Fr. Mike’s Thoughts on the Abuse Crisis in The Church

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

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What we do Today…

future and today

In the 1st Reading we heard about Ahab, the king of the Israelites.  Ahab was called, as king, to be an example of the ways of God.  But Ahab’s position got the better of him.  He came to view his role as one of power.  He believed he should get whatever he wanted.  Naboth had property next to the king’s lands.  Ahab wanted Naboth’s property to turn it into a garden.  Naboth refused to sell his home or land, no matter what Ahab offered.  King Ahab was furious about the failed attempt to get what he wanted.  Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, decided to take matters into her own hands and concocted a plan to get rid of Naboth.  Jezebel succeeded and with Naboth out of the picture, Ahab took control of the property he wanted.

Of course God was not pleased with Ahab.  Ahab was already on rocky ground in his relationship with God for several reasons, including worshipping pagan gods.  This however, seemed to be the last straw and God stepped into the picture.  Through the prophet, God told Ahab that horrible things would be unleashed because of his greed, selfishness, and the murder of Naboth.  When Ahab heard about it from the prophet, he actually repented.  Ahab put on sackcloth and humbled himself before God.  God noticed Ahab’s contrition and spoke to the prophet again telling him that the horrors would not be unleashed in Ahab’s time, but in the life of Ahab’s son.  This was what got my attention and caused me to ponder its message for us today.

I believe that is what we must always be mindful of  the impact of what we do today on the generations to come.  God has called us to a way of life that is not merely beneficial for our own lifetime, but can be a blessing for those in future times.  Yet, it would seem that we must acknowledge that when we do not live according to God’s ways, we can be a curse for the generations to come.  Pollution is certainly one thing that supports this.  Failing to have a deep respect for God’s creation has unleashed many problems that will last for generations.  Unjust wars throughout history had lasting consequences, even when all those who participated were no longer in this world.  Even when the last perpetrator of sexual abuse of children and those who ignored what was taking place are dead, the sexual abuse crisis that took place in the church will plague people for a very long time.   Greed, selfishness, deceit, manipulation, murder, lies, quest for power, war and all the other evils that are caused by human sinfulness unleash consequences just not for today, but for many tomorrows that will follow.   This is what God seeks to protect us from.  This is why God has given us a way of life that, when followed, will be a blessing not just for us today, but for those who will come after us.  What will our actions today create for tomorrow?  What will the choices we make today hold for the future?  Blessing or curse?  Ugliness or beauty?  Happiness or grief?  It does all matter.  The ages are connected in one way or another.  What we do TODAY matters.

I find myself pondering this in relationship to what is so present in the news at the present time.  I wonder what will be unleashed on future generations when children are taken away from their parents at the border today.  Yes, it is a hot button topic.  The whole issue is complex and difficult.  (the whole issue of immigration is not the topic here.)  Yet, taking children away from parents seems wrong.  It seems that children are being made into pawns for a political fight.  No matter what side of the issue one is on, it seems wrong to use children, involve children or retaliate against children.  What will be unleashed in the future because of these actions?  What kind of hatred will grow in the hearts of some of the children who are going to be traumatized by the experience?  Are we growing the terrorists of the future because of failing to take care of them in the present?   What will the memories of those who have lived through it become in the tomorrows that lie ahead?  Are we going to unleash radical consequences on innocent people in some unknown tomorrow?  There is no way that this is in accord with the way of life that God has given to us to follow.  There is no Scripture passage that can truthfully and honestly be used to support a decision to put children through this.  The decision to act in a way that is defiant to God’s law will have an impact on some tomorrow.  This will not be at God’s choosing, but because of the choice to ignore the way God has provided.

Of course, this does not just apply to this one issue.  It is something that we should learn to think about in every decision we make and every action we take.  Whether it is a choice to speed while driving, steal, lie, cheat, be selfish, harm another person’s reputation, be unfaithful, make something else more important than God or anything else that is contradictory to the way of life that God calls us to live, some tomorrow will reveal the consequences.

