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.


  1. "May we never value our institutions and traditions over truth and protecting the innocent"