The entire Catholic community is affected in one way or another by the sex abuse of minors by church ministers. Although the effect of the crisis on the general Catholic population pales in comparison to the devastating personal impact felt by the victims and their families, all of us struggle to make sense out of this tragedy and crime. We offer these reflections to help Catholics, particularly those who are not immediately or personally involved, address the wide range of emotions and reactions which the abuse scandal evokes.
The opinions and facts expressed in these reflections do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, or constitute an admission of fact by, the pastors or staff members of the Catholic parishes in Waterloo or the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
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By Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
We need to develop a new awareness that what has happened has wounded the entire Church and that now the entire Church is called to put right what has happened. The only Church response must be one which attempts to bring healing to a wounded Church through robustly responding to all those who have been wounded by abuse.
The healing of the Church comes through how the Church works to heal survivors. The Church must not just be transformed into a place where children are safe. It must also be transformed into a privileged place of healing for survivors.... The Church can and should ensure adequate counseling for victims and their families. But it must do more. Healing cannot be delegated. The Church must become the bosom of Christ which lovingly embraces wounded men and women, with all the brutality and unattractiveness of wounds. Wounds cannot be sanitized from a distance. The Good Samaritan is the one who carries the wounded man in his own arms....
The answers to all these multiple wounds will not come from slick public relations gestures or even from repeated words of apology. They will come from creating a new vision of a healing Church. A healing Church will not be from the outset a perfect Church. The Church must first of all recognize within her own life how compromise and insensitivity and wrong decisions have damaged the witness of Church. The art of healing is learned only in humility. Arrogance is never the road towards healing. Healing is not something we can package and hand over safe and sound to someone else and then we can go off safely and happily on our own way. Healing involves journeying together. The healer needs humility and personal healing if he or she is to journey really with those who are wounded. The duration of the process of healing is not measured by the time on our watch, but by the watch and the time of the other.
The crisis of the sexual abuse of children over these past decades has wounded the Church of Jesus Christ. The response must come from the entire Church which will only attain the healing it desires when it welcomes our brothers and sisters who have survived abuse as Jesus would have welcomed them. We are not there to tell the survivors what they have to do, but together to find new ways of interacting with respect and care.....
Excerpted from Archbishop Martin's address to the Anglophone Conference at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome on July 7, 2014 online at: http://www.dublindiocese.ie/content/anglophone-conference-address
An author who is on the staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul MN. (Although these comments do not directly address the issue of sexual abuse in the Church, they speak to an important aspect of our response.)
We trust that our church communities will befriend us, relate to us, and connect with us.
We trust that the church will care for us when we’re in need.
We trust that people won’t abuse our vulnerability.
We trust that they’ll forgive us.
We trust that they’ll love us.
Inevitably, our trust will be broken ... and we’ll blame God.
The truth is that our faith and spirituality is often dependent on hundreds of different relationships, factors, institutions, and circumstances that we directly correlate with God.
When our Christian expectations are shattered, it’s easy to blame God. We mistakenly idolize the things that are associated with God, and assume that if one of these aspects failed then God failed.
“Christianity” will fail us. Our churches will attack, our pastors will lie, our mentors will manipulate, our friends will betray, and when this happens, our beliefs will be shaken to their core.
We often unfairly judge God based on expectations of perfection, and if something in our life goes wrong, it’s hard to reconcile with our perception of an all-loving, all-caring, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God. How could God let something bad happen? And to us?!
The danger is that we place unrealistic expectations on our faith and assume that if we’re in God’s will, our spiritual lives will be ideal — this isn’t reality.
In the New Testament, even Jesus’s disciples lived lives that were messy and full of doubt, pain, suffering, and confusion. Following Christ meant that struggling was part of the routine instead of the exception — we must start bravely accepting this.
Excerpted from an article posted on the SojoNet blog at
Professor of Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville
I will not be outdone...in the contempt department when it comes to the depredations of those who either betray their calling, or others who cover-up their crimes…. On the other hand, is it entirely fair to blame an institution for those who betray its mission? Do we close the local constabulary because there are bad cops on the take? Or ban libraries because not enough good books are being read? Of course not.
Then why should we punish the Church for the sinfulness of its members? Especially not when the survival of the things we value most, like the Mass and the Sacraments, depend upon the maintenance of that very institution which we are so inclined to revile. Go ahead and jettison all that you find odious and unjust. And when you’ve succeeded in completely leveling the thing for its many iniquities, where will you then go to hear God’s Word proclaimed, his Sacraments celebrated?...
…[W]hen the Church is seen through an institutional prism only, it is awfully easy to find fault with anything; in fact, a reductionism of that sort is interested only in the parts, particularly when they mal-function. But what if the Church were not finally an institution at all, but a Woman, She who is both Virgin and Mother, who in the purity and simplicity of her response to grace, to God, is Mary Immaculate? Under that sublime aspect, it is not so easy to hate the Church.
“Christ warns us that we must answer for what we have received,” writes Francois Mauriac. “When it is himself we have received, what shall we not have to answer for?” How the web of complicity is widened now! In other words, it is too easy to demonize bad priests who trash their vows. How much harder to hold all the baptized accountable for the evil that we do. No one who belongs to the Body of Christ will be given a free pass into Paradise. That should at least keep us from becoming pharisaical, which has got to be a good thing.
I cherish the reply Flannery O’Connor once gave to a friend who, appalled by the shortcomings of the Church she had just joined, resolved to take leave of it altogether. “The Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable,” she snapped. “The only thing that makes the Church endurable is that she is somehow the Body of Christ and on this Body we are fed.”
Please note that Miss O’Connor did not dispute the fact that the human face of the Church is something all our sins have helped disfigure. Only that we mustn’t wrest from the evidence of so much weakness and sin the conclusion that God cannot use crooked pencils to write straight lines. That would be a counsel of despair….
Unless we see the Church as having truly begun with Mary, in whose blessed womb the Word first took on flesh, we shall not see her as God’s sees her. Not that we shut our eyes to the awfulness of what is happening around us (indeed, how can we when the media report it so gleefully?), anymore than God himself did, who, after all, suffered his Son’s flesh to be flayed and crucified so as to redeem it. What else then is the Eucharist if not evidence of God’s love for a fallen world, a world hungry for such wholeness that he will break himself to become its bread?
Excerpted from an article in Crisis magazine, online at:
Bishop R. Daniel Conlon
Chair of the U.S. Bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People
...For the last few years I operated with the conviction that consistent implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, coupled with some decent publicity, would turn public opinion around. I now know this was an illusion …. Many Catholics in this country and elsewhere remain hurt, angry, cynical and confused. Their trauma is not something that will just go away with time…. There is an additional complication in our Catholic trauma: those partly responsible for causing it are the ones trying to heal it. …[B]ishops are seen by many as an even larger part of the problem because of the perception of how they handled abuse cases brought to their attention....
The thing is, at this point, nobody cares about explanations and excuses. Something awful happened for which no explanation or excuse will do. We are beyond the realm of carefully constructed reason. We are in the realm of trauma....
St. Gregory the Great compares the Church to dawn, that moment between night and day. “The dawn intimates that the night is over;” he writes, “it does not yet proclaim the full light of day. While it dispels the darkness and welcomes the light, it holds both of them, the one mixed with the other, as it were.” He continues from Scripture: “When he writes, ‘the night is passed’ Paul does not add, ‘the day is come’. But rather, ‘the day is at hand’.…It will be fully day for the Church of the elect when she is no longer darkened by the shadow of sin….Paul was hastening to the place which he knew the dawn would reach when he said he wished to die and to be with Christ.” (From the Moral Reflections on Job)
Because we live as the dawn we cannot succumb to discouragement. We must be the light of Christ, even if only rising weakly over the horizon. Yesterday’s victim/survivors deserve our understanding and support. Today’s young people require our protection and guidance. Our brothers and sisters in Christ want assurance that the light is getting brighter not dimmer.