When we choose God’s way, open ourselves to trust that God knows more, learn what God calls us to do and pray for the guidance we need from God, the tomorrows will reveal blessings for  us and for those to come.

Mahatma Gandhi must have understood this when he said, “The future depends on what you do today.”

What do you want tomorrow to hold?

 

 

(comments are welcome as long as they are civil and about the topic.  All other comments will be deleted)

 

 

 

The Seeds of The Kingdom of God

mark 4 26-34In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. He likens it to seed that has been planted. This reminds us that the seeds of the Kingdom of God have been planted within each one of us. Each one of us has the opportunity to reveal God’s Kingdom to others.
No matter what the situation happens to be, we can reveal God’s Kingdom by showing comfort, relief, help, compassion, mercy, generosity, understanding and love. All of those qualities are of God’s Kingdom. Too often God’s Kingdom is being blocked out by discord, violence, selfishness, greed, a “me first” attitude, and even the belief that we are powerless. Yet, Jesus assures us that we can do something – we can trust that what God has planted inside of us, even though invisible to the eye, can help to make God’s plan visible to others.
May we never forget that God has planted something wonderful in us. Let’s be ready to show others how wonderful God’s Kingdom really is – and how it can roll back all that would seek to cover it up.

WE REMEMBER! – DO WE CHANGE?

I think everyone remembers where they were 14 years ago when the horrific events took place.  I was in another parish and had just finished the celebration of Mass.  A staff member greeted me right away and said that there was an attack in New York.  I felt the need to get to a television to find out what was happening but the Parish was not wired for cable television but we did have televisions that were used to play DVDs.  So I quickly grabbed a wire hangar and fashioned an antenna to be able to use on one of the televisions to get news.  After playing with the makeshift antenna for a few moments a picture came in.  The images were a little fuzzy but I could hardly believe  what was being shown.  I remember telling myself that it can’t be real in spite of the images that were being played.  Then, the second plane struck.  News about the pentagon came in.  News about another plane going down was broadcast.  The disregard for human life was more than I could digest.  Back at home later in the day, I sat in front of a clear picture on the television, but my mind was no less fuzzy about all that had taken place.  The images of people coming out of the building covered in soot.  The anguish on the faces of those who were right there.  The horror of the building collapsing.  The shock at the number of people trapped, killed, slain for no good reason at all.  The thoughts of “how will we ever recover from this?”  Those images will never go away, how could we not remember.

The days that followed were filled with chaos.  Flights cancelled everywhere – people stranded away from loved ones at such a devastating time.  The lists of the missing.  The wreckage.  The replaying of the images over and over again.  Speculation from news stations, commentators, analysts, politicians and anyone else who could get near a microphone.  But amidst all the chaos, something remarkable happened in those days following 9/11/2001.  Something happened that the terrorists did not count on.  Something happened that brought hope.  Something happened that painted a picture that showed that we would recover.  Something happened that brought about a clarity that all was not hopeless.

In those days that followed, people came together.  They came together not just to shake their heads in disbelief.  They came together to help.  They volunteered to help in New York.  They came together to support the families of those who had died.  They came together to hold each other, support one another, comfort one another.  They came together without answers.  They came together to pray.  Churches were full.  There were still tears of sadness, grief, disbelief and shock, but united as a people, there was hope.  What happened in those days was remarkable.  Differences were put aside.  The ideologies that can separate no longer seemed to be so important.  People came together with no thought of political, religious, racial, economic or geographical differences.  The only thing that seemed to matter was that we were together.  Past grievances were put aside.  Past hurts were forgotten.  People came together in communities.  They came together as families.  They came together in Churches.  It seemed that as long as they could come together, there was hope.  In the weeks that followed there was still unity.  Thoughts had turned to those who were known or presumed dead.  Words of comfort went out to families, coworkers, friends.  The words came from those who were known to the grieving families and they came from complete strangers.  Somehow there seemed to be a belief that we were no longer strangers, we were simply in this together – and together we would survive.

