Dominica XX per Annum B
19 August 2018
I’m uncomfortable here today because I want to address the latest scandal rocking our beloved Church. I don’t have law firms or liability risk agents to write for me. No one is telling me what to say. What you get comes from a shepherd and from my heart. I may misspeak and have to retract some words. I don’t mean to offend but this will be in places a rather adult topic and so those with small children won’t offend me if you feel you need to step out for a bit.
First, I want to apologize to the victims of horrific soul-crushing abuse, that is a form of spiritual murder. I apologize to their family members who suffer with them. I apologize to others who, upon learning of this disgusting matter, have their faith rocked and wonder if they can remain in a church. If you have been sexually abused or know someone who has been, or any other form of criminal abuse, and if it has not yet been reported, then please report it to local law enforcement and to Church officials.
When the first round of sexual abuse news broke in 2002 I was a very young priest. I spoke publicly about the topic then. I am not afraid to do so now, but I am disgusted and angry. I think I am more angry now than I was in 2002. I am also exhausted with all of this. I assume most all of you know former-Cardinal McCarrick was credibly accused of abuse of a minor, had apparently used his power as a bishop to abuse his subordinates, and had two other cases involving adults where his respective diocese paid settlements with the adult victims. McCarrick’s activities were widely suspected or actually known and yet he suffered no consequences as he rose among the bishops and became a cardinal. You can laugh at me and think I am crazy but when I heard the news about former-Cardinal McCarrick two things surfaced in me at once: (1) anger; and, (2) the thought that I should sell all my belongings, shave my head, live in a stone hut, and start a new religious order. How will we rebuild from this mess? Who will do it? The answer throughout all of history in the face of moral crises in the Church has always been saints. Everyday people make a more radical decision for Jesus and that starts healing and repair and roots out the corruption and evil. I’m probably too weak to be a St. Francis of Assisi… I don’t know… but we need some new men and women who will radically reform their lives and that of the Church. And now we have the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report highlighting the sad history of abuse in six dioceses in that state.
I’m angry that this subject has interrupted my plans to speak only on Jesus’s clear teaching about the Holy Eucharist, about which we have been hearing for numerous weeks. I’m angry that grave and horrific sin – be it abuse itself or cover ups by leadership – harms the Church which is Jesus’ Bride. I’m angry that this obscures the holiness proper to the Church because all we can see now is the sinfulness of humanity, not the presence of divinity in Christ’s Bride. I’m mad at what this does to you and how it might rock your faith, especially if you might tend to mistakenly place your faith in something or someone other than Jesus Christ alone! I’m mad because I know young people hear this and think the Church can’t be true, can’t be trusted, or is a joke – just a sham of a manmade institution. And I’m mad at how this might harm future vocations.
I’m mad that innocent clergy are now understandably viewed with suspicion.I’m also frustrated because I’m not sure I even know what to tell you. There is much I could say, but does it help? Once we work through our own initial emotions we need to recapture rationality and make sure we have sound information about the judgments and decisions we make. It can be very easy to jump to conclusions, find scapegoats, have faulty information, and to fail to see around our own biases. There seems to be a human tendency in the face of crisis or tragedy to find the one thing that explains it. The older I get I don’t think life’s answers are usually reduced to one thing. More often than not there is not just one thing that explains a situation but rather several things together. We have to be careful not to naively look for the one problem that explains this crisis. In offering my own thoughts on this mess, I realize and I admit I may actually be doing that very thing. I might well be accused of myopia in sharing my thoughts. I might well be accused of scapegoating. I’m prepared for backlash and if I am wrong, then I will just have to admit it and apologize. In a few weeks I’ll have more thoughts on a spiritual plan for penance and reparation, but for now I’ll share five elements of my read on this scandal. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
The mystery of evil and human freedom to choose sin. Have we forgotten that the devil is real and that the doctrine of Original Sin is a foundational matter of how our faith views the state of our fallen world? These doctrines reflect reality and shake us from our naïve slumber that somehow evil and sin aren’t real or can’t exist among the clergy. From an extensive study after 2002 of the state of this matter in the United States it would seem that, while abuse happened going back many decades, and across many decades, the incidence of abuse dramatically rose in the 70s and 80s and then dropped just as dramatically in the late 90s and into the 2000s. A few weeks back I spoke on this being the 50th anniversary year of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, where Bl. Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the ancient teaching of the Church that the dignity of sexual love in marriage excludes contraception. You know what this anniversary also means? It means it is now the 50th anniversary of widespread rejection of this teaching and rebellion among laity and clergy alike. I suggest that the corruption among clergy who gave a wink and nod to this teaching began to create a deeper moral crisis with priests and bishops failing in their vocations and that has contributed to the monstrous situation we are now in. Priests telling people contraception is no big deal; bishops failing to discipline such priests… don’t tell me that didn’t lead to a wink and a nod with clergy and their failures in living chaste celibacy! Widespread rebellion against sexual morality reaching a high point in 1968 and abuse events increasing by several orders of magnitude in the 60s and 70s… I think it’s related. This leads me to another element: infidelity to chastity among the clergy in general. This includes both heterosexual and homosexual orientations. Abuse has been inflicted on both females and males. However, I think we do have to admit that there is some connection in this crisis to acting on a homosexual orientation. I say that because 81% of abuse cases between 1950 and 2002 involved teenage boys. This seems different to me than the abuse of small children before puberty. The vast majority of cases involve post-pubescent teen boys. This cannot be ignored. However, let me state equally as clearly, I am NOT referring to the mere fact of a same-sex attraction among some priests. The mere fact alone of a same-sex attraction does not make one an abuser of children or teens or other adults. Rather, I am referring to those acting on the attraction and living a clandestine gay lifestyle who, for however it is explained, have proclivities toward minors. There have been both heterosexual and homosexual cheaters among the clergy. Hear me clearly again, there are also many chaste priests with same-sex attraction just as there are many chaste priests with heterosexual attraction. Chaste people with same-sex attraction, among clergy and laity alike, I think are some of the most valiant people in living life in Christ in the midst of a twisted and depraved world that is all too ready to tell them acting on same-sex attraction is just part of being healthy. But why might 81% of those cases involve teen boys? Why is it not more even with cases involving females? I don’t know for sure. But I have a friend who made a suggestion that might offer some explanation. He says in the cases of heterosexual cheaters among priests, they often are more likely to be forced out of the priesthood because relationships they carry on will often lead to a pregnancy or to an ultimatum from the woman, and things become public. But this is not the case for homosexual cheaters with boys. As a result, in the past homosexual cheaters may have stayed in the priesthood and therefore their numbers may have grown.
