Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why should we be fussier than Jesus?

On Saturday, March 26, 2011, the gospel reading began with these two verses, “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2)  

In response, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees the parable of the prodigal son in which one son demands his inheritance before his father dies and then squanders it.  Eventually, the son undergoes reformation and returns to his father, penitent and ready to resume the relationship.  The son who remained with the father becomes very jealous and angry at his brother’s return.   He expresses frustration towards his father for welcoming the wayward son and refuses to join the celebratory feast.

Homilies and reflections about this passage often focus on the sins of the prodigal son, about reform, about asking for forgiveness and about granting it.  Rarely do they focus on the other son, the one consumed with jealously fueled by delusions of his perfection.   The second son believed he was without sin but he committed very grievous sins of being hard-hearted, mean-spirited, arrogant, dismissive, condescending and unforgiving.  He was like the scribes and Pharisees who criticized Jesus for fraternizing with society’s undesirables, labeling them as “sinners”, while failing to realize Jesus also welcomed sinners when he dined with them, the scribes and Pharisees.    

Between the two brothers’ actions and attitudes, they actually commit all seven of the deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, envy, lust and gluttony.   At a minimum, the first brother commits sloth, lust and gluttony.  At a minimum, the second brother commits wrath, pride and envy.  Both seem motivated at some point by greed.   Actually, they might have other sins in common such as lust but the prodigal son committed this sin in a very public way while the second son might have committed the same sin in secrecy.  Regardless, the second son seems to have ranked his brother’s sins as more severe than his own or overlooked his own sins completely.   

The same was true with the scribes and Pharisees addressing Jesus.  They criticized Jesus for associating with “sinners”, meaning “other” people who committed sins they thought were “the worst”.   Yet, the scribes and Pharisees failed to see their own sins.  They believed they were worthy of Jesus’ company but others were not.

Two thousand years later we still have people labeling other people’s sins as “the worst” while failing to see or downplaying their own sins.  Many church leaders and lay supporters feel “the worst” sins are disagreeing with the pope or other clergy members, questioning infallibility doctrine, having an abortion, voting for the “wrong” politician, using artificial birth control, desiring human rights for homosexuals, or expecting equality for women.   At the same time these church leaders and laypeople often overlook or downplay their sins of wrath, pride, greed, sloth, lust, envy or gluttony. 

Conversely, many lay people feel “the worst” sins are priests raping children, church leaders ignoring pedophilia claims and enabling pedophile priests, accumulating property while not caring for the poor, lacking compassion, and supporting misogyny, chauvinism, homophobia or clericalism.

What is happening to the church that factions weigh their pedigree as superior to others?  Why is there so much fuss over the sins of others rather than one’s own sins?  Why do some people passionately follow the example of the second son, scribes or Pharisees, trying to exclude others from the feast?  After 2,000 years, have we learned nothing from Jesus’ teaching?  Whether scribes, Pharisees, popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, traditional, orthodox, conservatives, liberals or progressives, when receiving the Eucharist, Jesus dines with sinners.   Why should we be fussier than Jesus?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Scriptural Stations of the Cross Dedicated to the Clergy Abuse Victims

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved the use of the Scriptural Way of the Cross.  In this version, all the stations are based upon scripture whereas only eight of the fourteen traditional stations occur in scripture.  Given the massive clergy abuse issues that surfaced worldwide since last Easter and the recent clergy abuse cover-up scandal in Philadelphia exposed by a February, 2011 Grand Jury report, I wrote some reflections for each station around the theme of abuse, abusers, active enablers, passive enablers and the victims.  I invite you to join me in praying these stations.

1.  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: Jesus agonized in the garden.  He prayed that God not make him drink the cup of being an innocent victim.  He prayed with such intensity that he sweated blood.  Three times he asked his followers to wait with him in support and three times they fell asleep. 

How many times have innocent children prayed in agony that they be spared the cup of abuse, especially at the hands of priests they deeply trusted?  How many times have they bled from their abuse?  How many times have we ignored their repeated pleas for help, falling asleep to their pain? 

Lord, unlike you who had to suffer as an innocent victim for our sins, innocent children should not have to drink the cup of abuse.  Help us to choose protecting them over protecting public images. Help us to be untiring in supporting victims of clergy abuse, in all stages of their healing, no matter how long it takes.  Let us never tire of learning of the church’s imperfections so that we never prefer slumbering through injustice over supporting its victims.

2.  Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested Judas was an apostle as are the clergy of today.  Yet Judas betrayed Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver, handing him over though an innocent human.

