Clerical Monsters...Blood on the Floor

As I sat under this stained glass window, depicting Our Lord during his dark moment in prayer at Gethsemane, an angel bringing Him a chalice of strength to assist him in His great work of the Cross, I the powerful sermon from my pastor.  It was poetic to behold this image and hear these words together and see the connection as the Body of Christ is crucified....

Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? 
You have the words of eternal life. 
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
Those words from the end of today’s Gospel are badly needed words of encouragement at the current time of crisis in the Church.  It is as if the long Lent of 2002 has exploded again in the wake of the scandal surrounding former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the revelations from the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation of six dioceses there.
It can be said that the crimes of the priests while nauseating were nothing new.  Depositions and trials here in Delaware covered similar ground.  Likewise, it seems that the number of priest offenders was somewhere in the four percent nationwide average. 
On one slightly happier note, the grand jury report acknowledges that the situation since 2002 is vastly improved, as it is in our own diocese where there has not been a substantiated charge against a priest, deacon, or other employee in over twenty-five years.
But, grievously, there is also nothing new in the revelation that the bishops almost unanimously mishandled the crimes of their priests.  This is the same thing that lay behind the previous eruptions.  Had this small percentage of clerical monsters been removed at once from ministry, turned over to the police and the reasons publicly given, there would have been minor local embarrassment but nothing like the moral and financial catastrophe we have endured.  It would have been a deterrent to bad actors.  And the institution would have been preserved in much better shape.  That is the bitterest of ironies because the secrecy was imagined to be necessary to protect the institution.  The opposite was true.
Why so many bishops got it so wrong can be explained in many ways but not without reference to the mystery of iniquity.  We get drawn into evils that are counterproductive and self-defeating.  The devil doesn’t make anybody do anything, but he does make a lot of false propositions.  And few of his propositions are more enticing than those to damage control and denial of painful realities.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to handle the truth, but it’s always wrong to evade the truth, for all of us.
Now, I should add that through the papacies of John Paul and Benedict XVI, the quality of the American episcopate improved significantly, but still many good men were slow to find the courage to do the right thing.  And courage is the virtue without which all other virtues are useless.
And our bishops will need courage going forward.  They are showing the courage now to insist upon an investigation of who knew what and when concerning the sins and crimes of Theodore McCarrick.  But they will also need to find the courage to confront their weaker and erring brethren.  That should have happened years are ago.  A culture of collegiality has undermined episcopal leadership in America and, it seems, much of the rest of the globe.  We need a revival of the spirt of St. Nicholas who according to legend punched the heretic Arius in the nose at the Council of Nicaea in 325.  I for one will be disappointed if there is no blood on the floor at the November bishops’ meeting, metaphorically or literally.
Bishops are also going to need the courage to confront and remove priests who are flouting their call to chaste celibacy.  They will also need courage to face a host of long-simmering problems that are undermining the faith and morals of Catholics in America. 
These include the failure to secure for the people of God a reverent and rubrical liturgy and the failure to ensure that Catholic education is thoroughly orthodox from grade school through the universities.  Too many social ministries and charities ignore Catholic moral teaching.  Politicians have opposed fundamental moral teachings with virtual impunity.  Various guilds have been allowed to dump upon the church a load of appalling architecture, bad music, and mediocre art.  I believe in fact that failures in liturgy and the arts have done more damage to the faith and life of the American Church than the crimes of predatory priests, for such things have slowly and often invisibly undermined the seriousness of the faith and the beauty of truth.
So we need to pray for our bishops because the evidence is accumulating that they have begun to see the need for major change in the execution of their office and in how they deal with each other.  Day by day more and more bishops are naming the problem and calling for appropriate penance.  And lay voices from throughout the American church – including so many of the best and brightest – are raising a mighty chorus calling for reform.  We must not let it lapse.
But we must pray.  A wise voice has said that for every period of outrage there should be an equal time of prayer.  Prayer is not a form or resignation; it is a form of action and a necessary part of action. 
And call upon the intercession of the saints.  First of all, there is the Blessed Mother, whose purity is defiled by these stains.  But I have a few others in mind as well.  There is Catherine of Siena who let the pope know what his job was in no uncertain terms at a time when things were, if anything, worse than now. 

There is Pope St. Pius X, whose condemnation of Modernism in 1907 anticipated so many of the theological errors of more recent decades and who worked to restore the integrity of the Mass and frequency of communion.  I must, however, admit a special fondness for Pope St. Pius V, who responded to reports of sexual misconduct among the clergy by saying they should be stripped of their office and thereby their ecclesiastical immunities and turned over to the civil authorities for execution
We also need to tend our own faith.  Leaders often fail.  We fail too, so we must confess our own sins and see to our own fidelity.
Over the past two weeks, the first readings at daily Mass have been from Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  They have rung true and have given me hope.  Both prophesy at the time of the Babylonian conquest and destruction of Jerusalem.  Ezekiel’s prophecy continues afterwards.  Their denunciations of the people and their leaders sound like they could have been written today.  And the wrath of God came to expression in the destruction of the capital, the royal house of David, and the temple itself.
And then the prophets invariably say that God will not forget his people and will bring them back and restore them.  And he did.  It was a second exodus and a fresh start.  God refused to abandon his sinful people, though he punished them severely.
God loves the Church in spite of the sins of her members from child to pope because he loves the human race.  For just this earth, this world, this Church Christ died.  God is totally invested in us – even though we are so weekly invested in ourselves.

There needs to be a great and unrelenting outcry from the people of God, and even more, there needs to be a great recommitment to the practice of the faith by all of us.  In the face of failure and unspeakable sin, we should hear all the more the call to strive after sainthood.  If you have not been striving to be a saint, this is exactly the right time to start.  It is no time to commit spiritual suicide.
The one thing we must not do is abandon Jesus because of the failures of others.  Today we complete the reading of John 6, the Bread of Life chapter, and as it turns out, Jesus’ words about eating his body and drinking his blood were too much for many who heard them.  So they left.  Jesus then turns to his inner circle and asks whether they too wish to go away.  
It is then that we read:
Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? 
You have the words of eternal life. 
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
Of that we should and must be more convinced than ever.

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