Being a Covenant People

It is with profound sadness that all of us in the parish encountered the news released in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on sexual abuse with the diocese of their state. The opening words of the Washington Post report are as stark and horrific as possible: “More than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up, according to a sweeping grand jury report.”  I am reminded of the words of St. Catherine of Siena.

People have asked Fr. Zack and I what our plans are to address this with the faithful during this coming Sunday’s masses. As a friar community we have already addressed it in homilies on the Solemnity of the Assumption as well as Friday’s daily mass. However, this weekend Sacred Heart is hosting our Diocesan Mission Cooperative.  The pastor of St. Rita, Dade City, Rev. Dayan Machado, will be our concelebrant and homilist for all the weekend Masses. It is an endeavor that is for the good of the people of St. Rita’s and so we will celebrate our mission in solidarity with them.

And yet, we are called to be in solidarity with the victims of priestly abuse in Pennsylvania and in all places across the nation and the world. Fr. Zack and I wanted to be attentive to this responsibility. It is the responsibility borne in the forge of what it means to be a covenant people. As God covenanted Himself to the people of Israel, as Christ covenanted himself to the people and the Church, and as each priest and bishop has covenanted themselves to serve the People of God – Ezekiel reminds us of that great responsibility. But also, the Lord speaks to those who would break the covenant in Ezekiel, Chapter 16. “I will deal with you according to what you have done, you who despised your oath, breaking a covenant…. For I will re-establish my covenant with you, that you may know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be covered with confusion, and that you may be utterly silenced for shame when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.”

We are called to remember our covenant promise given in the waters of Baptism. As people of Sacred Heart, we are in covenant with those wounded by the church. Their pain had already been carried well before the report’s release. The survivors of sexual abuse carry and continue to carry the wounds borne within the supposed safety of the Church. They are the ones whom the church had ignored and dismissed, who carry through their lives the sin of others, marking them, their families and their communities.

While our inner voice may plead “not again, can’t this just be over?” The answer is clear, “No – the covenant is never over. It endures forever. And together, you the faithful, the friars, priests, bishops… all of us need to be converted from the desire for the scandal of sexual abuse in the church to just be over. We need to be converted from a desire to walk away from the very real pain of the victims, which is so far from being over. We need to be people, not who defend the church, but together with the church work to be purified.

Let us all pray in gratitude for the courage of the survivors of abuse who came forward and for the grand jurors who have called the church to account. Let us pray for the conversion of the church to seek justice for those who have suffered and accountability for those who have failed to govern the church with integrity. Let us pray that God continues to bring the church toward the perfection of humility and courage.

Please see a Franciscan Statement from Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap.

4 thoughts on “Being a Covenant People

  1. St. John Chrysostom wrote that “the road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts.” How appropriate those words from 1700 years ago are today. These are dark times for the Church as these Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests have hijacked the True Faith for their own deviant, criminal and sinful behavior. I understand the call for prayer, but this is also the time for action and to call a sin a sin. The church of nice needs to stand up and say enough is enough and demand the resignation of those involved. Many of the statements made by Bishops regarding the Pennsylvania report are the same vanilla dribble we always get. If an opportunity arises please read Bishop Morlino’s (Madison Diocese) response to this crisis, it cuts right to the point and to the source of this evil and criminal activity. Many other Grand Juries will be convened in others states and hopefully this will begin the push to purge these sinful men from the Catholic Church.

    • As a pastor I can say that the range of responses is wide and varied, certainly yours is but one across a spectrum. There are a wide variety of bishops who spoke prophetically this weekend; there are others who missed the opportunity. I hope that your Ordinary was a prophet.

      And on another note one of my hobbies is debunking popular quotes. A large chunk of internet quotes attributed to St. Francis are simply made up. So just on a “hobby note”, St. John Chrysostom almost surely did not write the quote you attributed to him. He did write: ““The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” (Homily III on Acts 1:12). The more popular quote seems to have first appeared at the hand of John Wesley who combined the rhetoric of St. Chrysostom and imagery of Dante

  2. An ultimate betrayal of the children. The leadership of the church (bishops), who failed these children miserably by transferring the priests, who had already harmed children in their present parishes, to other parishes, so other children could be subjected to the same abuse. The bishops did this knowing what could happen to other children at the hands of these priests. This is incomprehensible.

    JMHO, of course, there shouldn’t be a statute of limitation on abuse of children. There isn’t on murder. In a way, the abuser has killed the “innocence of the child”.

    Where and when will this come to an end? Never?

    Maybe, like the previous person said. Through prayer!

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