The most recent reports of clergy abuse in Chile, recent revelations about Cardinal McCarrick, and the grand jury report exposing the decades of abuse inflicted upon over a thousand children in the dioceses of Pennsylvania are horrific and devastating. Devastating first and foremost to those who have been gravely wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually, as well as for those families who have accompanied their loved ones through these years of trauma, and for the deep wound it has left in the Body of Christ.
The Gospel readings from the past week have been ringing out and denouncing such atrocities. Yesterday and today, overtly so, as we witness Jesus calling out those scribes and Pharisees who have abused their power and positions: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence” (Mt 23:25). What has unfortunately been plundered, has been the innocence of our youth.
Jesus bestowed dignity on the vulnerable youth of his day, when he chided his disciples for not allowing the children to be brought to him for a blessing (cf. Mt 19:13-15). Jesus modeled the proper treatment of children and at-risk adults time and again throughout his ministry, and as disciples of Christ, first and foremost, we too are to stand up for and protect the dignity of each person, but especially the most vulnerable among us. There is no defense for these horrific actions, nor the coverup that has made these reports all the more egregious.
The majority of the reports revealed abuses that happened prior to the first significant waves of revelations of 2002. Since that time, many dedicated lay people and clergy have been diligently working together, to protect at-risk adults and children, to implement strategies and programs of awareness, to educate parents, children and all who work with children and at-risk adults in our dioceses across the country.
Yet, as this most recent wave reminds us, each diocese needs to bring to light, be transparent, and open records of abuse as far back as they have them and not wait for others to go digging. Those who have been responsible for acts of abuse, those who have been complicit in covering up their actions or shuffling priests around, no matter their level within the hierarchy, need to step down from public ministry.
There needs to be accountability and true contrition. There can no longer be a practice of covering up heinous crimes and abusers to protect the identity of the institution of the Church. We are the Body of Christ, and where one suffers, we all suffer. Jesus Christ promoted integrity over identity. Jesus called out those who were not living up to the principles of empowering the dignity of others, to keeping others at arm’s length, even Peter, who in one breath Jesus hailed his profession of faith and in the next he accused him as acting like Satan for opposing the reality of his path to the cross (cf. Jn 16:13-23).
The dignity of the person is to be placed before any institution. It is hard to deal with these recent or any revelations of abuse. What will help is to know that we are not helpless, nor alone. The Church is the People of God, the corner stone is Jesus the Christ, and we are all in this together. We need to pray for, while at the same time provide full access for those who have been abused that may receive healing, mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. Part of that process will be to allow them to share their stories which need to be told and heard. We also need to continue to be vigilant in protecting places that provide settings for children and at-risk adults from predators.
We need not leave the Church because of those who sin, we all fall short of the glory of God. We need not be paranoid either, but we do need to be clear to put boundaries and proven protective practices in place, we need to be aware to watch for warning signs regarding those that do not respect boundaries. We need to also be fully open and cooperative with revealing the abuses enacted in the past. To those who are still hiding in the shadows, remember that Jesus said, “There is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light” (Lk 8:17). May there be full transparency and accountability so that there can be avenues opened wide for healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us strive to be people of integrity, building a true culture of life, that respects, protects, empowers, and stands up for the dignity of all.
Photo: “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees” – James Tissot, late 19th century