Bishop Conlon, who is bishop of Joliet, Illinois, made his remarks August 13, 2012, to a conference of diocesan staff people responsible for implementing child safety programs in U.S. dioceses. The text of his remarks is available online at:
“We Must Have the Courage to Ask Humbly for God's Pardon”
Cardinal Marc Ouellet
Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops
I come here with the specific intention of seeking forgiveness, from God and from the victims, for the grave sin of sexual abuse of children by clerics. We have learned over the last decades how much harm and despair such abuse has caused to thousands of victims. We learned too that the response of some Church authorities to these crimes was often inadequate and inefficient in stopping the crimes, in spite of clear indications in the code of Canon Law.
In the name of the Church, I apologize once again to the victims, some of whom I have met here in Lough Derg.
I repeat here what the Holy Father told to the victims in His Letter to the Catholics of Ireland: “It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or to be reconciled with the Church. In her name I openly express the shame and remorse that we feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin”….
The tragedy of the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by Christians, especially when done so by members of the clergy, is a source of great shame and enormous scandal. It is a sin against which Jesus himself lashed out: “It would be better for him if a millstone was put around his neck and he is thrown in to the sea than for him to cause one of the little one’s to stumble” (Lk 17:2).
As members of the Church, we must have the courage to ask humbly for God’s pardon, as well as for the forgiveness of those who have been wounded: we must remain close to them on their road of suffering, seeking in every possible way to heal and bind up the wounds following the example of the Good Samaritan.
From the context of this International Eucharistic Congress, I reaffirm the commitment of the Catholic Church to create a safe environment for children and we pray that a new culture of respect, integrity, and Christ like love would prevail in our midst and permeate the whole society.
May the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints help us all to eradicate the evil of sexual abuse and set us free toward a deep and lasting spiritual renewal of the whole Church.
Cardinal Ouellet gave this homily at a Mass in Lough Derg, Ireland, following a meeting with victims of clergy sexual abuse, in June 2012.
Pope Benedict XVI
...Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies be found. Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favor the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person. Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing. (#4)
To the victims of abuse and their families -- You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated…. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church. (#6)
To the children and young people of Ireland -- …We are all scandalized by the sins and failures of some of the Church's members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8). He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you. Seek a personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust! He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others…. (#9)
To my brother bishops -- It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. …[I]t must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness…. Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal…. (11)
To all the faithful of Ireland -- …In confronting the present crisis, measures to deal justly with individual crimes are essential, yet on their own they are not enough: a new vision is needed, to inspire present and future generations to treasure the gift of our common faith. By treading the path marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at this time. I invite you all to persevere along this path.
Pope Benedict made these comments, his most extensive remarks about the sexual abuse crisis, in a letter addressed to the Church in Ireland published on March 20, 2010. Read the full text of the letter online at:
Msgr. Lyle Wilgenbush
Episcopal Vicar/Archdiocese of Dubuque
I have here the Easter homily I prepared earlier this week. But as the news of the week continued regarding sex abuse in our Church and particularly ‘what our Pope knew and when he knew it’, I made the decision to prepare something different. The news is simply in our face and it isn’t going to go away. Nor should it! This Easter Sunday we find ourselves with conflicting news: the news of the day about sexual abuse and honesty about the crisis, and then the news of Jesus’ resurrection. I hope no one ever told you that following Jesus and being a Christian in the modern age would be easy!
I was led to make this change especially after reading two news articles on Good Friday evening: one was Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s column in Easter edition of The Witness and an article from the Washington Post that appeared in Friday’s Waterloo Courier.
The Courier article referred to Msgr. John Enzler’s reflection on how to approach his own Easter homily in a Washington D.C. parish in light of all the media on the current crisis and the involvement or lack of involvement of Benedict XVI. He says, “Do you slip it into the Good Friday bulletin? Or meet it head-on with an Easter sermon?” …. “The thing is, this is not exactly what people expect on Easter, … yet not to address it could alienate those on the fence …those with doubts, who want answers, honesty and transparency from the church. To say nothing leaves the question hanging in the air, and opening to be filled by critics and negative stories in the news media.” I heard his reflections as a challenge to toss my original homily and go to work again on a different one.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s column in The Witness confirmed my decision to do exactly that. His Easter column is how crucifixion was clearly meant to be humiliating. Most all of us have had some sense of how terrible death by crucifixion was. The film “The Passion of the Christ” of a few years ago no doubt strengthened our sense of that. But over the last year’s I personally have learned some things that I never did realize, that for one reason or another no one ever taught me about crucifixion. Those who were crucified under the Romans were crucified naked. The Romans did everything they could to humiliate their criminals. Crucifixion was designed to maximize the physical pain; they made sure the procedure was dragged out over a good number of hours. They even calculated the amount of pain inflicted at any one time so as not to cause the criminal to fall into unconsciousness and thus ease their pain.
And when it was time to actually mount them on the crosses, they stripped them naked, with genitals publicly exposed, for the greatest possible human humiliation. As well, when death came the bowels of the criminal would loosen. That is how our Jesus ended his life; exposed in every way possible. Rolheiser says:
“We have tended to downplay this aspect, both in our preaching and in our art. We have surrounded the cross with roses, with aesthetic and antiseptic wrapping towels. But that was not the case for Jesus. His nakedness was exposed, his body publicly humiliated. That, among other reasons, is why the crucifixion was such a devastating blow to his disciples and why many of them abandoned Jesus and scattered after the crucifixion. They simply couldn’t connect this kind of humiliation with glory, divinity, and triumph”
Rolheiser spends the rest of his column showing how it is in times of greatest humiliation, however, that we come to real and true depth of soul.
…incidences that have made us feel some shame in acknowledging them
…powerlessness from which we could not protect ourselves
…abuses from which we could not defend ourselves
…inadequacies of body or mind that left us vulnerable
…humiliating incidents that have happened to us
If we have any depth of soul to our person, Rolheiser says, it has been born to large extent and probably entirely from such experiences of humiliation. Our only cause for concern is that through such humiliating times we grow deeper in compassion, graciousness, and forgiveness, and not deeper in hate, anger and revenge.
So, my sisters and brothers, it is Easter. The humiliation of Jesus is complete: He himself said, “Father, it is finished!” Ours, however, is not so complete.
I don’t have any answers to the questions posed in the media. I wonder just as you do, ‘what did he know, and when did he know it?” But, my friends, that is the question we have all carried since the sex abuse scandal broke in our own country in 2001: what did our bishops know and when did they know it? An even more challenging: ‘what did we know, and when did we know it?”
Today you do know that Jesus is risen. Today you do know that out of the darkest hour comes the brightest light, and out of the deepest and most painful humiliations can come the greatest depth of soul. It is ours to walk the journey in this hope. In spite of the questions, the anger, the pain, the confusion we live our lives. Mary and the disciples did it then; you and I are called to do it now. As much as you are able, dear sisters and brothers, …. Happy Easter!
Msgr. Wilgenbush is a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and Episcopal Vicar for the Waterloo region. He preached this homily on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010 at parishes in Lourdes and Alta Vista.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn
Archbishop of Vienna
In this hour, preachy words are beside the point. They could be not only uncomfortable, but even injurious. Keeping silent would be appropriate. Not that silence which happens all too often: the silence of covering up, of silencing another, the silence of not being able to speak up. It would have to be the silence of the friends of Job, who simply fell silent and sat in silence before the suffering of their friend.
Thanks, that you have broken the silence. Thanks, that victims have begun to trust themselves enough to speak. Oftentimes it takes a long time to break out of the spiral of silence. Much has broken open. There is less looking the other way. But much remains to be done.
