This has been a very difficult couple of days. On Wednesday, February 13, the Catholic Dioceses of New Jersey released the names of all priests who have had credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors going back to the 1940’s. The number of names in New Jersey totaled 188. Of the 188 from the five Dioceses of New Jersey, 30 were on the list from the Diocese of Trenton. While I did not know when it would happen, I knew the list was coming. Ever since the Attorney General of Pennsylvania began an investigation into all of the Dioceses of Pennsylvania, a number of other Attorneys General have followed suit, including New Jersey. I have to say that I did not expect any startling surprises. After all, the terrible revelation sexual abuse and the inaction and cover-up by the Institutional Church has been going on for more than 15 years. I believed that by now, there could not be surprises. Indeed, many on the list were revealed previously. Some were highly publicized incidents. Quite a few of those listed were dead. The others were listed as being removed from active ministry. My belief was that certainly by this time, the Institutional Church and the hierarchy responsible for safeguarding the Faithful, especially children, would have revealed everything. How could there be any more bombshells? Well, how wrong I was. On the list from the Diocese of Trenton there were three bombshells for me. At least three priests who, even though they are listed as being “removed from ministry”, had in fact been in active ministry until very recently. At least two were retired, but free to help out in parishes and another served in an Office in Rome. I never would have suspected any of the three would have ever been on a list of abusers. One of those three I considered a friend. I have known him for more that 20 years. Never once did I suspect anything. I have to say that the lists released did not state the reason they were on the list, it was stated that there was at least one credible incident of abuse of a minor. When I was reading through the list of priests from the Diocese of Trenton, my first reaction was that it had to be a mistake, but as the fact slowly sank into my brain, I was simply left in shock. Shock turned to anger as the day wore on. As I tried to examine the anger, I realized that it was more at the Diocese and those in charge for allowing this whole thing to drag on. And now there is some buzz about there being more names that were not on the list for one reason or another. When will this end? Why prolong it? Why such a lack of sincerity and credibility? Several leaders stated that the names were released to promote the advancement of healing in the Church. How can we expect healing when the bandage is constantly being ripped off and the wound is gouged open with an instrument that has not been sterilized? How can you expect any results except for a festering, contaminated wound that grows more and more infected every day? That is were I feel that I am in this seemingly never-ending drama of the sexual abuse that has plagued the church for far too long. I find myself confused, shocked, dismayed, angry, sad and helpless to do anything that will bring about the change that is needed. I find that these emotions are directed at or brought on more by the failure of the Hierarchy than the perpetrators of the crimes. Oh, I am angry and upset that children would be treated as objects and harmed in the way they have been harmed. But the harm done by the failure to be transparent about the evils that exist, even in the Church, multiplied those actions, harmed even more people and have prevented healing from taking place.
The First Reading at Mass today came from Genesis 3:1-8. In the Reading we listened again to the ways in which Adam and Eve were tempted to do what they were told not to do. They gave in to the temptation and one of the first things they did was to try to hide from God. It was a foolish attempt. One does not hide from God – it is impossible. However, somewhere in their thought process they believed that they could. What would have happened if instead of hiding, they simply stood before God and admitted their guilt? How would things have been different? By attempting to hide, they decreased their trust in God and made a very bad thing worse. They gave in to fear and the consequences were far greater than perhaps they would have been if they had trusted in God’s love and mercy. They deprived themselves and the results were severe. Don’t get me wrong, there still would have been consequences for their actions – there are always consequences for choosing the wrong way – but were the consequences more severe simply because of their choice to try to hide? This is how I have come to view the choice of the Hierarchy of the Church. They hid because they failed to trust in God’s love and mercy and the love and mercy of the people that they have been called to serve. Whenever sin was present in the Church, and in whatever way it manifested itself, what would have happened if they simply stood before God and the People of God and admitted the wrongdoings? I happen to believe that God’s love and mercy would have been present. I believe that the love and mercy of the People of God would have been present. There certainly would have still been consequences, again, there are always consequences to sin, but we would not be suffering through what we are suffering through now, if instead of hiding, they chose to stand up and admit the sin that was present in the Church.
I pray every day for the victims of any abuse – I hope they experience the healing they need. I also pray that those in authority will do what is necessary to allow true healing to take place within the Church. Many of the People of God are wounded by anger, frustration, distrust and betrayal. Many are plagued by a feeling of suspicion that they do not want to be present in their lives. Many are grieving the loss of the sense of Church that they had growing up – a sense that Church was a place to be trusted, that it was safe, that it would never fail you. There was this sense not because the priests, religious and bishops were perfect, but because they would always point to God. Very little, if anything, in this whole sexual abuse issue has pointed to God. Certainly not in the abuse that has taken place and unfortunately, not in the aftermath of the abuse. When sin is present, whether in our own lives or in the collective life of an Institution like the Church, the only way to point to God is to stand up, admit the fault and trust that the love and mercy of God will show the way to healing, give the strength that is needed to endure the consequences and make the choice to fully believe that God’s way is better.
I know that my prayer will not force those in power to do what is necessary, repercussions and all, because God does not force anyone to do anything. So perhaps I need to adjust my prayer and pray that fear will not prevent them from coming out in the open to stand before God looking for mercy and love. I know that I need to pray for myself so that the anger and other emotions do not control me.
I wish I had something or could do something that would make this better or at least answer the questions that run through the minds of so many, including myself. I do not seem to have the answers or the ability to heal the wound that exists. I am trying to stand before God and simply ask, “What next.” So for now, it seems that I felt compelled to share my own reactions and feelings. In my heart, I do know that God will prevail. I do believe that out of this darkness there will come a new light. I do believe that the People of God will survive. I know all of this in my heart – now I have to deal with my impatience and feelings of helplessness.
So Lord, come and fill us with your love and mercy! Amen