Holiness the Key to Overcome Abuse Scandals

I belong to a wonderful international Catholic mothers email group. One of my friends there, Susan, saved an important article from 2002 that has deep meaning today. I thought I would share it with you.

When your friends, family and co-workers disparage the Church, insult you, keep telling you priests are all phonies, or how they left the church because of the scandals. Remember this article.

A Catholic Response Amid the Sex-Abuse Scandals
Holiness Is the Key, Says a Priest in Massachusetts

BOSTON, Massachusetts, MARCH 6, 2002 (Zenit.org).- To put perspective on the pedophilia scandals involving priests in the Boston Archdiocese, ZENIT is publishing an adapted excerpt from a recent homily by Father Roger Landry.

Father Landry delivered it Feb. 3 at Espirito Santo, a parish church in Fall River, a city in a nearby diocese of the same name.

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The headlines this past week did not focus on the Patriots? march to the Super Bowl, or on who would QB, Drew or Tom, or even on the president?s State of the Union address and his comment that there are many al-Qaida operatives in the U.S. like “ticking time-bombs.” None of these was the top story. The headlines were captured by the very sad news that perhaps up to 70 priests in the Archdiocese of Boston have abused young people whom they were consecrated to serve.

It’s a huge scandal, one that many people who have long disliked the Church because of one of her moral or doctrinal teachings are using as an issue to attack the Church as a whole, trying to imply that they were right all along.

Many people have come up to me to talk about it. Many others have wanted to, but I think out of respect and of not wanting to bring up what they thought might be bad news, have refrained, but it was obvious to me that it was on their mind. And so, today, I’d like to tackle the issue head-on. You have a right to it. We cannot pretend as if it didn’t exist. And I’d like to discuss what our response should be as faithful Catholics to this terrible scandal.

The first thing we need to do is to understand it from the point of view of our faith in the Lord. Before he chose his first disciples, Jesus went up the mountain all night to pray. He had at the time many followers. He talked to his Father in prayer about whom he would choose to be his Twelve Apostles, the Twelve he would himself form intimately, the Twelve whom he would send out to preach the Good News in his name.

He gave them power to cast out demons. He gave them power to cure the sick. They watched him work countless miracles. They themselves in his name worked countless others.

Yet, despite all of that, one of them was a traitor. One who had followed the Lord, who had had his feet washed by the Lord, who had seen him walk on water, raise people from the dead, forgive sinners, betrayed the Lord. The Gospel tells us that he allowed Satan to enter into him and then he sold the Lord for 30 pieces of silver, handing him over by faking a gesture of love. “Judas,” Jesus said to him in the garden of Gethsemane, “Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” Jesus didn’t choose Judas to betray him. He chose him to be like all the others. But Judas was always free, and he used his freedom to allow Satan to enter into him, and he ended up betraying God and getting him crucified and executed.

So right from the first Twelve that Jesus himself chose, one was a terrible traitor. Sometimes God’s chosen ones betray him. That’s a fact that we have to confront. It’s a fact that the early Church confronted. If the scandal caused by Judas were all that the members of the early Church focused on, the Church would have been finished before it even started to grow. Instead, the Church recognized that you don’t judge something by those who don’t live it, but by those who do. Instead of focusing on the one who betrayed, they focused on the other Eleven, on account of whose work, preaching, miracles, love for Christ, we are here today. …

The media almost never focus on the good “Eleven,” the ones whom Jesus has chosen who remain faithful, who live lives of quiet holiness. But we, the Church, must keep the terrible scandal that we’ve witnessed in its true and full perspective.

Scandal is unfortunately nothing new for the Church. There have been many times in the history of the Church when the Church was much worse off than it is now. The history of the Church is like a cosine curve, with ups and downs throughout the centuries. At each of the times when the Church hit its low point, God raised up tremendous saints to bring the Church back to its real mission. It’s almost as if in those times of darkness, the Light of Christ shone ever more brightly. I’d like to focus a little on a couple of saints whom God raised up in these most difficult times, because their wisdom can really guide us during this difficult time.

What should our reaction be then? Two great saints who lived during difficult times can guide us in this our own difficult time.

Once, St. Francis de Sales was asked to address the situation of the scandal caused by some of his brother priests during the 1500s and 1600s. What he said is as important for us today as it was for his listeners then.

He stated, “Those who commit these types of scandals are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder,” destroying other people’s faith in God by their terrible example. But then he warned his listeners, “But I’m here among you to prevent something far worse for you. While those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those who take scandal — who allow scandals to destroy their faith — are guilty of spiritual suicide.

They’re guilty, he said, of cutting off their life with Christ, abandoning the source of life in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. He went among the people in Switzerland trying to prevent their committing spiritual suicide on account of the scandals. I’m here to preach the same thing to you.

