Another day, another 300 accused predatory priests. When will it end, Lord? When will it end?
This morning, I tried to listen in silence for God’s answers to my questions.
What do we say about the news out of Pennsylvania? How do we answer those who taunt and ridicule the Church? How do we settle our anger at the priests and bishops and cardinals who protected the pederasts for decades? How do we reconcile the hideous criminality of those men with the uncountable graces God freely gave them through the many sacraments they’ve received?
Then, I opened today’s Office of Readings. Psalms 88 and 89. As if they were written for me personally on this day:
Remember, Lord, how your servants are taunted,
the taunts I bear in my bosom, the taunts of the nations –
the insults of your enemies, Lord,
the insults that follow the steps of your anointed!
While we are rightly angered that so many priests and bishops seemingly made no attempt to deny themselves their sinful and corrupting desires for the flesh of children, we are also personally hurt by the humiliation these priests have shoveled in our Catholic faces. These weak, insolent, disobedient, selfish, criminals in collars and cassocks.
So what do we say? What do we do?
First, we recognize that this is the work of Satan in concert with those priests who did the devil’s bidding. He worked on the weak priests, and they chose him over Him. We can say without fear of error or slander: the guilty priests chose the father of lies over the way, the life, and the truth. And, because of our humiliation and anger, the same devil prowls around us today like a lion seeking souls to devour. We must not let our humiliation and anger lead us into sin. That is the devil’s plan. The devil wants to use this news to steal more souls.
Second, we can pray for the young victims, their parents, their siblings, their classmates, their teachers and nuns who must have struggled to raise those kids. Educating and forming children is difficult and holy work, even children who never experienced the psychological and spiritual corruption of sexual abuse. The little ones who suffered such horrors drag behind them terrible baggage. That baggage makes them hard to teach and difficult to form. They demand more time and energy and patience from teachers and parents, depriving their classmates and siblings of the same. Yet, these babes are blameless. Their abusers bear those sins alone.
Third, we remember the words of Christ. When asked who is greatest in heaven (Matthew 18: 2-5):
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
But Jesus wasn’t finished. He warned against precisely what these priests have done (Matthew 18:6-9):
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Christ foresaw the story out of Pennsylvania. “Such things must come,” he warned us. And he foresaw the consequences to the world, to the little ones, to His Church. Because we are assured that the unrepentant abusers will suffer greatly, we can let go of our anger. We can trust God on this. And we must. That’s not to say people and the church should do nothing. Justice on earth must be joined to justice in heaven. But we can offer our anger and humiliation to our Lord. He will handle it.
Fourth, we can look for the good news. And we find it in scripture. Jesus foresaw these awful things which means He has already given us the graces needed to weather the storm and keep on preaching. And preach we must. As Pope Paul VI said, “The church exists to evangelize.” We cannot run and hide in shame because Christ did not run and hide from the shaming and humiliation, torture and execution that awaited Him as he prayed in Gethsemane. Peter denied Him three times, but Christ never denied His divinity.
Fifth, keep reading the Divine Office. The Psalms foreshadowed Christ just as Christ foreshadowed everything we experience in our lives. Following Psalm 88, the reading from Micah (4:14-5:17) provides the answer:
Then among the many peoples,
the remnant of Jacob will be
like a dew from the Lord,
like raindrops on the grass,
putting no hope in men,
expecting nothing from mankind.
And the Mid-morning Psalm 79 gives us a prayer for the Church at this moment:
Protect the vine, for your right hand planted it;
and the son of man, whom you made strong.
The vine is burnt and dug up;
and they too will perish when they see you rebuke them.
Stretch out your hand over your chosen one
over the son of man, whom you made strong –
and we will not forsake you, and you will give us life;
and we will call on your name.
Sixth, let’s remember that we should put no hope in men. We should expect nothing from mankind. Man is weak and fallen and broken and wounded. All of us. You need only scroll through my blog to see the many ways I am broken. Our hope lies in the Holy Trinity. Therefore, the best I can offer is this portion of one of my favorite prayers calling on Christ to surround us and fill the world:
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the ship,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I bind to myself today the strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity. I believe the Trinity in the Unity, the Creator of the Universe.
Seventh, the church could immediately release all abuse victims from any confidentiality agreement they’ve signed. And the church and every diocese should be ordered to release all documents associated with investigations if, and only if, the victim requests their release.
Last, as St. Paul advised us, we can put on the full armor of Christ today and every day. Wear it for our protection. Join our humiliation and suffering to the humiliation Christ suffered under the crown of thorns as the Roman soldiers mockingly bowed before Him hailing “the king of the Jews.”
From suffering comes joy. From humiliation comes happiness. And happiness loves company.
Note: an earlier version of this post erroneously mentioned 700 accused priests, which was a typo.