Dominica XXII per Annum B
2 September 2018
It has been a very curious week as more of the current crisis in the Church unfolds. And I really long for the day when I can return to giving proper homilies about the Scriptures. However, in a moment like this when we are all saddened, scandalized, and shaken you deserve to hear from your Pastor about what is going on and how to maintain a perspective of faith. I hope you will agree with my opinion that sort of having to suspend reflections on the Scriptures and to talk about what is going on is warranted at this moment.
A week ago a stunning testimony was released from the Pope’s former ambassador to the United States, the now-retired Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Viganó, who alleges cover up regarding the sex scandal surrounding former-Cardinal McCarrick. Viganó’s allegations implicate many high-ranking Vatican prelates and raise questions about the handling of this by Pope Benedict and by Pope Francis. The allegations further raise questions about whether Pope Francis ignored sanctions said to have been imposed against McCarrick by Pope Benedict. Since Viganó is no hack but is someone with privileged information relevant to these charges, it seems to me his allegations must be investigated. He is credible and knowledgeable. Therefore, I wrote Archbishop Coakley, Cardinal DiNardo (in his role as President of the conference of bishops of this country), and Archbishop Pierre (Viganó’s successor), the Pope’s current ambassador to the United States, asking each of them to lend their voice to the demand that Viganó’s claims be fully investigated. I’m not usually writing bishops and making demands. It has been a curious week. It would seem that several bishops around the country are in fact demanding an investigation. Archbishop Coakley is among them. The week was a bit more curious when the The Vista, the newspaper at UCO, called me and conducted an interview about the crisis and how it is impacting Edmond Catholics. That article should be out this week.
Since my remarks a couple of weeks ago I have had some time to calm down a bit. I think more data gives us a context to see that abuse in the Church has been effectively responded to with procedures and policies since 2002, which has greatly reduced (by large margins) the incidence of abuse and new events of abuse. By stating this I am not saying we don’t have more work to do or that there isn’t still a crisis. Rather, it might help us all to see what good has been accomplished so our picture is accurate. Before I share some statistics for context, I want to state clearly that abuse like this must not be happening in the Church and among clerics. That even one event of abuse has happened is too much. The first focus needs to always be the victims, the harm done to them, and how we respond to them and care for them. I tried to address that in my remarks a couple of weeks ago. Today, by no means diminishing the focus on victims or offering excuses, I think talking about the context here can help us as we struggle. I decided to share some data in the homily today because I noted in several conversations this past week the mistaken notion that widespread abuse is still going on presently, on the same horrific scale as when it first became more publicly known in 2002. But that is actually not true. To that end I have decided to share with you data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, called CARA, at Georgetown University. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. A research analyst, Mark Gray, speaks in the data I will now share regarding past reports of abuse in light of the current Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. It’s a rather lengthy report I want to share with you, so bear with me. The words I am speaking come from Mark Gray the analyst. [Read CARA report]
[After CARA report pick up here…] So reports Mark Gray from CARA. The data here is helpful and, furthermore, I can agree with the researcher’s attitude and suggestions. Again, I do not want there to be any confusion or careless claim that distracts from real harm done to victims and the collateral harm done to us since scandal rocks us and shames us all. With that in mind, it is at least good to hear that as regards abuse itself, we should not be mistaken and think that the PA Grand Jury report is revealing an entire set of new abuse cases. Most of it is abuse that fits the historical pattern of having occurred mostly in the 1960s through the 1980s. What does seem to be new is that the grand jury report gives us a focused look at the response of bishops and other Church leaders. The abuse itself is the most horrific thing of all. However, perhaps the knowledge now of cover up and secrecy is the fuel that drives most of the current anger in what has now become another crisis for us. Given that we are reliving again 2002 with a report on mostly older, historical cases, I wholeheartedly agree that the Church should freely and willingly open our records for independent scrutiny. I was 28 years old when I had to preach on this scandal in 2002. Sixteen years later I’m doing it again at 45 years old. I would really like it if I didn’t have to treat this subject when I’m 61 years old. I’m glad to tell you that Archbishop Coakley has announced a plan to review our current and our historical clergy files and to submit them to independent scrutiny from a prominent local law firm so that a report may be made public. This strange week for me continued in that I happened to have a conversation with Governor Frank Keating this week who, in the aftermath of the 2002 scandal, had been the chairman of the National Review Board set up by the US bishops to respond to the abuse crisis. He expressed great pleasure at Archbishop Coakley’s plan and he expressed hope that a prominent state law enforcement officer would review the plan and give it public support so that we can all have confidence that we are opening this dark subject once and for all.
We are in for a long haul with our response this time around to what seems to me to be a crisis most closely focused on failed leadership in our Church as regards the handling of the crime and the sin of abuse. The allegations that have come out reaching all the way to the top in the Vatican continue to develop and I have no idea where all that might go. To be sure, the daily and ongoing developments in the news cycle are exhausting. But we have to cry out to God in this and find our source of hope and light in Him. We must also do penance and make reparation for the evil and the grave harm done in our Church. I want to be part of the solution and I hope you will want the same. I truly believe we need some radical penance and reparation on a biblical scale that gives particular focus to ordering rightly our relationship with God and our relationship to others. This focus will respond to what Jesus says is the greatest command: Love God first with all that you have and are; and love your neighbor as yourself. I am continuing to pray and it is my plan next weekend to announce my decisions and suggestions for the penance and reparation we will observe here. In the meantime, and in conclusion, I want to share some of Archbishop Coakley’s words from his letter to all of us about penance and reparation. But before I do that, if you are interested, I’m happy to share any of the documents I referenced today, my own letters to the bishops or the CARA report. Just let me know. [Read Coakley Letter, 31 August 2018].