Last weekend was one in which there was an intersection of what is best and worst about the Catholic Church. We had a mission cooperative weekend scheduled in which we hosted Fr. Machado from St. Rita’s in Dade City. The parish was welcoming, listened to his message, responded generously with financial assistance, and asked “What can we do to help?” Already parishioners are in dialogue with the staff at St. Rita’s seeking to organize some help programs for the school children. It is Church and community at its best when a people sustained and nourished by the Eucharist, spontaneously reach out to help nourish others.
Last weekend it was important to keep the focus on the St. Rita mission, but to also address the news of the horrific sin and failing of the Church so graphically reported by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury. It is Church at its worse. Fr. Zack and I prepared a letter to the parish – more than 400 copies of the letter were taken home by parishioners, both of us spoke at our Masses, and I read a letter from Bishop Parkes (available in this issue of the bulletin).
Lots of people spoke to us before and after the Masses. There were words of discouragement, of “when will this be over,” anger, hope, and all across the spectrum of possible reactions. As you might well imagine, my email inbox has received its fair share of thoughts from parishioners and others. Most were words of thanks for addressing the issue and the way in which we did. One email wrote words of outrage that we did not seek “the immediate resignation of all bishops and call for election of new leadership.” The one email that was haunting noted that “Pennsylvania is but one state; there are 49 others plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and other protectorates.” The writer asked what they could say if their children asked them “why we go to a Catholic Church when it allowed such terrible things to happen to children, covered it up, and as a result, allowed more children to be harmed.”
That the Church has reformed, put processes in place to ensure it does not happen again, more thoroughly screens all who serve in the church – ordained and lay alike – are all great things, but it is the haunting question of how all this, which has already happened, could have happened in our Church, any Church – what can we tell our children – and ourselves?
Kerry Weber, an associate editor at America Magazine, a wife and mom, offered her thoughts. Her words were retrieved from a letter she and her husband wrote to her not-yet-born son on their hopes for his life in the Faith.
“We hope that your faith inspires you to be just, loving, humble and merciful. We hope that your faith inspires you to encourage the church to be more just, more loving, more humble and more merciful.”
“We hope you find community here, people who will support you, love you, challenge you. We hope that your faith community inspires you to reach out to the larger community — to love others, to challenge them and support them. We hope that your faith inspires you to care for those in need, to be like the shepherd who smells like sheep, to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, to be mercy for others.”
“We hope that when the world makes it difficult to live out your faith that you find the strength to persevere. We hope that you find strength in the Eucharist, in the real presence at Mass and in the people of God.”
“We hope that you are inspired by the lives of the holy men and women in heaven and the holy men and women around you now. We hope that you read and learn about your faith, drawing on the wisdom of those who have helped to shape our church. But even more, we hope that you use this knowledge to live your faith — that your life gives witness to the joy of the Gospel.”
“We hope that you love God with all your heart but that you also know that it is OK to be angry at God sometimes, that it may seem God is silent at times but that you are never alone and that God loves you right through it all. That we love you right through it all.”
“We hope that your faith inspires you to be forgiving, to let go of grudges and malice. And we hope that your faith inspires you to ask for forgiveness when you are in need of it.”
“We hope that your faith brings you great joy and that you share that joy with others.”
“We hope that you see this journey of faith as an adventure, that you know that none of us live it perfectly but that we simply try to do it sincerely and with great hope. We hope that you take time to be grateful for this life with the knowledge that this world, as beautiful and glorious and heartbreaking as it is, is not all that there is.”
She reminds us that in a broken and hurting church, the church as an institution is not why we are here or what we are here for. Yet we are responsible for it, and that means holding it accountable and working to make it more truly reflect the kingdom of God. The grand jury report is one painful step toward doing just that.