I confess that I often have the feeling of injustice these days. Why is it mostly the Church which is pilloried? Isn’t there abuse elsewhere? Is anyone looking into that? Is it being dealt with? And then I am easily tempted to say: Well, the media just plain don’t like the Church! Maybe there’s even a conspiracy against the Church?
But then I feel in my heart – no, that’s not it. Even if that were the case, the mirror which is held up to us reflects something which makes abuse in the Church especially serious: it defiles the holy name of God. It closes off, often for an entire lifetime, access to the God who is with us and makes us free. Abuse which is sexual or physically violent or both, when it is committed by a church representative, by a priest or a professed religious, can become a “poisoning of God.” The people who are supposed to bring the nearness and the name of God become destroyers of the relationship to God. It is this which makes abuse in the Church even worse. Thus, the words of “holy anger” which Jesus uttered are so terrifyingly serious: “To the person who causes scandal to one of these little ones, it would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea.”
Scandal to the “little ones,” the dependent ones, the defenseless, children and youth: this meets God’s anger and woe....
He is not the God who looks the other way and does not listen: “I have seen the pain of my people in Egypt and I have heard their loud lament. I know their suffering.” A God who looks in and listens closely, and who does not remain unmoved by suffering.
How horrible it is when access to this God is closed off by people of the Church. When the name of this living God is poisoned. And then individuals must experience: your pain is ignored, your suffering is not seen, your loud lament is not heard!...
Is it not the tragedy of what we now experience, that a Gospel of liberation has become the Bad News of abuse? From this the Church must repent, all of us. As long as the Church does not look in and listen closely, the Church will only obstruct the liberating, redeeming God. Not only will the Church not proclaim the Good News of liberation from the house of slavery, it will make the slavery even worse.
This is a painful experience for the Church. But what is this pain in comparison to the pain of the victims whom we have not seen or listened to! When the victims now speak, then God speaks to us, to his Church, in order to shake it up and purify it; then, through the victims, that God speaks to us who said to Moses: “I have diligently taken heed of you and have seen what they have done to you.”
Christoph Schönborn made his remarks during a service of lamentation March 31, 2010 in St. Stephen Cathedral, Vienna. Read the full text online at:
Rev. Timothy Radcliffe
Fresh revelations of sexual abuse by priests in Germany and Italy have provoked a tide of anger and disgust. I have received emails from people all around Europe asking how can they possibly remain in the Church? I was even sent a form with which to renounce my membership of the Church. Why stay?
First of all, why go? Some people feel that they can no longer remain associated with an institution that is so corrupt and dangerous for children. The suffering of so many children is indeed horrific. They must be our first concern. Nothing that I will write is intended in any way to lessen our horror at the evil of sexual abuse. But the statistics for the US, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004, suggest that Catholic clergy do not offend more than the married clergy of other Churches. Some surveys even give a lower level of offence for Catholic priests....
But what about the cover-up within the Church? Have not our bishops been shockingly irresponsible in moving offenders around, not reporting them to the police and so perpetuating the abuse? Yes, sometimes. But the great majority of these cases go back to the 1960s and 1970s, when bishops often regarded sexual abuse as a sin rather than also a pathological condition, and when lawyers and psychologists often reassured them that it was safe to reassign priests after treatment. It is unjust to project backwards an awareness of the nature and seriousness of sexual abuse which simply did not exist then....
But what about the Vatican? Pope Benedict has taken a strong line in tackling this issue as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and since becoming Pope....
It is generally imagined that the Vatican is a vast and efficient organisation. In fact it is tiny. The CDF only employs 45 people, dealing with doctrinal and disciplinary issues for a Church which has 1.3 billion members, 17 per cent of the world’s population, and some 400,000 priests....
Angry and hurt Catholics feel a right to transparent government. I agree. But we must, in justice, understand why the Vatican is so self-protective. There were more martyrs in the twentieth century than in all the previous centuries combined.... Many Catholics still suffer imprisonment and death for their faith. Of course, the Vatican tends to stress confidentiality; this has been necessary to protect the Church from people who wish to destroy her. So it is understandable that the Vatican reacts aggressively to demands for transparency and will read legitimate requests for openness as a form of persecution. And some people in the media do, without any doubt, wish to damage the credibility of the Church....
Confidentiality is also a consequence of the Church’s insistence on the right of everyone accused to keep their good name until they are proved to be guilty. This is very hard for our society to understand, whose media destroy people’s reputations without a thought.
Why go? If it is to find a safer haven, a less corrupt Church, then I think that you will be disappointed. I too long for more transparent government, more open debate, but the Church’s secrecy is understandable, and sometimes necessary. To understand is not always to condone, but necessary if we are to act justly.
Why stay? I must lay my cards on the table; even if the Church were obviously worse than other Churches, I still would not go. I am not a Catholic because our Church is the best, or even because I like Catholicism. I do love much about my Church but there are aspects of it which I dislike. I am not a Catholic because of a consumer option for an ecclesiastical Waitrose rather than Tesco, but because I believe that it embodies something which is essential to the Christian witness to the Resurrection, visible unity.
When Jesus died, his community fell apart. He had been betrayed, denied, and most of his disciples fled. It was chiefly the women who accompanied him to the end. On Easter Day, he appeared to the disciples. This was more than the physical resuscitation of a dead corpse.
In him God triumphed over all that destroys community: sin, cowardice, lies, misunderstanding, suffering and death. The Resurrection was made visible to the world in the astonishing sight of a community reborn. These cowards and deniers were gathered together again. They were not a reputable bunch, and shamefaced at what they had done, but once again they were one. The unity of the Church is a sign that all the forces that fragment and scatter are defeated in Christ.
All Christians are one in the Body of Christ. I have deepest respect and affection for Christians from other Churches who nurture and inspire me. But this unity in Christ needs some visible embodiment. Christianity is not a vague spirituality but a religion of incarnation, in which the deepest truths take the physical and sometimes institutional form. Historically this unity has found its focus in Peter, the Rock in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the shepherd of the flock in John’s gospel.
From the beginning and throughout history, Peter has often been a wobbly rock, a source of scandal, corrupt, and yet this is the one – and his successors – whose task is to hold us together so that we may witness to Christ’s defeat on Easter Day of sin’s power to divide. And so the Church is stuck with me whatever happens. We may be embarrassed to admit that we are Catholics, but Jesus kept shameful company from the beginning.
Fr. Radcliffe is a popular Catholic author, speaker and former Master of the Dominican Order. This article appeared in the April 10, 2010 issue of the British Catholic weekly, The Tablet. Read the full text online at: http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/14543
The question has come my way several times in the past week: "How do you maintain your faith in light of news stories that bring light to the dark places that exist within your church?"
When have darkness and light been anything but co-existent? How do we recognize either without the other?
I remain within, and love, the Catholic Church because it is a church that has lived and wrestled within the mystery of the shadow lands ever since an innocent man was arrested, sentenced and crucified, while the keeper of "the keys" denied him, and his first priests ran away. Through 2,000 imperfect — sometimes glorious, sometimes heinous — years, the church has contemplated and manifested the truth that dark and light, innocence and guilt, justice and injustice all share a kinship, one that waves back and forth like wind-stirred wheat in a field, churning toward something — as yet — unknowable.
The darkness within my church is real, and it has too often gone unaddressed. The light within my church is also real, and has too often gone unappreciated. A small minority has sinned, gravely, against too many. Another minority has assisted or saved the lives of millions.
But then, my country is the most generous and compassionate nation on Earth; it is also the only country that has ever deployed nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
My government is founded upon a singular appreciation of personal liberty; some of those founders owned slaves.
My family was known for its neighborliness and its work ethic; its patriarch was a serial child molester.
The child molester was also a brilliant, generous, talented man — the only person who ever read me a bedtime story. I will love him forever, for that, even when I wake up gasping and afraid.