Another great saint can help us further. St. Francis of Assisi lived in the 1200s, which was a time of terribly immorality in central Italy. Priests were setting terrible example. Lay immorality was even worse. St. Francis himself while a young man even gave some scandal to others, by his carefree ways.

But eventually he was converted back to the Lord, founded the Franciscans, helped God rebuild his Church and became one of the great saints of all time. Once one of the brothers in the Franciscans asked him a question. The brother was very sensitive to scandals.

“Brother Francis,” he said, “What would you do if you knew that the priest celebrating Mass had three concubines on the side?” Francis, without missing a beat, said slowly, “When it came time for holy Communion, I would go to receive the sacred Body of my Lord from the priest’s anointed hands.”

What was Francis getting at? He was getting at a tremendous truth of the faith and a tremendous gift of the Lord. No matter how sinful a priest is, provided that he has the intention to do what the Church does — at Mass, for example, to change bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, or in confession, no matter how sinful he is personally, to forgive the penitent’s sins — Christ himself acts through that minister in the sacraments.

Whether Pope John Paul II celebrates the Mass or whether a priest on death row for a felony celebrates Mass, it is Christ who himself acts and gives us his own body and blood. So what Francis was saying in response to the question of his religious brother that he would receive the sacred Body of his Lord from the priest’s anointed hands is that he was not going to let the wickedness or immorality of the priest lead him to commit spiritual suicide.

Christ can still work and does still work even through the most sinful priest. And thank God! If we were always dependent on the priest’s personal holiness, we’d be in trouble. …

And so, again, I ask, “What should the response of the Church be to these deeds?” There has been a lot of talk about that in the media. Does the Church have to do a better job in making sure no one with any predisposition toward pedophilia gets ordained? Absolutely. But that would not be enough.

Does the Church have to do a better job in handling cases when they are reported? The Church has changed its way of handling these cases, and today they’re much better than they were in the 1980s, but they can always be perfected. But even that is not enough.

Do we have to do more to support the victims of such abuse? Yes we do, both out of justice and out of love! But not even that is adequate.

Cardinal Law has gotten most of the deans of the medical schools in Boston to work on establishing a center for the prevention of child abuse, which is something that we should all support. But not even that is a sufficient response.

The only adequate response to this terrible scandal, the only fully Catholic response to this scandal — as St. Francis of Assisi recognized in the 1200s, and as countless other saints have recognized in every century — is holiness!

Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is a crisis of saints. Holiness is crucial, because it is the real face of the Church. There are always people — a priest meets them regularly, you probably know several of them — who use excuses for why they don’t practice the faith, why they slowly commit spiritual suicide. It can be because a nun was mean to them when they were 9. Or because they don’t understand the teaching of the Church on a particular issue — as if any of these reasons would truly justify their lack of practice of the faith, as if any of them would be able to convince their consciences not to do what they know they should.

There will doubtless be many people these days — and you will probably meet them — who will say, “Why should I practice the faith, why should I go to Church, since the Church can’t be true if God’s so-called chosen ones can do the types of things we’ve been reading about?” This scandal is a huge hanger on which some will try to hang their justification for not practicing the faith. That’s why holiness is so important. They need to find in all of us a reason for faith, a reason for hope, a reason for responding with love to the love of the Lord. The beatitudes which we have in today’s Gospel are a recipe for holiness. We all need to live them more.

Do priests have to become holier? They sure do. Do religious brothers and sisters have to become holier and give ever greater witness of God and heaven? Absolutely. But all people in the Church do, including lay people! We all have the vocation to be holy and this crisis is a wake-up call.

It’s a tough time to be a priest today. It’s a tough time to be a Catholic today. But it’s also a great time to be a priest and a great time to be a Catholic. Jesus says in the beatitudes we heard today, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you falsely because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward in heaven is great.”

It’s a great time to be a Christian, because this is a time in which God really needs us to show off his true face. In olden days in America, the Church was respected. Priests were respected. It?’ not so any more.

One of the greatest Catholic preachers in American history, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, used to say that he preferred to live in times when the Church has suffered rather than thrived, when the Church had to struggle, when the Church had to go against the culture.

It was a time for real men and real women to stand up and be counted. “Even dead bodies can float downstream,” he used to say, pointing that many people can coast when the Church is respected, “but it takes a real man, a real woman, to swim against the current.” How true that is! It takes a real man and a real woman to stand up now and swim against the current that is flowing against the Church. It takes a real man and a real woman to recognize that when swimming against the flood of criticism, you’re safest when you stay attached to the Rock on whom Christ built his Church. This is one of those times. It’s a great time to be a Christian.

This is a time in which all of us need to focus ever more on holiness. We’re called to be saints and how much our society here needs to see this beautiful, radiant face of the Church. You’re part of the solution, a crucial part of the solution. And as you come forward today to receive from this priest’s anointed hands the sacred Body of your Lord, ask him to fill you with a real desire for sanctity, a real desire to show off his true face.

