Monday, July 23, 2018

Priests, bishops and cardinals abusing children and teenagers



“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture”

I want to share a story.  In 2001, as I was telling everyone that I was going to the seminary in a year or two, the abuse crisis broke out, first in Boston and then around the country, and eventually the world as story after story of priests abusing children and teenagers continued to come out in what seemed like an endless flood of filth and lives absolutely shattered.  There has never been a greater scandal in the Catholic Church, and it is hard to even imagine how there will ever be something worse.  It affected me greatly, as it surely affected many of you and continues to stick with you and I

“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture”

Fast forward to the Fall of 2005.  I was a seminarian in Rome along with about 250 other men studying for the priesthood.  We were probably overly idealistic.  We were excited and looking forward to being priests.  And we were determined, as most every other generation since the Garden of Eden, determined to not make the same mistakes as the generation before us. 

Living at our seminary for the semester were about 30 older priests who were in Rome for a sabbatical.  They would go out and travel and see Rome during the day, but they’d be around for dinner and most of us quietly avoided them.  They looked like, judging by appearances, to be the embodiment of everything we didn’t want to be.  They wore jeans and polo shirts, not their clerics.  They seemed, based on appearances, to not be all that enthusiastic about the priesthood.  Did I mention that we were overly idealistic and arrogant?

So the last day these older priests were with us, one of them had been selected to say a few words to the seminary at lunch.  Most of us seminarians were a bit skeptical.  Was he going to get up and tell us we were overly rigid and too traditional and that we needed to calm down and be more loving?  Our biases and prejudices told us that he would.

And this older priest came up in his khakis and polo shirt and took the mic and gave a speech that none of us will ever forget.  It went something like this: “When all of us old guys entered the priesthood, we were respected by our families, our parishes, our communities, etc.  We were thanked and everyone thought really highly of us when we headed off to the seminary.  The Church was, in America at least, in her heyday.  But you guys here today entered the seminary in the midst of the worst scandal in the history of the priesthood.”  And here he raised his voice “The Church is on fire right now with the scandals and sins and you guys RAN INTO the burning building.  You guys said “I want to be a priest” despite people looking at you like you’d hurt children YOU RAN INTO THE BURNING BUILDING and I want to say thanks to you.  My fellow priests who’ve been with you these past few months, we’ve all been talking about how much we admire you guys, and we talk all the time about how the Church looks like it is in great hands.  We applaud you, we salute, and it has been an honor to be with you.  God bless!”

Every guy in the room stood up and exploded into applause.   There were not a lot of dry eyes in the room.  We were moved by the support of this older priest, we were convicted that we had often judged these priests too harshly, but the overall

And the fire continues to burn in the Church – maybe it has always been on fire because of the sins of its members.  The wound continues to be infected and ooze fresh puss.  The past few weeks a flood of stories have been revealed about one of the most prominent United States Cardinals of the last 50 years, and everyone says that everybody knew and nobody knew what to do about it, and there’s a fresh trail of people discovered to have been destroyed by his crimes and his actions

“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture”

We might be tempted to think this horror of priests and bishops completely and utterly failing to live a life conformed to Christ…we might be tempted to think this is new.  But the best preacher in the history of the Catholic Church said 1700 years ago that “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts.”


So what do we do about it?  There’s never been a worse scandal in the Church, scandal being a thing that literally drives people away from the truth because of the behavior of some people.   God says what he will do about it: ““Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture”.  What the Church will do about it is anyone’s guess – I pray that the response is dramatic, swift, and far reaching.  500 years ago the clergy was in a pretty sorry state morally and the Council of Trent made DRASTIC changes and put a seminary structure in place.  I hope other changes are made that aim at similarly dramatic reform of the clergy, the priests, and the bishops. 

But what are we to do?  In one sense I’m not even sure I can say I fault people who leave.  It is all just so completely awful.  But I want to challenge you to do something – I want to challenge you to run back into the burning building of the Church, help put the fire out, and help rebuild.  I don’t fault you if these past 17 years have made you seriously question your Faith – it certainly has made me question mine, but I want to invite us to run back in

We are the Church too.   There are a lot of good priests and holy people and so I say let’s do it together.  Let’s encourage good men, our children our friends to be priests.  Let’s recognize that I can still be a saint as a Catholic lay person even if some in the hierarchy of the Church are living completely morally bankrupted lives

I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply. 
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;

I invite you to join me as we run back in and double down on our commitment to be Catholic Christians in a Church and a world that needs us.  Let us rise and be on our way to becoming Saints