Another factor in past abuse might be related to the fact that psychological screening of seminary candidates only began, I believe, sometime around 1990. I recall seeing a list with the number of seminarians this archdiocese had in the early 80s. There were over 35 seminarians. It was 1997 when I came across that list. At that time we had only 12 seminarians. I asked a priest what happened to all these guys and why we couldn’t seem to get more than 12 seminarians. He replied that it was because that earlier list was before we did psychological screening. Perhaps that helps us understand what seems to be the much higher incidence of abuse going back before such mandatory screening. Screening isn’t perfect, but it does do a great service.
The final element I will raise as related to how we explain the horrific crime and sin of abuse, as well as the rage-inducing failed leadership and coverup among bishops is what I will call a crisis of weak masculinity carrying with it the loss of the ability to be fatherly. In order to appreciate the God-given qualities of femininity that are complementary to the God-given qualities of masculinity our society has wrongly cast negative light on men and masculinity. To raise up femininity and women, which is a good thing to do, our society has wrongly cast aspersions upon and suppressed masculinity and men. Watch how men are cast in entertainment and you get a glimpse of this. The man is the immature fool whose presence is barely needed for good balanced family life. Our boys and young men are, as a group, increasingly adrift, locked in an alternate reality of excessive video gaming, and seemingly without clear purpose. In some organs of society masculine traits are punished and boys learn early that their natural qualities are less than desirable. Now we have reached a point where masculinity is referred to as “toxic”. I suspect that description is not very precise and is meant to make men self-conscious and soft. Our spiritual fathers are impacted by this cultural climate too. There have clearly been some sick men in the priesthood who are weak men who never should have been there. But it is just as clear that in the upper ranks of bishops and cardinals, even if they themselves are not abusers, many likewise have no concept of fatherhood. Maybe they had it once. But those who covered up abuse clearly lost it. Listening to their corporate speak is all the evidence needed. A manly father doesn’t need experts and lawyers and insurance companies to tell him how to act. The failed bishops speak like men who are not fathers because a father would be outraged and in deep pain for his children despicably harmed under his guard. Maybe some bishops have mustered that. Most of the ones getting the TV interviews certainly have not.
Some perspective might help. Where have we seen this horrific trail of abuse? We have seen it in the entertainment industry. In universities. In the Catholic Church. In Protestant communities. Saturday morning the Oklahoman carried and article that Baptists and Evangelicals are admitting this and needing to address it. It is in Jewish communities. In public schools. In sports. Among physicians. In other words, this is not just a Catholic crisis. It is a secular crisis. It is a cultural crisis. The Church should be better, but don’t let yourself be fooled that it exists only in the Church. Don’t be misled by those who offer the convenient solution to just leave the Church.
As the Church continues to address this scandal we will hear of the development of new procedures, policies, and remedies. I suppose the institutional organization needs those. But you and I don’t. You know why? Because we already have them. Procedure? It’s called repentance! Policy? We have the sixth commandment and all that it means about sexual morality. Remedy? We have it! It’s Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist. Remember Jesus’ words a few weeks back when we began our tour through the Bread of Life discourse in John 6? He said, Don’t work for food that perishes. Everything else perishes. Everything else we eat and fill ourselves on doesn’t last. Jesus told the Jews that their fathers ate manna in the desert but they still died. Try filling yourself on anything except Jesus and you’re gonna die. It won’t last. Only Jesus fills us, remedies, and gives us eternal life. He’s why I’m Catholic. He’s why I stay. And he’s truly present in the Holy Eucharist. There is frankly no place else to go if I want to have lasting life. I am deeply sorry for any and all victims and I offer that with my meager portion of authority here. But I would be lying and guilty of spiritual malpractice if I gave any impression that due to abuse one might leave the Church and find what God wants for you. I can understand and sympathize with victims and the scandalized who leave the Church for a time or maybe forever. But it is not what God wants. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day…. [t]he one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”