Lord, how many times have today's apostles acted, motivated by serving financial interests rather than justice?  How many times have apostles betrayed innocent children especially by abusing, or moving and covering up the acts of abusive priests?  How many bishops have betrayed innocent victims by declaring bankruptcy to protect their “silver” rather than pay reparations to victims?  How have the faithful at large been betrayed?

Help today's apostles to protect their real treasures: children, truth, justice.  Give them the courage to part with their silver to address the needs of the abused.  Guide them to truth rather than betrayal or secrecy.

3.  Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin:  Believing they were protecting their institution and traditions, the Sanhedrin questioned Jesus, trying to blame an innocent man rather than acknowledge their shortcomings.  Jesus replied, "If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond.”

Lord, how many times have we wanted so desperately to protect our institution and traditions that we permitted the innocent to suffer instead?  How many times have we blamed the victims for voicing the truth?  How many times did they “tell us but we did not believe”?  How many times do we ignore those who question on their behalf?

Lord, help us to believe the truth rather than condemn those who tell it.  Help us to support rather than sanction those who question.  Increase our faith that we blame abusers, and their active and passive enablers rather than the victims.  May we never value our institutions and traditions over truth and protecting the innocent.

4.  Jesus is denied by PeterPeter also was an apostle and considered to be the first pope.  Yet, during Jesus’ appearance before the Sanhedrin, Peter denied Jesus, embarrassed by Jesus, frightened that he might endure what Jesus endured.  

How many times have we preferred protecting apostles (clergy) over protecting victims?  How many times have we denied the abused or those who advocate for the abused because we were embarrassed to take a stand?  What role have other popes played in denying Jesus by enabling abusers?

Lord, help us to not fear truth or reform.  Give us the courage to act in support of children and the abused.  Let us never be so dazzled by an office that we fail to see the human errors of the office holder.  Give the pope courage to lead in truth rather than enable in secrecy.

5.  Jesus is judged by Pilate Pilate seemed to want to advocate for Jesus but ultimately worried more about public opinion and pleasing his superiors.  Therefore he condemned an innocent man to death and disassociated himself from the matter, washing his hands of it.

How many times have church leaders acted in the interest of public image by moving abusive priests, covering-up their actions and denying they left abusive priests in active duty?  How many clergy try to exonerate themselves by saying, “I’m just following orders from my superiors”?  How many times have we disassociated ourselves from the clergy abuse issue, just wanting to be over it instead of addressing it?  How many times have church leaders disassociated themselves from clergy accused of abuse before allowing them due process?

Lord, help us to understand what true scandal is.  Give church leaders the courage to disobey orders they receive to deceive or enable.  Help them speak truth to the faithful, publicly admitting their actions.  May we never disassociate ourselves from the pain of our sisters and brothers but insist that church leaders address the issue.  May church leaders render justice to the accused and the abused. 

6.  Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns:  The soldiers abused and mocked Jesus, scourging him and adorning him in crown of thorns.  The thorns dug into his skull, causing even more pain and bleeding. 

How many times have we mocked the abused or those who advocate for them?  How many times have church leaders increased victims’ pain by continuing to deal in secrecy or deny wrong-doing?  How much has the church bled due to abusers and church leaders’ actions as they continue to avoid accountability?  How many people have left the church due to church leaders’ unwillingness to admit their role enabling a culture in which abusers can operate?

Lord, help us to be unshaken in our faith as we witness or experience the horrors of abuse, enabling abuse and covering-up abuse.  Give us the courage to confront church leaders to stop the bleeding. Help us to endure mockery as we stand for justice.

7.  Jesus takes up His cross:  Not only was Jesus accused as an innocent man, scourged, insulted and sentenced to death, he had to carry the very instrument with which he would be killed.  Likely Jesus was exhausted both physically and mentally from the mockery of his trial and abuses already suffered.  Carrying the weight of a heavy cross would be difficult in the best of physical conditions but Jesus had to carry his despite being weakened through abuse.

How many children have had to carry the cross of repeated abuse, the sickening feeling of knowing what is coming next?  How do we add to abuse victims’ painful burden?  How do church leaders add weight to victims’ heavy crosses of emotional, physical and spiritual trauma? 

Lord, help us to understand the heavy cross carried by victims, in all its dimensions.  Help us to know what adds weight to the cross that we avoid increasing their burden.

8.  Jesus is helped by Simon to carry His crossAs Jesus walked carrying his cross, Simon was pulled from the crowd and pressed into service to help him carry it.