One of the reasons why I’m here in front of you as a priest today is because while I younger, I was underimpressed with some of the priests I knew. I would watch them celebrate Mass and almost without any reverence whatsoever drop the Body of the Lord onto the paten, as if they were handling something with little value rather than the Creator and Savior of all, rather than my creator and savior.

I remember saying to the Lord, reiterating my desire to be a priest, “Lord, please let me become a priest, so I can treat you like you deserve!” It gave me a great fire to serve the Lord. Maybe this scandal can allow you to do the same thing.

This scandal can be something that can lead you down to the path of spiritual suicide, or it can be something that can inspire you to say, finally, “I want to become a saint, so that the Church can show your true face, O Lord, to the world, so that others might find in you the love and the salvation that I have found.”

Jesus is with us, as he promised, until the end of time. He’s still in the bark of Peter and will prevent its capsizing. Just as out of Judas’ betrayal, he achieved the greatest victory in world history, our salvation through his passion, death and resurrection, so out of this he may bring, and wants to bring, a new rebirth of holiness, a new Acts of the Apostles for the 21st century, with each of us — and that includes you — playing a starring role.

Now’s the time for real men and women of the Church to stand up. Now’s the time for saints. How do you respond?
 

Understanding What is Really Going On in the Latest Abuse Scandals

Every Holy Week the hounds of hell come out to cause trouble for the Church. This year the secular press, especially the New York Times, has tried without fail to pull down the Church, and tie the Pope to the abuse scandals in Europe and the latest scandal here. They have printed numerous articles but have not even contacted people who would best know the facts. Or like MSNBC they makeup headlines such as the one this week that said “Pope Describes Touching Boys: I Went Too Far,” even though the article is not even about the Pope. They had to retract that one.

Here are some articles to help you make sense of what is going on with these latest scandals.

First, I want to refer you to the last post I wrote about this: Every Catholic Should Read This. I note this specifically because the Vatican did not even have juridical responsibility about abuse cases until 2001. Local bishops did. Then Cardinal Ratzinger then was flooded with cases that were sent to him from around the world through 2004. He went through each and every case, and justice became swift, most without a trial because the evidence was overwhelming.

In the US the latest despicable scandal is of Fr. Lawrence Murphy of Milwaukee who abused possibly as many as 200 deaf boys. Murphy died during his trial. Unfortunately, local police authorities, when notified when the abuse happened refused to prosecute. Here are articles to help you understand what happened:

Setting the record straight in the case of abusive Milwaukee priest Fr. Lawrence Murphy
by Fr. Thomas Brundage, JCL who was the judge in the Fr. Murphy case but was never contacted by the New York Times even though they “quoted” him.

Cardinal Ratzinger an Evil Monster? by Jimmy Akin at the National Catholic Register

The Vatican Statement on “Murphy” Case by NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

Scoundrel Time(s) by George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the author of The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church,” among other books.

These articles are about the general abuse crisis and the coverage by the press:

The Holy Office Speaks at Whispers in the Loggia

To Whom Shall We Go? by Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

The Courage Not to Be Intimidated at Whispers in the Loggia.

There are many other articles but these are the most noteworthy. I hope you will take the time to read them so that you can be informed.

Update:  It is scary when Pravda understands more of the truth than the New York Times:  To Confuse the Wood With the Trees

Every Catholic Should Read This

The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic church has been difficult for everyone.  The American church has been rocked for years, and now this has spread to Ireland and parts of Europe.  This has been a boon to those who hate the Catholic Church, especially the media who try their hardest to link any scandal directly with the pope, no matter how farfetched it is.

Unfortunately, many people cannot separate those priests and bishops who have done evil, from the Church herself.  This has caused many to lose their faith in the Church and in Christ.  Others have used the crisis as an excuse to leave.  An excuse to not even attempt to pursue a life with Jesus.

The secular press continues to give the impression that the Church is doing nothing but covering up the problems, but many changes have been made and that will continue into the future.  I want to call to your attention an article in the National Catholic Reporter entitled Will Ratzinger’s past trump Benedict’s present? – The Pope and the Sex Abuse Crisis. 

