by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.
Having prepared the text that appears several pages hence, I arrived at Saint Barnabas to find that a Propagation of the Faith Missionary was preaching at all the Masses. So instead, I offered a condensed version of what I had prepared to the congregation after we prayed the Closing Prayer. This is what I said:
“Not having the opportunity to preach you to you today, I feel obliged to say that after all we have heard and seen in the news these past two weeks, I wish –and I’m sure I speak for your parish priests here –we all wish to say we care about your feelings and what you must be thinking in response to Pennsylvania report. The scandal of child and teen abuse is something we’ve been living with for years now, but the Pennsylvania report gives numbers of cases and egregious accounts that accentuates the severity of the Church’s sins. The Gospel today asks if we wish to return to a former way of life, and many of us wish we could. We must remember Christ is with us through all things and that faith will get us through this scandal if we let it. Prayer is needed but so is action on our part to hold our leadership to greater accountability. I invite you to consider some of the following:
- Shall we urge our bishops in all Catholic diocese worldwide to release the secret papers listing the guilty priests and negligent bishops before more states require them to do so? Public confession and identification of the criminals in the Church is something we owe to victims because seeing names in print acknowledges the reality of their suffering which is an essential component of the healing process for most if not all. It should have been done long ago. Tragically, our leaders abandoned us and abandoned Jesus, making Church as institution their God. We are a people called to serve, not to secrecy.
- The Church’s mission is not just to take care of our own but to serve the world. To accomplish both, its time our hierarchy open its doors to include lay professionals, especially women, from all sectors of society from psychology to medical, law enforcement, educational and spiritual leaders to address the full scope of all that has happened in ways our bishops failed to do. Furthermore, consider writing our bishops to initiate this kind of cooperative process so that ultimately universal standards of justice could be set for all victims regardless of their abilities or lack thereof to obtain legal counsel and to ultimately begin a process that could result in International standards for protection of children and teens, reparation for all victims of abuse and accepted standards for just penalties for perpetrators in churches, schools, scouts, sports, medical institutions in whatever context they are found. Initiating and engaging this complex enterprise could mark a much-needed public penance on behalf of our leadership.
Time does not permit me offering more suggestions or details, but If anyone wishes to talk more about the PA report or anything related to what going, I offer to spend time with you after mass so please do not hesitate to approach me. May God bless us to take prayerful action to transform our Church to a greater honesty and integrity reminding the hierarchy and ourselves that we are the people who witness to the power of admission of sins as an essential way to encountering God.
Dear Readers: I was humbled by the assembly’s applause after my speech, and many thanked me afterwards although no one chose to speak with me at length. For the time being, perhaps that is all that needs to be said. However, if you want to delve further, what follows is the text I would have preached at the liturgy of the Word:
The Gospel today states: “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 him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Jesus’ question applies to all the faithful in today’s world: “Do we also want to leave?” Amidst the Pennsylvania report regarding the egregious numbers of priests abusing minors since 1940’s (along with some of the most abhorrent details), many of us are asking ourselves this very question. Therefore, we must not eschew the topic at mass today, for this is our public sacrament addressing all the public and personal aspects of our life with Christ and one another. Indeed, today this same topic is being extended to Pope Francis’ mission to Ireland this week and the context of abuse there. No, we cannot be put the topic aside today.
To begin, we must remember that Jesus is present to us even in our sins, even as we repeatedly encounter institutional shame. Christ within the body of the faithful must be our recourse in these awful times when evidence of our leaders’ failures once again comes to light. How many people, including priests, are experiencing despair today, thinking of abandoning the Church, discarding our faith, feeling God has abandoned us? Such feelings are natural and inevitable in these times, but faith compels us to accept a truth greater than what we feel: God never abandons us. Therefore, this ongoing public tragedy must become yet another occasion for us to deepen our relationship with Christ whose Truth alone will set us free. Together we must petition the Holy Spirit for the courage to change the things we can to hold our leaders and our institutions accountable, to insist they lead us as they were meant to lead us: with honesty, with bold confession of their sins which alone allows for just amends to be made and merciful recompense to those they have harmed. This is what our leaders have asked of us, we now continue to insist that they do the same. The faithful had to do this throughout the early church controversies, before and after the Reformation, the Inquisition and we must do it again. Let us reflect on how Jesus can help us address today’s public scandal:
Admitting our wrongs has always been a hallmark of our faith. Repentance is our path to Jesus NOW as it was in Biblical times beginning with the preaching of the prophets that culminated in John the Baptist: Repent! In the early centuries of Christianity, often sinners were required to go public for serious crimes. The local communities compelled penitents to wear sackcloth and ashes at the entrance of churches until their penance and reparations were fulfilled. This concept is rooted in Jewish tradition, the grandfather of our faith. Remember the story of Jonah and the sinful City of Nineveh? The whole metropolis put on sackcloth and ashes. Knowing this our Church should have implemented public admittance of its guilt as the only fitting justice–long before the Pennsylvania government released its report. Only public confession expresses genuine contrition from an institution, reflecting the sinners’ willingness to let God purify and transform it. Furthermore, it should have been evident by now that victims need to have their suffering acknowledged if they are to heal well. Naming convicted perpetrators is also important because, as I have heard, many remain in reprehensible denial of the harm they caused. Their sin and their thinking need to be exposed and condemned.
