Having been away when the explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy abuse was released, and realizing how distressing and traumatizing this is for so many people, I came to the realization that I needed to address the matter in my homily last Sunday. The gospel seemed to offer a means by which to broach the subject. And yet I find it very difficult to know what to say. One friend observed on Facebook that every priest should stand before his assembly and apologize for what’s happened. I don’t think it’s my place to apologize. In the end, the best I could do was convey that I’m in the same boat as many others. That might be one takeaway from this homily.
Then Jesus said to the Twelve: So, do you also want to leave?
Considering the news of recent weeks, it’s a question I really don’t want to ask, because I fear what – for some of us at least, maybe for myself – the answer will be. Might we want to leave?
After all, how much human imperfection in the Church are we willing to endure? How much more horrible cruelty and evil machinations on the part of our priests and bishops can there be to uncover? How many stories of abuse can we hear, how many excuses can we tolerate, how many apologies can we accept? Can we continue to think that this doesn’t affect me, that is isn’t about me or my parish or my pastor – wanting to believe we’re not somehow affected or damaged or maybe even, some of of us, somehow, even complicit.
How much does all of this distract us from the essential work of the gospel? How much does it diminish the authority and integrity of our Church in confronting injustice and honoring the dignity of life – getting in the way of what we need to do, what the world needs for us to do?
Why must I feel the need to preach AGAIN! about how the Church has been tarnished? Tarnished again by the damage its ministers have inflicted. Acknowledging again how WE feel tarnished, sullied by the sin and wickedness of others?
Why don’t I just talk about something else, anything else? Something pleasant, refreshing, reflective, maybe just a little bit challenging to send us into a new week?
Why does Jesus have to be so blunt in asking that question?
Maybe he asks that hard question because where we find ourselves calls for blunt questions, hard reflection, but also extraordinary compassion – amid the sadness, anger, frustration, and pain.
Maybe Jesus asks the hard question because it gets to the cold, hard reality that – again and again – we confront disappointment and frustration, infidelity, violations of trust, sadness and hurt. It happens sometimes in our families, in various friendships and relationships. The reality of human imperfection becomes all too apparent.
We are confronted with the dilemma, the struggle of staying or going; of striving to reconcile or understand or accept; of trying to accept the harsh reality that sometimes people aren’t just human or imperfect, but they are even viciously cruel and harmful; that even people we presume to trust fail miserably in being who we want and need for them to be.
We are left to struggle with how compassionate we should be, how compassionate we can be. We are left to struggle with where we direct our anger, our sadness. Or has it all become too much for so long that it doesn’t even make us angry anymore, there’s no sadness or emotion left?
We are left to realize once again the complexity of mercy – for victims, many of them children, who suffered in silence, whose cries to family and others in authority were frightfully ignored or excused. The complexity of mercy for priests who so callously pretended not to know or to see; for bishops who did it themselves or allowed the terror of abuse to proceed. The complexity of mercy – if it is even possible – for those who violated and abused. The complexity of mercy that is significant in considering the question Jesus asks, so fundamental to most of the grievous hurts and harsh dilemmas that confront us in life. Will I go or will I stay? How do I endure without becoming hardened, without compromising what’s fundamental to who I am – who I must be – as a disciple?
I say all this not hypothetically. I am angry. I am hurt and I am sad.
It’s beyond imagining what so many children and young people, as well as older victims – what they suffered, the things that guys dressed like me did to them. I can’t comprehend how others allowed it to continue for so long. While I say that, I am confident the Church in our country has taken important steps to prevent what’s happened in the past from occurring now or in the future.
Regardless of that, I am haunted by the awareness that we must do more. There is something rooted in how we function as a larger Church that needs to be transformed, but I cannot begin to really imagine what that is.
With that haunting awareness, I fear what all of this might to do to us as a parish, as individuals, as a Church. What of our trust, our faithfulness, our compassion, our mercy, our potential for hope?
I fear we might not have the confidence or certainty of Peter, and yet I cling to the possibility that we will. That amid all the darkness and pain, all the complicity and collusion, all the doubt and sadness – that, confronted with the hard question, Do you also want to leave?, that we will answer as he did.
And so, without seeming trite and predictable, we pray for victims. In mercy we might also pray for persecutors and conspirators. We pray for ourselves, for a light to guide us from this darkness; the inspiration to confront and uproot all that prevents us from being the force of justice and love that our world desperately needs for us to be; the confidence, the trust, the courage, the hope to answer Jesus’ blunt question as Peter did: Yes, we’ll stay, Lord. We can’t leave. We won’t leave, as much as it seems we should. To whom would we go? You are our source of life and love. TL