While learning how to preach, I was given this image. Hold the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Preaching is a way of letting the Word of God speak to the struggle of our lives. It is a time to address the issues of the day, not merely with human insight, but with God’s wisdom.
Over the last two months, I have received a ton of mail. People have written about Bishop Hart or Archbishop McCarrick. More recently, they wrote about the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the letter of Archbishop Viganò. Instead of newspapers, the letters helped me understand the struggles of people. Today I hope to use the Scriptures to illumine our darkened hearts.
People identified several burning issues that they want me to address as a bishop. After reading their letters, I have realized that there are so many issues on people’s minds that we could easily lose focus on what is most important.
We need to be wary of losing our focus on victims of sexual abuse. I have been appalled at how rarely people mention the victims. In their anger about these issues, often it is hard to perceive any compassion for those who have been harmed. The greatest sadness in my heart is how people have been wounded for life. We need to foster the healing of survivors and protect the little ones from this sinful scourge in the future. That is the primary issue.
Yes, there are some other critical focal points. We need to hold bishops accountable for abandoning the little ones, and change the clerical culture that enabled such abuse of power. People have expressed disgust and anger, with good reason, over bishops and church leaders responsible for the cover up. One person wrote, “I must pray and work to replace anger with charity if I am going to be useful in rebuilding this broken Church. While I work on these things, I will await your reply.”
Therefore, an independent investigation must be conducted by the laity. Cardinal DiNardo already proposed this, as did the National Review Board who stated, “The episcopacy needs to be held accountable for these past actions, . . . for being complicit, either directly or indirectly, in the sexual abuse of the vulnerable. . . . The only way to ensure the independence of such a review is to entrust this to the laity.”
The investigation needs to go all the way to the top so that justice is done. But we need to be patient and prudent. Some have already reached hasty conclusions without proper investigations. We need to allow for due process and seek justice with impartial and thorough fact-finding. Everyone involved needs to be investigated, but we need to be patient. It is more prudent to wait patiently in silence for the truth to be revealed.
There are other highly important issues that will need attention, but for now I propose that we focus our attention on these areas:
- Fostering the healing of victims of sexual abuse.
- Protecting the little ones from this sinful scourge in the future.
- Holding bishops accountable by way of a thorough investigation.
- Addressing the clerical culture that enabled such abuse of power.
What do the Scriptures teach us as we face such horrible sins? Pope Francis says that these are crimes that “cry to heaven.” What does God say to us in the face of such suffering?
First of all, he speaks to the victims. He says to them, “I hurt with you.” In the gospel, “Jesus groaned” when they brought him the deaf man w/a speech impediment (Mark 7:34). Other times as Jesus heals people, he looks on them with deep compassion – the Greek verb is splanknizomai. It means that his stomach churned with pity for the broken. That seems to be the sense of his groan as he prays over the deaf man. He hurts with him. He groaned in his desire to heal him.
So one lesson is that victims should know that Jesus groans in prayer for them. And he wants us to groan in prayer for them. We need to tell them, “I hurt with you.”
A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a woman who was abused as a little girl by her dad, then as a teenager by the youth minister at church. She wrote this, “No matter how many years span between abuse and the justice that follows, the only theme I ever find perpetuating in my mind is that all a victim needs is a defender. A person who truly sees them, and holds space alongside of them, whether it is through the suffering or through the rising. Countless times in my life, I’ve wished that I just had a person – anyone – to talk to about what has happened and help me keep my eyes on the good.”
She said, “All a victim needs is a defender. A person who truly sees them, and holds space alongside of them.” Survivors of sexual abuse need people who will stand alongside of them and hurt with them and groan in prayer to God for them.
First of all, bishops need to do this. Bishops failed to listen to victims and stand alongside of them. This is an area of conversion. “We abandoned the little ones,” Pope Francis said. The whole Church needs to do this, and it will make our Church whole. Healing is central to our mission. Some estimate that more than 75% of Jesus ministry was dedicated to healing.
One lady asked that I begin a “comprehensive healing ministry to the sexually abused among us.” She said that she identified herself as a “survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a family member.” She wrote, “Please do not pray only, but take action and influence the actions of the Church that can heal, minister to and bind the wounds of the shamed.”
What if in 20 years, people were flocking to the Catholic Church because we were a place of healing for the abused? Pope Francis said that the Church is a “field hospital.” He said, “This is the mission of the Church: the Church heals, it cures. . . . there are many wounded! So many people need their wounds healed! This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart.” How can we use our energy to focus it on healing the survivors of sexual abuse?
Jesus was in pagan territory when he healed the deaf man. Anyone can come to him for healing. He does not limit his healing power to the faithful, to those who come to Sunday Mass. He healed the deaf man is in the decapolis, west of Israel.
That means that it was the non-believers who “begged Jesus to lay his hand on him” (Mark 7:32). He responds to anyone who calls out. Do we pray with that kind of confidence in Jesus? Do we invite anyone to come here for healing? This week at St. Mary’s Cathedral, we are having Mercy Night, which will be a healing service. Invite someone here who needs to experience healing. Anyone is welcome. They do not need to be regular church goers.
By ourselves, we cannot make things right. We need to stand before God as beggars who look to him alone for new life. When Jesus healed the deaf man, the people said, “He has done all things well. He makes even the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” Their reaction takes us back to Genesis. In the creation story, it says, “God looked at everything he had made and he found it very good” (Gen. 1:31), which could be translated as “exceedingly good, beautiful or healthy.” So Jesus restores creation to its original goodness.
The Scriptures remind us that God can make us whole and beautiful again when we feel totally ruined. In the Word of the Gospel, we encounter Christ who restores us to Original Goodness. Jesus is the fulfillment of what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah,“Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
If you are thinking that the sky is falling, that we are in an irreparable place in the Church, then you have lost touch with the healing power of Christ. If you are feeling like we are in a total crisis, then you have lost sight of God’s power to do all things. Then you are stuck in grief of human sin and in disgust of our atrocious crimes…… but you are not living with faith in the crucified and risen Lord, who used the betrayal of Judas to conquer the darkness of evil.
The Gospel reminds us that the Lord Jesus has power to make all things well. Today, pray for the Lord to touch your heart with his healing power. Then, ask the Lord. “How do you want me to be involved in your healing ministry in your Church?”