As for our bishops who covered up and reassigned criminal priests, the fact that for decades they paid more attention to lawyers than victims adds yet another layer to our 20th and 21st century shame. The Church should be above that, judging by today’s Gospel, our leaders abandoned Jesus and made Church-as-institution their God, neglecting a central Christian tenet that to confess our sins is the first step toward reconciliation with God and others. If poverty would be the result, well, as Jesus has said, “Blessed are the poor.”
In light of these insights, I propose we ask all Catholic diocese, world-wide, to release the names of perpetrators and bishops who mishandled the situation so that all victims’ abuses can be formally acknowledge. Then, at last, our Church would regain its integrity, demonstrating true contrition before all peoples–before state and federal government compels us to do so. Only then can what the bishops have offered victims and their families— life-long professional counseling and financial recompense be placed in its proper context. Hindsight also makes evident that faithful Church members would have handled bishops’ open confession of criminal priests without shame if announced at the onset. Immediate public announcements would have prompted simultaneous change in canon law, priest policies and seminary formation at a much earlier point in this terrible saga and so much violence against innocents could have been prevented. Now, of course, the Church has instituted significant changes in policy and in education of priest and lay ministers that highlight child and teen protection and safety and alert the faithful to signs of dangers. Nevertheless, the current issue remains: how must the Church take responsibility for the sins of its past, especially its recent past? How can the Catholic Church regain its credibility in our witness to Christ in this world? Perhaps this sacramental Church of ours needs a ritual that acknowledges its institutional sins, that humbly and prayerfully embraces an institutional penance. What would be the equivalent of sackcloth and ashes for guilty priests and bishops today? Here’s one possibility:
- Guilty bishops could resign; guilty priests laicized in public rituals before being handed over to civil authorities. No one is above the law when laws are just, and victims cry out in pain.
Here’s something else we could do right here, right now: insist that our Church hierarchy engage ecumenical, multi-faith, government officials and lay persons, victims and families to draft universal standards of recompense to victims that are compassionately fair and, at the same time, clearly define just punishment for surviving perpetrators in both ecclesiastical and civil terms. Local and national commission could be formed to include professional lay men and women in psychology and all behavioral sciences in addition to experts in education, spirituality, law enforcement, legal experts and other related fields. The times call for a heterogenous, diverse assembly of people to be convened because Councils of Bishops need an interdisciplinary wisdom of men and women beyond its male hierarchy if they are to address the full scope of all that has happened to the people of God. These convocations could produce a formal International agreement specifying just consequences for all forms of child and teen abuse that could be promulgated just as Human Rights are defined and promulgated and these consequences would be applied to all domains where sexual abuse and all forms of violence against children, teens and adults occur – in homes, schools, youth clubs, sports, business and medical institutions, etc. as well as churches with no exceptions. For when the same truths are articulated in all institutions and sectors of society, the prospects for acting upon and realizing TRUTH and Justice become more fully realized. And remember, the Church is here to serve the world, not just itself.
Once Church and State agree on fair and just recompense to victims, and just punishment for perpetrators, statute of limitations on victims seeking justice could be lifted in all sectors of Church and Society—comprehensive with no exemptions. Because of the well-documented trauma victims experience throughout their lives, it is time Church and State set things right in all situations, in all places for all people.
As God helps Church and Society recover, may our Church abandon its sinful pride, its propensity to defend itself and cling more closely to Jesus “who alone brings LIFE” –Life in its dimensions in and beyond this troubled world. Christians everywhere would do well to commit to the age-old Jesus Prayer on a daily basis: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have Mercy on Us for We are Sinners” and, now more than ever, we must add, “strengthen us to put true repentance, TRUE FAITH into action.”
FYI: HERE are the Biblical Texts for Today’s Mass:
“Whom Shall We Serve?”
Readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,
summoning their elders, their leaders,
their judges, and their officers.
When they stood in ranks before God,
Joshua addressed all the people:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
But the people answered,
“Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
for the service of other gods.
For it was the LORD, our God,
who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt,
out of a state of slavery.
He performed those great miracles before our very eyes
and protected us along our entire journey
and among the peoples through whom we passed.
Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
- (9a) Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
The LORD has eyes for the just,
and ears for their cry.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Many are the troubles of the just one,
but out of them all the LORD delivers him;
he watches over all his bones;
not one of them shall be broken.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters:
Live in love, as Christ loved us.
Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
- Alleluia, alleluia.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
And he said,
“For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
As a result of this,
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 him, “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.”