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