Now, normally I would not recommend anything from the National Catholic Reporter, of which the kindest thing to be said is that it is the main dissenting Catholic newspaper in the United States.  Let’s just say it really lacks any fidelity to the Church.  The paper’s one bright spot though is the reporter John L. Allen, Jr. who shows us in this article that Pope Benedict, who is now arguably the most knowledgeable person in the Vatican on the sex abuse issue,  is on a serious crusade to rid the Church of the “filth” that has invaded it. Here is an excerpt:

Though it didn’t look like it at the time, the turning point in Ratzinger’s attitude came in May 2001, with a legal document from John Paul II titled Sacramentum sanctitatis tutela. Technically known as a motu proprio, the document assigned juridical responsibility for certain grave crimes under canon law, including sexual abuse of a minor, to Ratzinger’s congregation. It also compelled diocesan bishops all over the world to forward their case files to Rome, where the congregation would make a decision about the appropriate course of action.
In the wake of the motu proprio, Ratzinger dispatched a letter to the bishops of the world, subjecting accusations of sexual abuse against priests to the authority of his office… the motu proprio triggered an “avalanche” of files in Rome, most of which arrived in 2003 and 2004. Eventually… more than 3,000 cases worked their way through the congregation.

By all accounts, Ratzinger was punctilious about studying the files, making him one of the few churchmen anywhere in the world to have read the documentation on virtually every Catholic priest ever credibly accused of sexual abuse. As a result, he acquired a familiarity with the contours of the problem that virtually no other figure in the Catholic church can claim.

Driven by that encounter with what he would later refer to as “filth” in the church, Ratzinger seems to have undergone something of a “conversion experience” throughout 2003-04. From that point forward, he and his staff seemed driven by a convert’s zeal to clean up the mess.

Of the 500-plus cases that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealt with prior to Benedict’s election to the papacy, the substantial majority were returned to the local bishop authorizing immediate action against the accused priest — no canonical trial, no lengthy process, just swift removal from ministry and, often, expulsion from the priesthood. In a more limited number of cases, the congregation asked for a canonical trial, and in a few cases the congregation ordered the priest reinstated.

In my humble opinion, this cannot come too soon.  Let’s find the priests or bishops that engaged in this evil and get rid of them as soon as possible.  Out.  Out.  Now.  Let’s rid the Church of this evil, clean up this mess, help the victims, support the majority of priests that have been demoralized and spat upon because of the few, and get on with spreading the teachings of Christ.

You need to read this article to see how far we have come and what is actually being done to solve this problem.

UPDATE:  Here is another article by the same author you may want to read as well:  
Keeping the Record Straight on Benedict and the Crisis.
and you might be interested in Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s commentary at Standing on My Head

Dealing With Scandals

Recently, a very prominent and popular priest in our diocese has caused scandal with a woman. He very possibly could leave the priesthood to get married. Of course, the press has plastered the story everywhere, and brought out the usual comments about abolishing celibacy. One national newspaper has even taken a poll about the church making celibacy optional, and has made sure to include prominently the comments of Catholics who profess support for the priest, his divorced girlfriend, and his choice. It truly is a sad time for the Church and the community. But how does this (and other scandals) truly affect Catholics? How does it affect you?

I’ve been thinking and praying about this today. How does this affect me as a member of the faithful? How am I supposed to react when scandals happen, as they always do? Truly, I hate to even mention it to anyone. I emailed my pastor to get his opinion, and have read a few articles, but it seems like such a sadness. Perhaps for some it is an opportunity to gossip and revel in every detail, or to use the scandal to further their agenda, but really it is time to pray for all involved in the scandal, including us.

In the history of the Church, there have always been scandals. Judas comes to mind, and of course, the priestly scandals a few years ago. There have been bad popes in our past. Truly, scandals occur every day in the Church. Most are small, but many have serious, deep repercussions, like the Reformation, a most horrible breach that separates Christians to this day.

It is how we deal with these scandals that helps us climb out of the pit of despair. If we try to pretend they don’t exist, or if we try to cover them up, more damage will be done.

What we need to do is keep focus. Focus on what Christ wants from us, what our responsibilities are. We have to keep our eyes on Christ. If we do that we will be OK. It is harder if you know people involved, but the most important thing to remember is to keep focus. What exactly does that mean? That means pay attention to the job at hand. If you have an apostolate, work harder at it. If you are raising a family, try to do it the best you can. In other words, pay attention to the life you are supposed to live and ignore things that don’t involve you. MYOB.

Mind Your Own Business. Now we tend to use that phrase to describe when people are interfering in others affairs, but if you use the term literally, it really means to pay attention to YOUR life and the things you can control. Don’t let the failings of others affect you and your life. You should certainly learn from others when they fall, or learn to be aware of certain problems that could come up. One example is when someone steals from the Church. You certainly don’t want to pretend that did not happen, but use it as an opportunity for putting in place certain controls to prevent it happening again.

But you can’t let a scandal distract you from your task at hand, which is to get closer to God. I think that the devil enjoys using scandals to distract us from what we really should be working on, which is spreading the Kingdom of Christ. We have to pray harder and deeper. Take more time out for prayer and talk to the Lord constantly throughout the day. Think of HIM, not the scandal, not the gossip, and you will progress on the road to God. Which, of course, is all that matters.