Do we willingly address the issue of clergy abuse and its enablers or do we wait to be pressed into service?  Do we know how to ease victims’ burdens?

Lord, help us understand how to lessen the burden carried by abuse victims.  Inspire us to willingly seek ways to aid their healing rather than wishing they would just deal with their pain in invisible silence.

9.  Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem:  During his journey to Galgatha, Jesus encountered some women weeping.  Despite his pain and troubles, he took the time to address them saying, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children”.

How many times do we weep for the church instead of for our children? How many times do we weep for the Vicar of Christ or the apostles of Christ rather than for the children?  Do we weep for our own misplaced priorities?  Do we weep for the children in their lost innocence?

Lord, forgive us for pitying that which needs no pity and failing to pity that which is pitiful.  Forgive our misplaced concerns and priorities. 

10.  Jesus is crucified:  When we see pictures of Jesus on the cross, he always wears a loin cloth for modesty.  However, historical records indicate the crucified hung stripped completely naked.  Their bodily excretory functions occurred in public humiliation.  Crucifixion was intended to not only do away with the trouble-maker but to do so in an utterly humiliating fashion.

How has abuse humiliated the victims?  How has that humiliation propagated through their lives?  What destruction has it caused to them, to others, and to the church?  How has the church stripped itself completely naked so that abuse and the enabling culture might die? 

Lord, help abuse victims heal from the humiliation they endured.  Heal those who have been impacted by the scandal of abuse and cover-ups.  Help church leaders to speak truth courageously and endure any ensuing public humiliation with grace.  Help the faithful to insist on candor rather than secrecy.  Let abuse and its enabling culture be crucified rather than victims and their supporters.

11.  Jesus promises His kingdom to the repentant thief In his dying moments, one guilty thief crucified with Jesus tells Jesus to free them from their death sentences.  The other guilty thief crucified with Jesus repented and Jesus assured him he would enjoy paradise.  Jesus extends forgiveness despite his own pain and suffering.

How many priests guilty of abuse confess their guilt and endure their punishment rather than try to evade accountability?  How many monsignors, bishops, cardinals and popes admit their guilt for helping the guilty avoid accountability?  How many admit their guilt enabling abuse to occur by not addressing it or moving abusers to new locations?  How many admit their guilt for lying or operating in secrecy?  How many enablers place all the blame on the abusers?  Do laypeople admit their guilt in not holding church leaders accountable?  Are those wounded by clergy’s abusive and enabling actions able to forgive once the guilty admit their wrong-doing?

Lord, help clergy and laity to examine their parts in enabling abuse.  Give us the courage to admit our guilt and express sorrow for our actions rather than for the actions of others.  Help those who have enabled abuse to speak truth so that we may repair the brokenness.  Give us the courage to forgive, especially those who admit their guilt.

12.  Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other:  In his dying moments Jesus also set an example for caring for others, for attending to relationships.  He entrusted his mother and his beloved disciple to each other.  Relationship requires communication, honesty, trust and forgiveness.

Have the church leaders dealt honestly with the clergy abuse scandal or do they try to downplay it?  Does the church operate with open communications or in secrecy?  Do church leaders treat accused clergy with honesty and justice?  What role have we played in destroying trust?  Are we too preoccupied with our pain to forgive?

Lord, send a true spirit of reconciliation through your church.  Give church leaders courage to undertake all the steps for reconciliation: admitting their sins in enabling abusers, expressing sorrow for their sins (not just the sins of the abusers), repairing damage, doing penance and changing the culture to avoid the sin in the future.  Help the laity and victims to respond with forgiveness.

13.  Jesus dies on the cross:  Jesus died on the cross to save people from their sins. 

Have church leaders thoroughly examined the sins of abuse and their sins of enablement?  Are they willing to let institutional traditions die that enable these sins? 

Lord, expose the fullness of the church’s sin of enabling abusers that we may change the culture and put an end to that sin.

14.  Jesus is laid in the tomb:  Joseph of Arimethea, a wealthy disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body so that he could give it a dignified burial and avoid the common fate of crucified bodies: being eaten by dogs.  He wrapped Jesus’ body and placed it in a tomb from which Jesus resurrected.

Do we use our wealth to care for Jesus’ broken body, caring for the needs of the abused or do we leave them to be eaten by dogs?  Do we bind up their wounds?  Do we bind up the wounds of those broken by the scandal or leave them to the dogs?  Are church leaders willing to entomb traditions that enable abusers so that the church may be resurrected?