There were also many promises made during that devastating time.  Promises to remember what was important.  Promises to pay attention to the needs of those around us.  Promises to not take relationships for granted.  Promises to be kinder, gentler and more loving.  There were promises to do the things that had somehow been put on hold – volunteering at a soup kitchen, working with children, taking that trip, visiting extended family.  There were promises to not take God for granted – promises to pray more, read the Bible, acknowledge the blessings in life, go to Church to be with community, be nourished by the Sacraments, change some of the bad habits that had crept in somewhere along the journey.  There were promises to be less self-absorbed, less greedy, more generous, less judgmental, more accepting, more tolerant, more understanding.  There was a promise made to never forget.

I think we have done what we can to remember the lives that were lost in those attacks, maybe not perfectly, but to assure that the lives of the airline crews, passengers, office workers, police, fire fighters, emergency personnel, military personnel and those just passing by would be remembered.  We have remembered to do something that would ensure that lives that ended tragically would not be forgotten.  There are memorials, services and written accounts to make sure that future generations will know what transpired on that tragic day.  There are the accounts of those brave people rushing in to burning buildings with no concern for their own safety.  It is well documented so that we will never forget them – and we should not.  No matter how much time goes by, they will be remembered and they will matter.

But there is more that we need to remember – there is more that we should not forget.  We should not forget what it was like when everyone came together.  We cannot forget how much strength was experienced when for a brief time nothing mattered except to be there for each other.  We must not forget the promises made.  We dare not forget how unity and love smothered the fire of fear that terrorism sought to ignite.  We must not forget the real values in life that were made so clear on that horrible day – values that remind us that family is important, community is necessary, God is present, taking people or life for granted is dangerous, we need concern for more than ourselves, generosity makes us rich, love is the most powerful force anywhere.  It has been 14 years  since those attacks took place and during that time those values have seemed to gotten blurry in too many instances.  There is more greed, less caring, more taking for granted, more intolerance, more judgmental attitudes, more ideologies getting in the way of embracing the real sacredness of life and there is more fear.  Take a glance at social media, listen to talk shows, read the papers, listen to the politicians, witness the way we are living as a society and it does not take much to notice that many of those values are absent.

Today, we are called to remember.  We are reminded that we must never forget.  We must never forget the lives of those who were cut short because of hatred.  We must not forget to make their lives mean something – to offer tribute to their lives.  The best tribute we can offer is to remember those lessons that were learned in the days and weeks and months after the attack.  The best tribute we can give them is to take up those promises that were made individually or collectively as a nation in the aftermath of their deaths.  Yes, the memorials, the books, the services, the stories are all good and fitting but they pale in comparison to giving honor with our own lives.

We are called to remember.  We must never forget.   We must never forget that individually we are weak but together, we can overcome anything.

 

Do We Accept That God Wants Our Needs To Be Met?

On Friday, July 17, the Gospel Reading for Mass was the familiar story from the Gospel of Matthew about the Disciples walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath.  They were hungry and decided to pluck some of the heads off the grain and eat it.  Even that was considered to be in violation of the Sabbath laws as some of the Pharisees quickly pointed out to Jesus that his disciples were doing what was not permitted on the Sabbath.  (read Matthew 12:1-8)  Of course those who confronted Jesus simply wanted to discredit him and his disciples.  In their view, Jesus and his disciples could not possibly be people of God and violate the Sabbath laws at the same time.  Yet the response Jesus gives should cause us to think.  It would seem that Jesus not only dismissed the complaints but also offered examples that would counteract their harsh views.  Jesus reminded them that David entered the House of God when he was hungry and ate the bread of offering – something that was not permitted.  Jesus also used the example of priests who served in the Temple, if they were to perform their ministry, they were breaking the Sabbath Law.  This amounts  to Jesus saying that the needs of the children of God takes precedence over everything else – even the Commandments.  To understand this, we have to understand that we are talking about needs, not wants or desires or conveniences or anything else – Jesus talks about real needs.  Being hungry presents a real need – to be fed.  Jesus makes it pretty clear that God cares, first and foremost, about our real needs being taken care of.

