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.