Lord, inspire us to use our wealth and efforts to restore dignity rather than to protect an image.  Help us to see strength and unity in the expression of diverse perspectives so that we do not consume each other like dogs.  Guide your church to entomb all traditions that enable abuse and cover-ups so that it may be resurrected from these scandalous departures from your light.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Do church leaders think it is worse to molest a child or ordain a woman?

On October 16, 2010 I posed a question in this blog, “Is it a worse crime for clergy to objectify, rape, kill or ordain a woman, according to the Catholic Church?”  With the recent events in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I can’t help but ponder a similar question.  “Do church leaders think it is worse to molest a child or ordain a woman?”

In 2008, Fr. Roy Bourgeois was excommunicated for attending a woman’s ordination, 30 days after the event.  In 2010, Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix excommunicated Fr. Vernon Meyer for attending a woman’s ordination, a month after that event also.  Bishop Olmsted noted that Fr. Meyer’s attendance was, “extremely serious” and carried, “profoundly harmful consequences.”  Clearly Bishop Olmsted’s belief in the action’s severity inspired his speed in excommunicating Fr. Meyer.

In 2008, Bishop Olmsted also excommunicated Msgr. Fushek, co-founder of the much heralded “Life Teen” youth ministries and former Vicar General of the Phoenix Diocese.  When Bishop Olmsted excommunicated him, Msgr. Fushek had been on administrative leave since 2004 while ecclesial and civil authorities investigated numerous credible allegations of sexual misconduct with minors.  Civil authorities charged Msgr. Fushek with single counts of indecent exposure and assault, and five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor related to his interactions with five male teens.  Through a plea bargaining agreement, Msgr. Fushek pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and was spared having to register as a sex offender. 

However, in 2010, the Vatican defrocked Msgr. Fushek for violations of the “Sixth Commandment that are committed by priests and deacons with minors.”  This is ecclesial lingo for sexual misconduct with a minor.  Msgr. Fushek is one of few priests worldwide who have been defrocked for sexually abusing children.  Thus, the evidence the church had about his actions likely was powerfully convincing. 

However, Bishop Olmsted did not excommunicate Msgr. Fushek for sexual misconduct with minors.   Bishop Olmsted excommunicated him for disobeying the bishop, four years after the church found credible evidence of his sexual misconduct.   

Evidently Bishop Olmsted saw Fr. Meyer’s support for a female priest as a far more urgent issue than Msgr. Fushek’s sexual abuse of children.   Supporting a woman received swift attention; abusing children did not.  Is this what Jesus would do?

This week in Philadelphia, Cardinal Rigali placed dozens of priests on administrative leave due to credible allegations against them regarding sexually assaulting minors.  These suspensions occurred more than 8 years after the church was aware of the credible allegations.  None of these priests have been excommunicated.  Historical facts indicate church leaders did not handle allegations against these priests with any sense of urgency.  Indeed, current disciplinary actions seem to be inspired by the public-relations debacle associated with being caught by civil authorities.  Had the two Grand Jury investigations not occurred, would those priests still be active?

Using church leaders’ speed addressing the ecclesial crimes as a bell-weather, should the faithful infer that ordaining a woman is far worse than raping a child? 

Furthermore, rather than hearing an outcry from brother bishops at the scandalously slow pace taken for addressing abusive clergy, we see congratulatory and supportive messages.  This is scandalous also.  If the brotherhood of clergy stands in solidarity, silent or praising rather that decrying their brethrens’ abysmally slow and ineffective efforts to address sexually abusive priests, then in solidarity they must share the shame and blame for every single child in the world abused by pedophile priests.

By the way, an Australian nun, Mother Mary MacKillop, was excommunicated in 1871 for her outcry against pedophile priests.  In October, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI canonized her as a saint and named her the patron saint of abuse victims.  She joins a long list of saints whom church leaders once censured, persecuted, excommunicated or killed before later canonizing them.  The list includes St. Joan of Arc, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, St. Theodore Guerin,   St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, and St. John of the Cross.  Dorothy Day, the social justice advocate who is on track for sainthood, also was dismissed by Cardinal Spellman.  

Therefore, I take heart that church leaders sometimes admit errors in their judgment of people’s characters, albeit typically for errors committed by long-dead leaders rather than by themselves.  Must we always wait hundreds of years for such justice?   

Is there hope that one hundred or more years from now Fr. Roy might be canonized a saint and named the patron saint of female priests?  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why do church leaders continue to be more concerned about protecting their brotherhood than protecting children?