I am a woman with very generous instincts, and I try to love everyone, but I am capable of corrosive scorn. Have I been much sinned against? Yes. So have you. Have I sinned against others? Oh, yes. So have you.
Like a pebble cast into a pond, our every action ripples out toward the edges, reaching farther than we intended, touching what we do not even know, for good and for ill. It all either means nothing, or it means everything.
As a Catholic, I believe it means everything.
That doesn't mean I do not suffer for the sins of my church; we people in the pews are roiling with feelings of betrayal, shame, revulsion.
Having survived sexual abuse in the family and the public schools, I identify deeply with the pain, the sense of powerlessness and abandonment that the victims of some of our priests and administers have endured. I grieve for them — and for my church, and for my pope, and for all of the countless good priests and religious who are tarnished by the actions of a depraved minority.
I am saddened beyond words to know that these very real sins of commission and omission will repel people, who will miss the consolations of the church in light, out of concern for its shadows.
But the painful and incomplete news stories that have dominated this Holy Week helpfully illustrate how and why I am able to continue on in faith. Particularly during the Easter Triduum, we are thrust deeply into the crucifixion narrative of the Gospels. There, on the wood of the cross, we encounter Jesus, son of Mary, who knew shame, betrayal, abandonment, scorn, jeering, ridicule, unimaginable pain and sorrow, and submitted to them, in order to draw us into a consoling embrace that says, "I know what you are feeling; I know what you are thinking. You tortured ones, you shamed ones, you innocent ones, you slandered ones; I am the One who knows, and we are actually all in this together, and quite outside of time."
I want my church to shine. But I understand that everything, from our institutions to our innermost beings, are seen through a glass, darkly. Arms outstretched, listening for the Word, and its echoing liturgy, I make my way forward, in bright hope.
Elizabeth Scalia is a contributing writer to First Things magazine and the blogger known as The Anchoress. This article appeared April 2, 2010 online at:
Fr. Jack Wintz, O.F.M.
Columnist and former editor of St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Like many of you, my heart is heavy whenever I read, see or hear media reports and commentaries about clergy sexual abuse and the Catholic Church. Although I don’t feel qualified to comment in an expert way on this complicated issue, I do want to respond to the concerns, frustration and even anger that many of you have expressed….
As others have pointed out, the greatest scandal on the part of the Church is our failure to put the child victims and their families first. In some dioceses, unfortunately, Church leaders have made the cover-up of these scandals and the offending priests their most important priority. How did we get our priorities reversed in this way?
Into our Catholic hierarchical system, at least in some instances, has seeped the tendency and practice of covering up faults. The system seems to give those higher up such importance, dignity and sacredness that their reputation must be protected at all costs. Even those at the bottom often “buy into” this layered arrangement that tends to give special privilege to those on top. If we look at the Gospels, however, we notice that this was not the mindset of Jesus. He often called those in leadership to task for giving scandal or laying oppressive burdens on those in their charge. He told those in leadership to be servants of the others….
One consequence of the clergy sex-abuse scandal is that the faulty priorities of the hierarchical system have now been unmasked for the whole world to see, and changes will have to be made. Structures of privilege, secrecy and protection from blame seem to be unraveling before our eyes.
Meanwhile, the Church majority, made up of laymen and laywomen and their children, are beginning to see their rights and dignity properly recognized. They are more and more seeing themselves not simply as servants of the higher-ups whose only role in the Church is to pray, pay and obey. Now they are more fully aware that their voices deserve to be heard and respected as they claim their rightful place in the Church envisioned by Vatican II….
Despite our failures as a Church regarding the tragic sexual abuse of children, it’s helpful to examine the issue from a wider perspective. Clergy sexual abuse is an issue that extends well beyond the Roman Catholic Church and contains more complexities than meet the eye….
Even an institution as simple as the family tends to be self-protecting and secretive regarding abusive behavior within it own ranks. I think it is generally agreed that most cases of sexual abuse of children happens within the family. The perpetrators often are older family members, relatives, family friends, babysitters. The first instinct is often for the family leaders to keep sexual abuse from going public. We know, of course, that such cover-ups are not right, especially if the victims remain at risk. Yet we all recognize the temptation most people have to cover up mistakes and sins of which they are ashamed.
This is all the more true as we explore more complex institutions—athletic or youth associations (e.g., teams or scouts), educational institutions, police departments, the military, religious institutions of all kinds, political parties, medical associations, psychological associations, big companies like Enron, even news networks and TV conglomerates. Most institutions and power structures try to protect their reputations and keep their secret sins hidden. Again this is not right. Those victimized by such organizations should be protected and the offenders reported and brought to justice. One wonders at times, however, why the media and other groups sometimes go after certain offenders and systems with more fervor and fury than they go after others….
Another observation I heard or read within the last two weeks, which brought me a bit of light regarding the tendency on the part of Church leaders to give priest offenders a second chance, is that the Gospel of Jesus teaches us to be forgiving. It is not surprising that those who have not digested the truth about pedophilia being an incurable disorder and who have been trained to be forgiving could err on the side of being too lenient with sex offenders—a deadly mistake that hopefully is being quickly corrected in the wake of the current scandals.
A final note for us during this Easter season: We do not face these problems and crises alone. The Risen Jesus, who has triumphed over sin and death, breathes the Spirit of forgiveness and healing upon us and walks with us toward Pentecost.
Fr. Wintz’s remarks appeared in his online newsletter, “Friar Jack’s E-Inspirations,” on April 8, 2002. You can read the full text of his comments at:
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI
…As Christians we’re asked to carry this scandal biblically. What does that mean? Carrying something biblically means a number of interpenetrating things:
1. Name the moment. Not everything can be fixed or cured, but it needs to be named properly…. This scandal, this particular time in our history as a Catholic Church in America, is a moment of humiliation, a moment of humbling, a moment of pruning. We must begin the process of healing by clearly, and with courage, naming that….
2. The call to compassion. …To carry something biblically means, first of all, to re-ground ourselves in the non-negotiables of Christian compassion – respect, tolerance, patience and graciousness…. It’s easy to be selective in our sympathy, offering our compassion at those places where we feel good and clean when we give it and withholding it from those people and places where we don’t get a good, clean feeling when we offer it….
3. Healing, not self-protection and security. …[H]ealing, not self-protection and security, must be our real preoccupation….To protect the innocent and to bring about healing and reconciliation. Everything else (worries about security, lawsuits, and the like) must come afterwards. Part of this is how we must understand the role of the media and press in all of this…. They are not the problem….Granted that sometimes their coverage hasn’t been fair, but that’s ultimately not the issue. Beneath it all, the substance is true.
4. Carrying this crisis is not our primary ministry and not a distraction to our ministry. Carrying this scandal properly is something that the church is invited to do right now for the sake of the culture….There are very few things that we are doing as Christian communities today that are more important than helping the world deal with this issue…. Crucifixions are never easy and they exact real blood! It might well be worth it in the long run if we can help our world come to grips with this.
5. Painful humiliation as a grace-opportunity. Purification and pruning, humiliation leading to humility…. Today the Body of Christ is not just being humbled, it’s being humiliated and we have the chance to come to humility through that. This is an important grace-opportunity for all of us inside the church. Biblically, it’s our “Agony in the Garden.”
6. To carry this scandal biblically asks of us “a new song.” [What is] being asked of us in this scandal [is this]: Can we love, forgive, reach out, and be empathic in a new way? Can we have compassion for both the victim and the perpetrator? Can we have compassion for some of our church leaders who made some blunders? Can we give our money when it seems we are paying for someone else’s sin? Can we help carry one of the darker sides of our history without protesting its unfairness and distancing ourselves from it? Can we carry a tension that’s unfair to us for the sake of a greater good?...
