. What he did do is to point out all that is good, that remains good in our Church and the faith we profess. We are challenged in these times to hold fast as the barque of Peter gets tossed to and fro by the storms our sins have wrought. And as Jesus came to the disciples that night on the Sea of Galilee, to a boat filled with men filled with fear for their lives, he comes to us and speaks the very same words he spoke then: “Do not be afraid! I am here.”
We must remember and hold fast to the promise that Jesus made. The Church was established by him. He will never abandon his Church. Nothing will destroy his Church, not even our worst sins. Our faith is only in Jesus Christ, who is Lord of history, Lord of the cosmos, and Lord of the Church. We do not put our faith in any one else, be that person be priest, bishop, or pope. Even as I say this, I will not deny the need for accountability, for transparency, for true repentance, for a firm determination to do whatever needs to be done to insure that our Church is a place where children, and where anyone can feel safe and loved. Nothing less than this will serve to properly address the crisis we now face.