MOURNING THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE, ROBBED CHILDHOODS, STOLEN FUTURES, DESTROYED FAITH AND CRIMES AGAINST BOTH GOD AND HUMANITY
"Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Greetings, SBT Readers:
By now it's clear. We are not dealing with an
of pedophilia in the Catholic church, but with a
with consequences as deadly as the pandemic flu of 1917. The Spanish flu may have killed 20-50 million people, but the scourge of pedophilia and all the hierarchical cover-ups have not only destroyed the lives of the victims and their families, but also the faith of millions. We can no longer pretend that pedophilia was limited to isolated incidents that happened long, long ago. Admittedly, that's what I first thought when I learned that the priest who had baptized me some 66 years ago in England was caught in a field molesting a little girl and was then sent to who-knows-where; and perhaps that's what I believed when I discovered that one of the most notorious child molesters in Chicago happened to have served on a preaching team with me for a year, sitting at the same table with me, week after week. And perhaps I still hoped for the best when I learned that a cousin who had attended an elite British boarding school may well have been molested and that possibly factored into his suicide. At some point, however, I could no longer buy into the "isolated incident" theory. Investigative reporting revealed horrific abuse in schools, seminaries, parishes, orphanages and other institutions from across the globe. Then survivors began to come forward with their stories, and I discovered that friends, colleagues and people who came to me for spiritual direction had stories of their own to share.
Then came the selling of church property, the closing of schools and churches to pay for legal bills and "victim pay-offs," the walking away of the spiritually shattered and the stigma that became attached to being "Catholic," being a minister and even believing in God!
We have toppled from "Church Triumphant" to "Church Penitent," but it is not enough to say
and then move on. The time has come to explore the roots of the sexual abuse pandemic so that we can re-build something new that is fully aligned with the teachings of the Gospel Jesus.
Perhaps our starting point has to do with dismantling the pyramid of power and all vestiges of clerical elitism. I may be wrong here, but I have a suspicion that the need to abuse stems more from wanting "power over others" than from the desire for sexual gratification. And it is also possible that the inability to form self-revealing, intimate friendships leads to snatching intimacy from wherever one can find it! Certainly, the church's history of sexual repression and the systemic suppression of the feminine have also contributed to the sordid mix. We need to re-think priesthood, overhaul priestly formation and ordain spiritual leaders not bureaucrats on a career path!
Whatever the case, it's time to "rebuild God's Church" -- it's been done before and with God's grace it can be done again!
PS. For a fuller examination on the topic of priestly formation, please visit my book,
Jesus the Holy Fool,
"Holy Foolishness and a New Ecclesiology," pgs. 223-238. (Sheed & Ward, 1999).
As a result, many of his disciples returned to their
former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"
Simon Peter answered, "Lord, 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."
Jn 6: 60-69
One of the most touching testimonials from survivors of sex abuse in Pennsylvania was from a woman who can no longer say the word "GOD" because it reminds her of her abuser; another survivor explained how for the last 35 years he has felt as if his soul had been murdered.What survivors of predator clergy and religious communities share in common is not only the violence and shame of their experiences, but also complete disillusionment with the institutional church and her representatives; in some cases, this has also meant a severing of relationship with God. This is understandable. When sexual violence is done in the name of God, with promises of heaven and threats of hell, with forced confessions and victim blaming, the child must ask whether God knows or approves and why a supposedly loving God remains silent. At the same time, the child often feels as though there are no adults to turn to and so the abuse become a "secret" that festers within.
"Lord, to whom shall we go?"
Some survivors have managed to salvage their faith. Jim VanSickle, for example, says that he has no problem with Catholicism but with sexual predators and their protectors; he and his wife have consciously turned to Christ to be a source of comfort and healing, and he has even started a Facebook community to welcome those in need of support
And to whom shall we go?
The question that Peter asks Jesus is one that we need to ask ourselves on a daily basis. We are surrounded by those who have lost their bearings: some have walked away from God and church; some never had a faith community or belief system to walk away from; and some profess to be Christian but are more into celebrity worship than discipleship. Without God, without a sense of mission and vision, without core values, we have nothing. Last week I referred to another epidemic -- the suicide epidemic of celebrities. Sadly, those who seem to have everything are often more lost than many of their devoted fans; they can provide entertainment and distraction, but few inspire or help their followers lead more fulfilling and purposeful lives. They have great looks, fat bank accounts and clay feet!
And to whom shall we go?
In our first reading, Joshua tells the Israelites, that if they are not going to worship God, then they must decide whether they are going to worship the "gods beyond the river" whom their ancestors once followed or the gods of the Amorites; the passage ends with these memorable words: "
As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord"
(Jos 24:18B). Ultimately, we have a similar choice: "false
gods" (status, fame, power, wealth, etc.) or the living God. When we place our trust in God (as opposed to things, causes and people) our faith cannot be shaken. Like the survivors of clerical abuse, we must learnt to separate the reality of God from God's symbolic representatives. Instead of depending upon others to mediate God's Presence, each human must seek God directly, turning to God's faithful representatives (of whom there are many) for guidance but never giving away our own spiritual power. If any good comes out of the sordid revelations that continue to come to light it is the challenge for Christians to have an Adult faith and to demand that the Church fulfill its mission to provide the guidance we need on the journey.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- How have you been affected by the shocking revelations regarding pedophilia in the Catholic Church?
- What can you do to help "re-build" God's church?
- What do you believe "next steps" should be for the institutional church?