7. We need to “ponder” as Mary did. …To ponder in the biblical sense means to hold, to carry, and transform tension so as not to give it back in kind…. To ponder biblically is to be like a water purifier; it takes in all kinds of impurities with the water, but it holds the impurities inside of itself and gives back only the pure water. That is what Mary did under the cross…. And that is what we are called upon to do…and that is what we are called upon to do in helping to carry this scandal biblically, namely, to hold, carry and transform this tension so as not to give back in kind – hurt for hurt, bitterness for bitterness, accusation for accusation, anger for anger, blame for blame.
8. We must reaffirm our faith in God as Lord. …Our prayer in times of crisis must be a prayer that precisely affirms that God is still Lord of this world…. We need, in the midst of this crisis, to affirm our faith in the lordship of God. God is still firmly in charge…. The church isn’t dying. Crucifixions don’t end life, they lead to new, enriched life.
9. We must patiently stay with the pain. This is a dark night of the soul which is meant, like every dark night of the soul, to stretch the heart. To be stretched is always painful and our normal impulse is always to do something to end the pain…. But the pain won’t go away until we learn the lesson that it’s meant to teach us…. And what is it meant to teach us, beyond a new humility? That there is a terrible pain within the culture right now, the soul-devastation caused by sexual abuse, and we, the church, are being asked to be like Christ, namely, to have our flesh be food for the life of the world so that this wound might be opened to healing.
Fr. Rolheiser is a popular Catholic author, columnist, and president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. Read the complete text of Fr. Rolheiser’s essay online at:
Fr. Michael Ryan
Rector of St. James Cathedral, Seattle
The preacher's challenge is to read the Scriptures not only as narratives of the past but as living commentaries on the present.... I think of this every time I prepare a homily but I thought of it more than ever this week as I reflected on the reading from Acts [Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41] and on the gospel story from John [John 21:1-19 or 21:1-14]. Both are stories of past events but both speak to this moment, too.
In the reading from Acts, we saw the apostles on trial before the Sanhedrin, a body that, for the Jewish people, was like the Supreme Court. After being questioned by the High Priest, the apostles were reminded that earlier they had been strictly forbidden to teach about Jesus. Peter responded, speaking for all of them in a way that must have shocked and started the anointed leaders: "We must obey God rather than men," he said!...
Peter's bold challenge to the Sanhedrin may lose some of its punch for us. We're on Peter's side, after all. We know his importance and can rather easily dismiss the importance of the court of the Sanhedrin. But when Peter stood before them, those men were the ultimate arbiter, the supreme religious authority and Peter dared to stand them down!
It's hard for me not to read all this in light of what is currently happening in our church, and to express the hope that, during this current, painful crisis, our church leaders will hear Peter's words as a challenge to humbly acknowledge that, despite their intentions, instead of speaking for God they have sometimes spoken -- and acted -- all too humanly.
It's hard to be deaf to the growing number of voices (not just from the media but from loyal, faithful members of the church, including some bishops) that are calling for the church to turn this dreadful moment into a graced moment -- a moment of self-examination on a whole array of things: on the way it understands and carries out its sacred mission, the way it exercises power, the way it chooses leaders and holds them to account. These same voices also call for greater transparency in the church; for a greater voice in church governance and decision-making for lay people, including women; and for a greater willingness on the part of church leadership to admit mistakes where they've been made and humbly beg forgiveness. These are voices we should heed….
These thoughts and concerns prompted by today's first reading from Acts connect quite naturally for me with today's gospel passage from John…. "Do you love me?" Jesus asks Peter, not one time but three, and each time Peter assures him that he does. But words are not enough. "Feed my lambs," Jesus tells him. "Feed my sheep...."
Honesty compels us to admit that the church has too often put its own perceived interests ahead of the clear and uncompromising command of Jesus to feed, care for, and nourish his flock. At times it has allowed selfish institutional issues and concerns to eclipse the most basic rights of the flock, especially of some of the weakest, most vulnerable members of the flock. This must never happen again.
And, yes, some of the media attacks have been unfair and unbalanced and, yes, the issues we are dealing with are by no means exclusively the church's issues (they are societal issues), and, yes, the moral quicksand of our secular culture deserves some of the blame, but no amount of spreading or sharing the blame can take away the blame that rests squarely with the church.
After he put his questions to Peter, Jesus told him what the future would hold.... And then he repeated for Peter the first words he ever spoke to him, words that would now mean a good deal more to Peter than they did the first time: "Follow me."
My friends in Christ, I believe that these are words Jesus speaks to the church now -- - all of us in the church, but especially those of us in leadership. I hear them as a call to conversion -- deep conversion, a call to exercise power in a whole new way, a call to lead in the humble, strong, yet gentle way of Jesus and to let go of the need to dominate and to control. With Peter, the church needs to let Jesus take us places we'd probably rather not go.
"Do you love me? Feed my lambs, feed my sheep… Follow me!" My friends, Peter's call is now the church's call. And why should the church -- the whole church, leaders and led -- expect better or easier treatment than Peter got? Why should the church, the whole church, not be willing to let go and follow in Peter's footsteps, confident that, while God may indeed take us to places we'd sooner not go, those places will, in the end be the very places we're supposed to go?
Fr. Ryan preached this homily on the Third Sunday in Easter, April 18, 2010, in St. James Cathedral in Seattle. The full text of the homily is available online at:
Columnist and former editor
At least one group of Catholics is not thinking about the sex abuse scandal affecting the church with new vigor lately. The newly baptized and the thousands of candidates received into the church at Easter through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) have been focused on fundamentals of our faith, not the weakness and sins of its human caretakers.
For the most part, these Catholics are protected from scandal by their excitement over a new sense of wholeness in their lives; by gratitude for places in a community rich with possibilities for all of their best and deepest desires.
They are fresh from an experience with Jesus teaching them to wash the feet of fellow travelers, and by serving the needs of others to carry out the love that identifies them as friends of God.
They may still feel the deep newness of life, the healing, the fresh start gained through the sacrament of reconciliation.
They feel themselves as true church, part of the gathered body of Christ, which expresses humanity rising as it looks for the way of love, the way of God, in every experience, good and bad.
They are this way because the priest they know best is Jesus, not the poor ordained men who couldn't control a sick impulse. They are like those first Christians described in the Acts of the Apostles, living as beacons of light for everyone around. The rest of us can take lessons from them.
The new revelations of clergy sexually abusing children in Europe haven't added anything to what we already knew about this problem. It's a rerun of the story that surfaced in this country more than 30 years ago and exploded in the past decade: A few priests in many places over decades or more sexually abused thousands of children, most of them boys in early adolescence. Bishops, concerned about scandal, kept such incidents quiet and, taking advice from psychologists, sent the priests to places where a cure was expected and then frequently reassigned them to ministry.
Everyone now knows what a tragic mistake that was.
If there is a way to summarize the problem for the church, it might be in the phrase clerical culture. In any organization, a cocoon of self-preservation will tend to grow around the people who manage and control it. The leaders and officers see themselves as the people who guarantee cohesion and continuity in the enterprise, and thus they have a right to special privilege that goes along with their special responsibility. It happens in business, in the military, in clubs of all kinds, and it happens with clergy in the church.
Every priest and bishop knows very well the instruction by Jesus to be servants rather than lords. But none of them, none of us, knows how to perfectly carry out that instruction despite the greatest desire to do so. It seems to be part of our pilgrimage in history to work out solutions as we go, responding to crises with renewed attention to the humble way of Jesus and trying to learn from our latest mistakes.
As we do that again this time, the attitude of those new Catholics is a useful guide. Focus on the fundamentals of our faith, on the Gospel, on the kingdom preached by Jesus, not so much on command and control. A table of organization and manual of operation is necessary because we are human, but it is not primary. Attention to the way of Jesus is.
Frank Wessling is former editor of the Davenport (Iowa) Catholic Messenger. This column was published in the April 23, 2010 Messenger and distributed by Catholic News Service.
