These are certainly dark days for the Catholic Church--especially for those of us who live in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
I have felt and continue to feel blest to be a product of a Catholic education from elementary school through college. The faith my parents gave to me through the sacrament of Baptism was nurtured by their example at home and it grew in maturity and understanding immersed in the safe and loving and well-run Catholic schools in which my siblings and I were educated. In June, my youngest will join her older three siblings as a proud graduate of St. Katharine of Siena elementary school in Wayne and she will go on to 4 more years of Catholic education at my alma mater, Villa Maria Academy in Malvern.
In recent days, it seems as though Wayne is ground zero for news concerning accusations of priest misconduct. I can only speak for myself, but I am weary and sad, so terribly sad. Sad for any boy or girl who was ever violated; sad for the families who have to deal with their hurting children; sad for the priests who may be wrongfully or mistakenly accused; sad for the priests who got so terribly off-track sexually, spiritually and emotionally that they abused their positions and corrupted young innocents and I feel sad for our local Catholic Community.
No doubt, more of my fellow Catholics will be so disgusted with the latest round of priest suspensions that they will “leave the Church.” But I will not leave. And I hope that my children will not become so discouraged or horrified that they abandon their faith. Because although it is both unacceptable and immoral for any priest to abuse another human being and for a church administrator to fail to keep known predators from coming into contact with innocents again through reassignments, my faith is in the Catholic Church, founded by one God-Man, Jesus.
That a few sick, perverted or misguided souls use their free will to hurt individuals and an entire community is unfortunately not a new phenomenon. We only need review the distant and not-so-distant history of mankind for examples of abuse of power and trust by one set of human beings against another. Yet, I know from my personal faith journey of 49 years on this planet that most priests are truly good people. In fact, at my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary Mass and party last month, we had six priests help us celebrate their beautiful Catholic marriage.
None of these wonderful, self-giving and joyful men have had their names and photos splashed in the local newspapers for inappropriate behavior. Instead, they live out their vocations with great generosity and love day in and day out, not perfectly, I am sure, but with a commitment to the message of Jesus and in service to His people.
They, too, are hurt and disgusted and bewildered by the sinful actions of some of their own. How hard it must be, I have thought, to step outside on a city or suburban street wearing a Roman collar these days. What kinds of looks do they feel penetrating their persons as they walk by? Not all priests are holy. Certainly not all Catholics are holy. But I have had the privilege to have known some holy folks.
We need to keep our eyes fixed on the life and message of the person of Jesus. Those who are arrogant or abuse their power in the name of the Catholic Church distort the message of this Servant Leader and their haughtiness cannot be tolerated.
I do have hope that our faith community can emerge from this dark veil of tears. But to do so, I believe each member of the Catholic Church needs to re-visit the simple yet powerful lesson Jesus gave in his Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.