Yesterday the Archdiocese of Philadelphia put 21 priests on administrative leave due to credible claims against them for sexual misconduct with children.  Events leading to these actions are summarized as follows:

In 2005 the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office publicly issued a Grand Jury report from a 2003 investigation.  The report revealed that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia permitted priests with credible child sexual misconduct claims against them to remain active priests with access to children. 

I cannot summarize the report better than the report does in its opening paragraph.  The report states, “…how dozens of priests sexually abused hundreds of children; how Philadelphia Archdiocese officials – including Cardinal Bevilacqua and Cardinal Krol – excused and enabled the abuse”.  The report continues, “Some may be tempted to describe these events as tragic. Tragedies such as tidal waves, however, are outside human control. What we found were not acts of God, but of men who acted in His name and defiled it.”

As a result of the 1st Grand Jury report, the Archdiocese changed its policy and committed to report credible sexual misconduct claims to public authorities for criminal investigation.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office launched a 2nd Grand Jury investigation and that report was made public February 10, 2011.  This 2nd report indicated the Archdiocese did not follow their new directives with at least two victims’ credible allegations made since the 1st report was published.   Furthermore, the 2nd investigation revealed Msgr. Lynn, responsible for priest assignments in the Archdiocese, willfully and knowingly enabled priests with credible allegations against them to remain in active ministry with access to children.  As a result of the 2nd Grand Jury investigation, five perpetrators were charged in February, 2011 including Msgr. Lynn for 3rd degree child endangerment.

The day the 2nd report was publicly released, Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia issued a statement saying that, “There are no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.”

Evidently, that was a false statement.  In fact, until yesterday’s move placing 21 priests on administrative leave, 37 priests with credible allegations still were active in ministry.


Why did Cardinal Rigali make a statement that was so far from accurate?

Why did it take one, much less two Grand Jury investigations to remove these priests from ministry?

Why did it take almost a month after publishing the 2nd Grand Jury report to place these priests on administrative leave?

Why did church officials require intervention from secular bodies to tell the truth and do the right thing?

Why didn’t the Archdiocese follow its own directives?  Are the USCCB’s norms and the policies in all U.S. Catholic dioceses merely eyewash as in the Archdiocese of Philidelphia?

Are church leaders who behave this way fit for leadership, especially in the church?  Are they valid leaders?  According to Canon law, those who cause great scandal to the church are not.  Is there greater scandal than enabling pedophile priests and then lying to the public about it?

What responsibilities do laypeople have in addressing unfit church leaders?  Will laypeople take action towards insisting upon leadership accountability, leave the church in disgust, or passively enable inept leadership to continue by remaining silent?

As an aside, yesterday I also received an invitation to hear Fr.Roy Bourgeois speak.  Fr. Bourgeois is threatened to be defrocked by church leaders.  Why?  He committed the very “dangerous” act of publicly supporting the ordination of a woman in 2008.   Thirty days after attending the ordination of a woman, Roy Bourgeois was ex-communicated.  Evidently the church was too busy protecting people from the likes of Fr. Roy to have time to protect children from 37 pedophile priests in Philadelphia.

Why do church leaders continue to be more concerned about protecting their brotherhood than protecting children?

Friday, March 4, 2011

If we were not supposed to add to the law, why do we have 1,752 Canon laws?

Scripture says, “In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it” (Deut 4:2).  After this, Moses reviewed the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and then elaborated with the 613 Mosaic laws.  Jesus simplified all this with two great commandments: love God and love each other.

If we are not supposed to add to nor subtract from those laws, why do Christians ignore much of Mosaic Law?  Why has the Catholic Church added 1,752 Canon laws?  Why does the Catechism of the Catholic Church contain 2,865 instructions?  

Why did church leaders take what Jesus made extremely simple and make it extremely complex?  There are almost three times the number of Canon laws as Mosaic laws, over 170 times the number of Commandments and 876 times the number of Jesus' simplified commandments.  There are over four times the number of instructions in the Catechism as there are Mosaic laws, over 280 times the number of Commandments and 1,432.5 more than Jesus' simplified commandments.

Much of this explosion in complexity comes from codifying "tradition".

Jesus chastised the Pharisees by saying, “You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition” (Mark 7:8).  It seems Jesus did not support committing or perpetuating injustices hiding behind “tradition” as an excuse.   Why do church leaders call unjust things “just” based upon their “tradition” of injustice?