Fr. Bob VerEecle SK
Pastor, St. Ignatius Parish, Boston
...In the past weeks, I’m sure you have heard, as I have, “I’ve had enough,” from many within our Catholic community. With all the revelations of abuse and questions of the culpability of those religious leaders who did not address the problem in an open, transparent and timely fashion, the wounds of so many that may have begun to heal after 10 years in the Archdiocese of Boston, have been opened up again with similar strains of anger, disillusionment, even disgust, and many are saying, “I’ve had enough.”
Even if the Church is now trying to address more openly the terrible reality of abuse by its clergy, the stories that continue to emerge about the global dimensions of the problem and especially the pattern of denial and secrecy on the part of the hierarchy challenge all of us to ask how we continue to find light and peace and hope in the face of darkness, distrust and disgrace.
Like Thomas, some of us, including myself, may be saying, “I want to believe that in Christ all things are made new. I want to surrender to the gift of peace, joy and love, but look at the woundedness of our Church that continues to be torn apart by scandal and distrust, look at the wounds of our world that continues to be torn apart by unimaginable violence. I’ve had enough! Haven’t you, my Lord and my God?”
I imagine those first disciples after the Crucifixion saying to themselves, “I’ve had enough.” Enough heartbreak, disillusionment. If we look at today’s Gospel with the disciples back in the upper room after the events of the Crucifixion, we may see ourselves reflected in their doubts, their fears, their disillusionment, their hopelessness.
I have always wondered why they found themselves back in that upper room after they had deserted and denied Jesus, had fled for their lives, hiding from the brutal reality that Jesus, who had been their hope, was no more. All their dreams had been shattered. But something draws them to a place where they had experienced life, love, community, a vision of God’s kingdom where peace, healing, forgiveness was at the center of all.
That’s what Jesus had proclaimed and lived, had preached and shown in his actions, had given life to in bread and wine, blessed and broken. Those memories of what had been, the bonds of friendship and community that had been there for them must have been what drew them back. I can imagine each one coming under cover of darkness, not wanting to be recognized as one of his disciples, making their way back to the upper room and finding each other there. Saying, “Oh, you’re here. You came back too. But what do we do now?”
The Gospel tells us it is in the midst of this fear, apprehension about the future, confusion and perhaps despair, that Jesus appears. Unexpectedly speaking, “Peace! Do not be afraid!” His presence and his peace is experienced as a reality that constitutes a new beginning for these men and women who had lost hope in the loss of their beloved friend, Rabboni. For those gathered in the upper room that Easter Sunday, there is no doubt that God has completed the work of creation begun in the story of Genesis. God is refashioning the story of death and disintegration. God is weaving a new tapestry of life, peace, hope, and love. God in Jesus is saying, I can never give you enough of my love, my peace, my life.
But like Thomas — who was not with the other broken-hearted, fearful disciples — some of us, including myself, may be saying, “I want to believe that in Christ all things are made new. I want to surrender to the gift of peace, joy and love, but look at the woundedness of our Church that continues to be torn apart by scandal and distrust, look at the wounds of our world that continues to be torn apart by unimaginable violence. I’ve had enough! Haven’t you, my Lord and my God?”
And like Thomas we hear the words, “See my wounds. Place your fingers in my side. Touch me and see that I carry in my Risen body, not just my wounds, but yours as well, my beloved world, and especially the community of my beloved disciples. Don’t be afraid. Don’t give up. You will know who I am. You will know that I have loved you. You will know who I am.”
Fr. Bob VerEecke SJ is pastor of St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill at Boston College. This reflection was adapted from his homily on April 21, 2010 and published online by BustedHalo.com. The complete text is available at:
John W. Martens
Associate Professor, St. Thomas University
There is an important article by Joseph Bottum at The Weekly Standard.com on the recent “odd hysteria,” that is, the media’s response and role in the recent and revived claims regarding sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups of this abuse by some in the Church’s leadership. That Bottum calls it an “odd hysteria” does not mean that he considers claims about sexual abuse in the Church to be concocted nor that he feels there have not been grave errors made by the Church hierarchy, only, in my words, that the Catholic Church has been made to bear far more of the weight of the sin of sexual abuse in our culture than for which it is responsible.
As I read Bottum,...he believes that there is a deep animus against the Catholic Church on display in the “odd hysteria,” that has its roots in the Protestant reformation and that was imported across the Atlantic Ocean to the USA centuries ago. More than that, in the wake of the Enlightenment, the claims that the Catholic Church made and makes concerning the Truth and Tradition put it in permanent opposition to the forces of Progress, which wished and continue to wish for the Church’s end….
…I think he has put his finger on a deep impulse in our culture, that remains more Christian than it knows. I say partially insightful because I am not certain that most people see the Catholic Church as the “last-surviving remnant of the ancient darkness” or that recent newspaper reports reveal "anti-Catholicism." I believe that there is in fact lurking in all of this an inchoate longing for the Truth that the Catholic Church proclaims. If the Church truly bears the Truth, and if we as Christians believe it to be so, how can people, all created in the image of God, not respond in some deep way to the bearer of this Truth?
Our culture is confused in many ways about the very nature of Truth and so the response to the Church, and in this particular case the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, will take many forms, some ridiculous and some unjust, but the reason the Church remains at the heart of the story is that most people expect the Church to live up to its claims to be different, to be better, to be set apart. In fact they need the Church to be better. I think the focus on the Church is not indicative of people considering Catholicism as the “last-surviving remnant of the ancient darkness,” but on the Church being the beacon of light and the Hope of the world, even if this cannot be expressed coherently by many of the Church’s supposed enemies....
Related to this is the other thing that frightens us in our culture: If nothing is true then everything is permitted, especially in the realm of sex.... Again, this sort of cheap hedonism is easy to chirp in cafes, nightclubs and while sharing a joint with a friend, but there are deep concerns regarding the turn our culture has taken with respect to sex and, again, rightly so, if we believe that the Church’s teachings regarding sex are true. If they are, then even when the Church’s teachings are mocked and rejected, they ought to speak at the deepest level even to those whose own practice of sexuality defies the teachings of Christianity….
What I find missing from Bottum’s article and in so much of the writing defending the Church against “anti-Catholicism” is a long view of history and the Scriptures themselves. The desire to explain everything in terms of the past 40, 50 or 60 years misses the very point that Bottum was making. The biblical tradition teaches us that history is a constant battle in which sin and evil vie against God and the goodness which is entirely God. Most utopian movements which emerged in the West are more Christian than they know, as Bottum states, but they run up in their bold visions of a new world against the reality of sin, which most of them want to consign to the dustbin of history. They will try to explain sin as social or economic oppression, let’s say, and so when such oppression is gone, a new world dawns. It is wrong.
Yet, many Catholic commentators, Bottum included, seem to want to explain the recent scandals in the Church as a product of Vatican II, or cultural currents present in the wider culture since the ‘60’s, as if on the list of things the Baby Boomers created is now sin. Read the Bible and the Church fathers: all of these sins, sexual included, were present in the early Church and the broader culture. This is a part of the never-ending battle, which will end only when God makes all things new again, as we heard in the second reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Revelation 7:15-17:
“The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne
will shepherd them
and lead them to springs of life-giving water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The world since Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has had to account for him, the Truth of what he said and did and is, or the falsity of it. It is far easier to engage in this discussion as a dilettante when the culture is steeped in the Truth and the behavior of most people is guided more or less by Jesus’ teaching, and you can gain a frisson of excitement by opposing yourself to the teachings of Jesus. But when everyone wants to be a bad boy or a bad girl, all of the sudden, the game gets serious. How far are you willing to go? Is everything up in the air, even your children? Now you need to seriously consider the Truth.