When we ponder this Gospel passage, hopefully, we come to a greater appreciation of what God desires for us – not from us, but for us.  No matter what, God wants to meet our needs.  But perhaps this Gospel passage should also help us to have a better appreciation of the Commandments of God.  The Commandments were not given to us to control us, make life difficult or set up rigid limitations on our lives.  God gave them to us to guide us, help us and protect us from bad choices that can limit us or even harm us.  At least some of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day could only see the Commandments as rigid rules that had better not be violated – at any cost.  The disciples of Jesus were hungry – it was a real need – they needed food.  Jesus knew that God would not want God’s children to be hungry – what loving parent would ever want that?  Jesus reminded those who were condemning the actions of his disciples that they needed to better comprehend the fact that God desires mercy, not sacrifice.

Even today there are far too many people who consider themselves Christian who want to treat the Commandments as though they are rigid rules that cannot be violated – no matter what the situation is.  But we have to ask ourselves if that is really what God wanted to do – control us at any cost.  The words of Jesus certainly seem to contradict such a notion.  This Gospel passage, along with many others in the Gospels, give hard and fast proof that the only absolute about everything in our faith is that God desires mercy.  If God wants this for us, shouldn’t we want that for both ourselves and for others?  Should we not, as Church; as followers of Jesus; as children of God, imitate God’s desire to have our needs met?  Shouldn’t we start to appreciate that in God’s mercy God gave  us the Commandments to protect us rather than control us?  This would mean that when we encounter someone who seems to be in violation of one of the Commandments that we must be willing to forego condemnation and instead show mercy – after all, who knows what their needs are.

Yes, I realize that there are some who would abuse such an approach by using it as a copout to excuse whatever they are doing, but in the end, this comes down to something between that individual and God.  I was talking to someone recently who said she did not go to Mass sometimes because she is out partying with friends and needs her sleep, and that God would not want her to be tired.  Yes, it is a feeble attempt to justify an action and there are many such attempts.  But I don’t think that this can justify use of the Commandments as a rigid rule that God has given us so that God can trap us in a wrongdoing.  Instead, we must be willing to see the Commandments as God’s way of protecting us from such behaviors that can eventually hurt us and can prevent us from ever coming to an appreciation of what God offers us.

I am praying that the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed for this Fall will allow us to be more focused on the mercy that God has for us and that it will help to imitate God’s mercy.

Fear Enslaves.

The tragic and senseless killing in the Church in South Carolina this week demonstrates how fear, left unresolved, turns to absolute hatred and disregard for everything, even human life. Hatred, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and all those acts that seek to belittle, diminish, negate or eliminate the value of others are so often born of fear. It is an irrational, unfounded, unsubstantiated fear, but it is fear. Far too many people succumb to such fear and point the finger of blame at others who often have nothing to do with the other’s fear. Nine people of God died needlessly because someone pointed an accusatory finger at them and decided that his imagined problems were their fault. Killing those nine innocent people did nothing to eliminate or satisfy the thirst caused by fear. All this senseless act did was to cause heartache for those who loved those people who gathered to open themselves up to God’s Word in Scripture. Those nine people had fears too, we all do. But they decided that fear was not going to enslave them. Fear was not going to fill them with hatred. Fear was not going to win. They wanted something better to fill them. Those nine people who died must now stand as a reminder that we all have to make a choice – give in to fear and be filled with all the emotions that eat away at our ability to recognize and respect humanity or believe that there is a better way. I pray that signs that encourage fear will one day be found only in museums as a sign of what happens when we choose to feed our fears. Let us pray for the families of those who died – may they be comforted by the same words that their loved ones were studying. Let us pray for an end to hatred, bigotry and prejudice. Let us pray for a change of heart for those who belittle, diminish, negate or devalue the worth of others.
It is rather ironic that a fearful person sat with those who were studying God’s Word, had he but opened his heart to God’s message, he might have found the way to gain back his freedom but he chose to close himself off from everything that could have saved him. If he had just allowed a little crack in the door to his heart, God could have flooded it with understanding. Now he has discovered that the appetite of hatred is fierce – eventually it even consumes the one who feeds it. When fear presents itself, may each one of us have strength and courage to refuse to feed it and instead open our hearts to God.