Healing the Church

This entry concerns the most recent allegations of sexual abuse in my diocese and, more directly, the issue of an unsealed deposition made by my bishop. Last week we read a letter from the Bishop at all Masses. Following that, Chuck Goudie — a Catholic living in my diocese — published a column in the local Daily Herald newspaper voicing his disapproval. I have a few comments.

First, all of these allegations are simply horrible. That anyone in a position of any kind of authority, and particularly in a position of trust like the priesthood, could ever treat children in any kind of abusive way is unconscionable. That the issue could be covered up is horrific. Everyone feels that way, I think.

But Goudie claims that in his letter, Bishop Imesch “never once said the greatest healing words in the English language: ‘I’m sorry.'” So I re-read the Bishop’s letter. And I came accross words like this: “I deeply regret…” (those are actually the first three words of the letter; it is repeated toward the end of the letter) and “I want to express my sincere apology to all who have suffered abuse from priests. I deeply regret any damage that was done to you and want to assist with your recovery.” I guess Goudie should have re-read the letter also, and preferrably before he published his column.

That said, the comments I’ve heard from parishioners indicate that people have reacted to the tone of the letter as a whole, which provided a lot of explanations for how decisions were made in the past. Some people have mentioned to me that these sounded like excuses. I can’t say whether or not the intent of the letter was to be a list of excuses, or merely to provide background, although I strongly suspect the latter. I do think it’s lamentable, though, that so many church statements lately seem to be written more by lawyers than pastors. And I know that lawyers have to be involved, or nobody’s protected. But I think when we start letting lawyers make pastoral statements, we have to take a fresh look at what we’re doing.

So when will the Church heal from all of this? I don’t honestly know. Until all the members of the Church that are affected — victims, abusers, and the faithful with their pastors — have been healed, the Church as a whole can’t heal. This could take generations. What is clear, though, is that whatever is the impact being made by people like Goudie and lawyers, healing isn’t it, and that’s too bad.

The elephant in the room is the burning question, “Why do I want to become a priest at a time like this?” I could put on my best bravado and pride and say, “because I can change the Church with my ministry.” But that’s just a pile of you-know-what. The reason I want to become a priest at a time like this is that the Holy Spirit has led me here, and the only thing I can do is trust and obey. And if anyone can heal the Church, it’s the Holy Spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of Your faithful,
enkindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit
and they shall be created,
and You shall renew the face of the earth
.

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Be Made Clean

Well, I didn’t preach this week, but some things came to me as I prayed through the scriptures this weekend.

First, the leper in the Gospel was clearly a man of faith. “If you will it, you can make me clean.” There is no hesitation there; he knows that Jesus can heal him. Whether this comes from an actual life of faith or whether it is just from what he’s seen and observed about Jesus’ healings so far, he clearly knows without a doubt that Jesus can make him clean.

Second, Jesus responds to the man’s faith: “I do will it. Be made clean.” It’s as simple as that — faith makes the work Jesus came to do possible. And it’s as difficult as that — even our lack of faith can stymie the work of Christ in our lives.

Third, it doesn’t matter how often Jesus tells those who have been healed to keep it under their hats, they can’t help but make it known. The leper in today’s Gospel seems most enthusiastic to do so: he publicized the whole matter, spread it abroad, and through his proclamation of the saving event in his life, people came to Jesus “from everywhere.”

Fourth, and this almost should go without saying, but the real saving news here is not the healing, although that’s certainly up there. The real Good News here is that Jesus reaches out and touches the man. His reaching out to touch an untouchable makes it possible for all of us to go outside ourselves, and reach out to those it is difficult to touch, and bring them the healing and loving touch of Christ. If Jesus didn’t do it, we’d have no reason to; now that he has, the ball’s in our court.

Finally, all of these acts of faith make possible not just mere healing, not just a mere cessation of leprosy, or whatever it is we’re afflicted with, but more than that: true joy. God yearns to not just make the pain go away but to completely change our lives. And this complete change is what the psalmist sings about today: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.” The Lord didn’t just make the psalmist’s troubles go away, but the Lord actually filled the psalmist with the joy of salvation. Our acts of faith are truly blessed.

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