For his disciples, Jesus Christ is that Truth. If the Church does not bear witness to the Truth of Jesus Christ, that is the scandal that shocks the world. The scandal is not “the Vatican,” but a Church that is seen to behave like the rest of the world. The Church has had “success” in worldly terms only to the extent that it bears witness to the scandal of the cross by living up to Jesus’ demands for his disciples. We need to get away from short view discussions of Vatican II priests and JPII priests as the cause or solution to our problems and return to the Hope to which we bear witness in the person of Jesus Christ.
When we do, we will also see the problem with short term analyses of sexual abuse. It is not a product of a certain age. It was current in the Greco-Roman culture of Jesus' day and in fact a normal, accepted part of life. Jesus warned against the mistreatment of children because he knew it would always be a temptation to take advantage of the most vulnerable in our midst. It was a problem in the first century, in the fourth century, every century after, prior to Vatican II and after Vatican II, because it is a problem of sin. What we need to put in place, as I think the Church has done in some jurisdictions, is the best procedures for vetting candidates to the ministry, the best protections for children in Catholic schools and churches, the will to be honest when such abuse happens, not to cover it up, and then to remove offending persons from ministry. It means constantly keeping Jesus' teachings about children in mind, not our own desires and whims.
The “odd hysteria” that Bottum sees is not "anti-Catholicism," but the longings of the world to know that the Catholic Church will not give lip service to the Truth but will live it out. It is the Hope of this world, whether the world wants to admit it or not. I think that in the challenges to the Church from those whom we often see as despisers, we hear the cry of a lost world asking that the bearers of the Truth deliver on the Hope. This side of God wiping away every tear from our eyes it is an ongoing struggle, that began with Adam not in the last 50 years or so, but we can fight harder and better and deep down the world knows it.
John W. Martens is associate professor and director of the MA program in theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota and a contributor to America magazine's “The Good Word." This entry was posted on the blog on April 26, 2010 and is available online at:
Editors of America Magazine
As a church we are a pilgrim people making our way together through history. Like Chaucer’s companions on the road to Canterbury, we have a variety of tales to tell and not all are edifying. The latest waves of the crisis of clerical sexual abuse of minors have made Catholics keenly aware that even in high places we are a company of sinners as well as saints, of fallible human beings as well as faithful followers of Jesus—everyone in need of the forgiveness Jesus proclaimed. That forgiveness is one of the religious experiences that binds us to one another along our pilgrim way.
The rituals of confession and repentance remain among the most identifiable practices of Catholic life. Their centrality to the Catholic imagination has made the reluctance of the hierarchy to acknowledge successive revelations of molestation all the more painful for us all. The church’s identity as a community of forgiven sinners makes particularly credible the demands by victims for public confession and open reconciliation. Even the church’s most bitter critics have been unwitting witnesses to that Christian duty. That same Catholic sensibility made the recent encounter between Pope Benedict and the victims of abuse in Malta both necessary and affecting.
The church has known dark times: domination by emperors, co-optation by feudal militarism and modern colonialism, gangland struggles by Roman families for control of the papacy, coercion of heretics and wars of religion. Still, we members of the church make pilgrimage together in hope that the church may be the visible expression in history of humanity’s new life in Christ. To us Jesus is the embodiment of fullest humanity and the model of its most appealing morality. Pope Benedict’s planned visit on July 4 to the tomb of St. Celestine V, a hermit who was elected pope and then resigned the papacy, will hold up for view a penitent form of Christian life marked by meekness, prayer and self-sacrifice, close to the pattern of Jesus that Christians strive to imitate.
One reason Catholics love the church is that it fosters just that sort of holiness. Even as the secular world exposes the hypocrisy of church officials, it acknowledges implicitly that the followers of Christ hold themselves to a “higher law” and try to practice a more demanding love. Some believe that calling is humanly impossible; others, even if they allow the Gospel little direct claim on their own lives, are disappointed upon failing to find holiness where they always presumed it might be found in a moment of need. But Catholics love the church because here we have companions who do strain, in their stumbling ways, to lead their lives by the light of the Sermon on the Mount.
We love the church because here we keep the company of men and women who have lived the Gospel even as they challenged both secular and religious rulers to reform. Among them are figures like Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Thomas More, Ignatius Loyola, Mary McKillop, Mother Théodore Guérin, Dorothy Day, Franz Jägerstätter and Oscar Romero. Their witness to the Gospel brought them into conflict with the church authorities of their day. Yet attachment to the visible, hierarchical church was intrinsic to their own path to holiness. In an age that experiences mostly opportunistic, transitory relationships, the church fosters high ideals and lifelong commitments. In a culture deprived of depth and transcendence, it encourages searching self-examination, ever more inclusive sympathies and attentive receptivity to the mystery of God. Some of the pain of the present crisis comes from the apparent loss of those practices and sensitivities when they were most needed among those from whom they were most expected.
We love the church, too, because, as can be seen in local parishes everywhere, it embraces the full diversity of humanity: the affluent and the poor, the native-born and the undocumented, conservatives and liberals, the simple and the learned. We also love the church because in every age, but particularly since the Second Vatican Council, it is dedicated to the service of the poor and defense of their human rights. Even non-Catholics see in the unselfish service of the poor the palpable holiness of the church. Asked once how he went from being a promoter of the free market to an advocate of the world’s poor, the economist Jeffrey Sachs answered, “The sisters—who, in so many places, took me to the back country to meet the very poor.”
Chief among the inexhaustible reasons that lead us to love the church is the Eucharist. For when we gather around the table of the Lord, the whole body of Christ in which we partake is made real. We are united with the risen Lord for whom we live, and with one another, not only those around the table but also those around every altar in the world, along with those who have preceded us in faith and those who will follow us, one great communion prefiguring the unity of the one human family in God.
This editorial appeared in the May 10, 2010 issue of America magazine, online at: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=12279
By Fr. Joseph Nangle OFM
...The Catholic Church is in perhaps its worst crisis ever....
This blight in our church will be with us for decades to come. The harm done to the victims of clergy abuse, their families, Catholics, and many others cannot be undone quickly. People have been hurt, damaged, and disillusioned, and I believe that only serious corrective measures, together with public repentance—especially by Catholic ministers—over a long period of time, will excise this malignancy.
But we will do this only if we clearly understand the gravity of our sin and its devastating effects. I fear that as yet many among us, including and perhaps especially our leadership, fail to comprehend how bad this situation has become....
The preparation of candidates for the priesthood must take more seriously the need for healthy psycho-sexual development. Compulsive behaviors, addiction to internet pornography, aversion to women, and stunted social skills signal that some are not suited for the priesthood. Bishops, seminary rectors, spiritual directors, and confessors will have to exercise “tough love” here.
Bishops can no longer come from the ranks of “company men” who demonstrate little or no capacity for independent thinking. (I once heard of a prominent American hierarch state that his conscience was exactly that of the pope. Infantile in the extreme!)
Above all, our church must consistently act on Jesus’ words: “The truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Only transparency, openness, and truthfulness about past and current aspects of this scandal, at every level of our institution, will bring the Catholic Church out of this dark night.
National and international media have performed a much-needed service in bringing to light the enormity of our scandal. Perhaps some media were motivated by less-than-noble intentions—scandals like these sell newspapers, and the Catholic Church is an easy target. However, had it not been for dogged investigative reporting on this issue, we might still not know its extent.
Finally, where can Catholics find hope? Many have walked away from this institution, and who can blame them? However, I take hope from people by the thousands who retain the capacity to claim the Church as their own despite the disaster that envelops us. They are for the most part Catholic laity who, far from denying our crisis, absorb it and lament it, while still maintaining Christ’s peace at the core of their beings. Their assessment of this tragedy, abiding good will, and determination to remain Catholic inspire me to continue as a priest in our flawed institution. I thank them sincerely.
