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Sins of the Clergy

You have probably seen the devastating story coming out of Pennsylvania last week. The revelations contained in the Grand Jury report on the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in six dioceses in that state were absolutely devastating. The details of the abuse were heart-wrenching and made you want to throw up. How could priests do such awful things to innocent little children? Even worse, how could bishops cover up these crimes and not bring those predators to justice? Greater blame should be laid on the shoulders of bishops who turned a blind eye to these atrocities. Instead of protecting helpless, vulnerable children, these bad shepherds chose to guard the “reputation and image” of the Church. These crimes were perpetrated over a period of 70 years by 300 priests. They are reprehensible, horrible and indefensible. Every Catholic should be outraged.

As I read the story, I was reminded of the words of Jesus in the gospels, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” These priests along with their bishops should face the condemnation of the Master Himself. I keep thinking. If I were a parent, how would I feel?

The credibility of the Church has been radically compromised. I know that some Catholics have abandoned the faith of their fathers. This breaking news from Pennsylvania opens an old wound. This saga of revelations began in 2001 with Boston and has continued relentlessly. Every time a new story breaks, our people are reminded how deeply wounded the Body of Christ is.

At this point in our history, the Lord calls the entire Church to conversion. She has to repent of her sins. It is not enough to ask for forgiveness from the victims; we need real change. Bishops who have been part of the cover up should be removed from ministry. The Church must cooperate with authorities to clean house by getting rid of every offender from the priesthood.

Has anything been done to stem the tide so that these horrible sins are not repeated? I can give an emphatic yes to that question. In 2002 the bishops of the United States formulated a charter which established a zero tolerance policy. When a priest is found guilty of abusing a minor, he is immediately removed from the priesthood. The Archdiocese of Chicago has done remarkably well in this regard. Cardinal Bernardin was a trail-blazer who set policies to protect our children. Cardinal George followed suit even though there was one offender during his watch. He was not fully aware of the situation and he regretted it until the end of his days.

Here are the policies and procedures set in place here in Chicago:

  • ·Every priest, deacon and staff member undergoes criminal background checks annually.
  • ·Every priest, deacon, staff, and volunteer has to attend “Virtus” training which helps us to recognize the signs of abuse.
  • ·We priests and staff members are “mandated reporters” who are obliged to report any abuse we witness not only to the Church but also to the authorities.
  • ·Every one of us signs a code of conduct that we are to follow in dealing with parishioners, especially children and young people.
  • ·If there is an allegation against a priest, he is put on administrative leave while the allegations are investigated by an independent body. It is also reported to the police.
  • ·If he is found guilty, he is summarily defrocked.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been far more pro-active with regard to the sexual abuse of children. He has instituted a council of cardinals from around the world specifically to study and prevent the sexual abuse of children. Wherever he goes, he makes it a point to

meet with victims. He does not hesitate to remove guilty bishops or ask for their resignation. I am confident Pope Francis will address this issue adequately and lead us towards healing and conversion.

Our morale as priests has been badly damaged. To tell you the truth, sometimes I am reluctant to wear my collar in public. I feel sad for all the good priests out there who are trying to live holy lives and sacrifice themselves for their flock. Please pray for us priests. Please pray for the Church. I am no historian but I do believe that this is the biggest crisis for the Church after the Reformation.

Please do not lose your faith in the Church. She is called to be a saint, but her members can be sinners. We are part of the Church not because of these men. We are Church because we believe in Christ. Our confused feelings towards the Church are totally justified. Perhaps we can take comfort from the words of Carlo Carretto, an Italian theologian, who had a tumultuous relationship with the Catholic Church. This is what he wrote:

How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you. You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous and more beautiful.

Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face, and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms. No. I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.

Then too… where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects, and again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough. I know better.

Let us put our trust and faith in the Church of Jesus Christ. He is the One Who will see us through this dark time.

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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