And speaking of lying and reputations...
Cardinal George spoke to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their recent meeting and spoke directly about how they have a tarnished reputation and they too, have a need to reconcile with the Catholic faithful and continue to lead us as Bishops into the next decade.
If there is a loosening of our relationship between ourselves and those whom Christ has given us to govern in love, it is for us to reach out and re-establish connections necessary for all to remain in communion....
Our pastoral concern for ecclesial unity does not diminish our awareness of our own mistakes and sins. There are some who would like to trap the Church in historical events of ages long past and there are others who would keep the bishops permanently imprisoned in the clerical sexual abuse scandal of recent years. The proper response to a crisis of governance, however, is not no governance but effective governance.
Loss of trust, we know, weakens relationships and will continue to affect our ministry, even though clerical ranks have been purged of priests and bishops known to have abused children and the entire Church has taken unprecedented means to protect children and to reach out to vicitms.
In any case, the sinfulness of churchmen can not be allowed to discredit the truth of Catholic teaching or to destroy the relationships that create ecclesial communion.
Amen! We are one church! All of us together in the muck and dregs that we call sin. While we are often all-too-quick to point fingers at the Bishops when it comes to sexual abuse of children, one of the big responses that I heard throughout the abuse scandal was not one of surprise, but one of sadness for a lack of response from those with power.
But if the fact that little and not so little children were abused by clerics were not surprising to us as laity, then why did we not take more rigorous action? We too bear some responsibility here and I'll point the finger back at my own family and myself to start. I hesitate to share this information but the timing is right.
As a teen-ager I was always around the church as an altar boy. A priest, (who I won't name here, and he has indeed been removed from ministry) took an interest in me and in some of my friends. He was friendly and had a humorous tone at all times. I enjoyed his company when we spent time together in the sacristy before mass. I remember at a parish party when he had a few glasses of wine and he put his arm around me and nuzzled his head on my shoulder. I was about 15.
It was then that I got the heeby-jeebies. And more important, so did my mother. It seemed a bit familiar and intimate. While I hug most of my friends and colleagues that I know well, even today, this seemed to be a bit odd.
Fast-forward a number of years, and my mother told me a hair raising story. At the height of the scandal I got word that this priest had been accused and found guilty of molesting many young boys. I called Mom and told her the sad news. She replied:
"Did I ever tell you that "Fr. X" called me and told me that he thought you had a vocation and that he wanted to take you on a trip to Rome? He thought that would have solidified your call to the priesthood."
Yikes! God bless a mother's intuition in not allowing her young boy to go off to Rome with someone she found suspect.
And while she protected me, perhaps she needed to do a bit more? She didn't call a pastor or a bishop (and reports mentioned that his religious order ordained him even though they knew of a past history of abuse). She didn't report the suspicion that he might very well be a predator. Perhaps she had no proof and perhaps it may have fallen on deaf ears, and while uncomfortable, perhaps something more should have been said?
Who knows? Hindsight is always 20/20. But let's face it: We knew Mark McGwire was juicing and we didn't want to let ourselves see that. We knew that some priests were a bit odd and inappropriate with children and perhaps not well sexually integrated, even though they'd say openly that they were straight celibate men. We knew. We all just didn't want to say that we did and were taken aback when some of the bravest amongst us did in fact, make accusations.
And therein we have our conundrum. It is us that want to have heroes, people of repute that we look up to and often, our heroes fall short of the reputations that we'd like them to have. Be they Presidents or Popes, Bishops or Batters, Prophets or Parents, our heroes often fall from grace.
Indeed it is up to us to not merely point fingers but also to help mend fences. How do we point ourselves in new and healthier directions to bring the church out of disrepute and into a place where people see us as honorable and justice-seekers? I think that's where Cardinal George is hoping to lead the Bishops.
And it is my prayer that they lead all of us to embrace that same challenege.