Fr. Joseph Nangle, OFM, is a Franciscan priest and associate pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in Virginia. This article originally appeared in Sojourners magazine, July 2010, and is available online at:
By Carlo Carretto
in his book Letters from the Desert
How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you!
How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you!
I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence.
You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is.
I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful.
How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.
No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, though not completely. And besides, where would I go? Would I establish another? I would not be able to establish it without the same faults, for they are the same faults I carry in me. And if I did establish another, it would be my Church, not the Church of Christ. I am old enough to know that I am no better than anyone else....
The Church has the power to make me holy but it is made up, from the first to the last, only of sinners. And what sinners!
It has the omnipotent and invincible power to renew the Miracle of the Eucharist, but is made up of men who are stumbling in the dark, who fight every day against the temptation of losing their faith.
It brings a message of pure transparency but it is incarnated in slime, such is the substance of the world.
It speaks of the sweetness of its Master, of its non-violence, but there was a time in history when it sent out its armies to disembowel the infidels and torture the heretics.
It proclaims the message of evangelical poverty, and yet it does nothing but look for money and alliances with the powerful.
Those who dream of something different from this are wasting their time and have to rethink it all. And this proves that they do not understand humanity. Because this is humanity, made visible by the Church, with all its flaws and its invincible courage, with the Faith that Christ has given it and with the love that Christ showers on it.
When I was young, I did not understand why Jesus chose Peter as his successor, the first Pope, even though he abandoned Him. Now I am no longer surprised and I understand that by founding his church on the tomb of a traitor.... He was warning each of us to remain humble, by making us aware of our fragility....
And that is where the mystery lies. This mixture of good and bad, of greatness and misery, of holiness and sin that makes up the church…this in reality am I....
Carlo Carretto (1910-1988) was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a religious order inspired by the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld. Like Foucauld, he spent many spiritually formative years as a hermit in the Sahara desert. His Letters from the Desert, published in 1972, was the first of many popular books on spirituality. These comments were not written in the context of the sexual abuse crisis.
Readers may find the following articles helpful for further reflection. The opinions and facts expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, or constitute an admission of fact by, the pastors or staff members of the Catholic parishes in Waterloo or the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
[Arranged chronologically by publication date]
• Interview with Kathleen McChesney, former executive director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Child Protection. America. November 4, 2014
• Vatican's actions show progress on sex abuse issue. The Editors. National Catholic Reporter. October 6, 2014.
• Russell Shaw. "12 Years Later--Is There Any End in Sight?" Our Sunday Visitor. (April 9, 2014).
• Pope must act faster on fixing the problem. The Editors. National Catholic Reporter. February 27, 2014:
• Fr. Charles Murray: The next step--more oversight and more investigations. The Catholic Thing. January 23, 2014.
• Gerard Webster: A Human Rights Approach to Sexual Abuse in the Church. Catalyst for Renewal lecture. Nov. 24, 2013:
• Joan Frawley Desmond. "Clergy Sexual Abuse--the View from Rome and Washington." The National Catholic Register. Nov. 5, 2013.
• Patrick Parkinson. "Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches--A Moral Failure?" (text/2013 Smith Lecture):
• Fr. Thomas Reese SJ. Church’s chief prosecutor offers guidelines for moving beyond sex abuse scandal. National Catholic Reporter. Oct. 25, 2013.
• Scott Appleby. "Responding to Clericalism and Sex Abuse." U.S. Catholic. October 2012.
• David Gibson. "Bishops Still Stonewall on Sex Abuse." The Wall Street Journal. June 8, 2012
• David Gibson. "Ten Years After Reforms, What Has Changed?"
Religion News Service, June 6, 2012.
• Bob Smietana. "How Effective Are Lay Review Boards?" U.S. Catholic, June 2012.
• Interview with Nicholas Cafardi, charter member of the National Review Board. U.S. Catholic, June 2012
• A.W. Richard Sipe. Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse--Context and Causes.
Address at Santa Clara University, May 11, 2012.
• Thomas J. Reese SJ. The Unfinished Work--What Remains to Be Done. America Website, May 11, 2012.
• Brendan Busse SJ. "Chosen People--On Abuse and Redemption." The Jesuit Post, May 4, 2012.
• Fr. Brian Lennon. "Repentance for Abuse and Structural Reform Will Help to Renew the Church." (Irish Times. Feb. 28, 2012)http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0228/1224312480744.html
• Cardinal O'Malley: It's Not Over Yet. Interview with John L. Allen. The National Catholic Reporter, Jan. 6, 2012.
• What the Church Has Learned Over the Past Ten Years. Bernard Nojadera. USCCB Media Blog, Dec. 28, 2011.
• "The John Jay Study--What It Is and What It Isn't." Mary Gail Frawley O'Dea. National Catholic Reporter/NCR Online, July 19, 2011.
• "Dealing with Catholic Frustration." Tom Gibbons. BustedHalo, February 2011.
• "Survivor Stories--Seven Lessons from the Sex Abuse Crisis." Diane Knight, U.S. Catholic, January 2011.
• Two Perspectives on the Sexual Abuse Crisis by John Allen, National Catholic Reporter/NCR Online, December 24, 2010.
• "Seven Myths About the Catholic Church and Clergy Sexual Abuse" by David Gibson, Catholic Update, September 2010.
• "Keep the Faith" by Retired Bishop Francis Quinn. U.S. Catholic, August 2010.
• "Sticking with an Imperfect Church" by Melissa Musick Nussbaum, National Catholic Reporter July 20, 2010.
• "Twelve Things the Bishops Have Learned from the Sex Abuse Crisis" by Bishop Blaise Cupich. May 10, 2010.
• Text of an editorial on Vatican Radio by the Vatican's official spokesman,
Fr. Federico Lombardi. April 9, 2010.
• “Six Points You Don’t Hear About Clergy Sexual Abuse.” Dr. Thomas Plante. Psychology Today, March 24, 2010.
• Pope Benedict XVI's Pastoral Letter to the People of Ireland, March 20, 2010.
• Interview with Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, "promoter of justice" in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in L'Avvenire, March 13, 2010.
• "The Abuse Crisis, Prodigal Sons -- and Missing Mothers" on America
magazine's blog, March 13, 2010.
• "Sexual Abuse and Children: Where Are We Now? St. Anthony Messenger Magazine, January 2010.
• "A Canonical Perspective on the Sexual Abuse Crisis" by Sr. Sharon Euart, address to the Catholic Theological Society of America, June 8, 2007.
• “The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse” in America magazine, April 22, 2002.
• St. Anthony Messenger (special issue) June 2003.
• "Healing the Wound" by Eugene Kennedy in National Catholic Reporter, October 3, 2003.
• "The Slaughter of Innocents--Reconciliation Requires an Honest Examination of Conscience." Clarissa Pinkola Estes. U.S. Catholic, June 2002.
• “On Carrying a Scandal Biblically” by Fr. Ron Rolheiser.
You may also find some of Fr. Rolheiser syndicated columns helpful, even if they do not directly address the abuse issue. You can access past columns at:
• “Beyond Crime and Punishment” by Fr. Richard Rohr in the
July/August issue of Sojourners magazine.
• “Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness” homily by Fr. Thomas Landry
• "Can the Church be Healed?" by Archbishop Harry Flynn
• Continuing coverage in U.S. Catholic magazine.
• Fr. Jack Wintz’s “Friar Jack’s E-Inspirations” for April 8, 2002.
• “Prayer in a Time of Church Crisis” by the Daughters of St. Paul.
• Reflection on the virtue of hope, provided by Spirituality & Practice:
• "Healing Your Painful Memories" by M. Elaine Dillhunt OSB
• "The Hand of God," a video documentary which depicts the impact of clerical sexual abuse on one person and their family.
Caution: this video contains frank descriptions of sexual conduct--viewer discretion advised.
• For a bibliography of books about the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church go to: