Category: Catholic Sexuality

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Merciful Discipline 4: Hopeful, We Rebuild Trust

This is the fourth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 4: Hopeful, We Rebuild Trust

We do not want you to grieve…as those who have no hope. (1Thes. 4:13)

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (1Cor. 4:2)

Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord…He will dwell in the parched places of the earth. (Jer. 17: 5, 6)

One struggles to consider a more profound violation of trust than priestly abuse of children. Based on the trust Catholic parents grant the Church, they have entrusted their children to a handful of priests who used that trust to abuse.

Diabolical—the disintegration of young lives and long after, the disintegration of trust in the Church itself. What greater victory could the enemy of our souls achieve than the scattering of the sheep through such a violent abuse of trust?

We overcome evil through good. And that good comes through acknowledging the mistrust that remains and choosing to begin a process of forgiveness. Our wounds united with Christ’s, we have access to the antidote: Mercy. We can apply that Mercy to both abusing priests and those who unwittingly sustained the abuse through its mishandling.

Forgiveness is neither weak nor a set up for ‘revictimization’. Forgiveness is power. In the Spirit of Jesus, we entrust all involved in the abuse, including our own damaged hearts, ‘to Him who judges justly.’ (1P2:23) We choose to place the hemorrhaging mess into the only Wounds that can heal it; we gratefully remove ourselves from the role of Redeemer and Judge. In forgiving our captors, we begin to be released from an unbearable weight. Little by little, we chip away at the burden of another’s sin until Jesus alone bears it. Forgiveness is the power by which we triumph over beloved enemies.

Forgiving spiritual leaders means that we are growing up. As the laity, we have authority to name a leader’s sin against us or loved ones and to do something about it. In that process, which includes forgiveness, we strike a death blow to clericalism. We refuse to grant Catholic leaders the magic of perfection. We cease to be children and become discerning, engaging colleagues with clergy.

We can disagree with them. And we can go directly to Christ ourselves—to trust more in Him than in the priest or bishop. Jesus always wanted it this way. God wants to use the sexual abuse crisis to free the laity from childish reliance upon mere men, and to mature into wise and helpful members of Jesus’ body.

Trust must be earned. We forgive our offenders in obedience to Christ and to free our own hearts. Yet reliance upon those we have forgiven is wise only when their trustworthiness is evident.

There is evidence that the Church is repenting of her lack of transparency in failing to protect her young. Pope Benedict has championed reform here. He has repeatedly acknowledged the Church’s scandalous track-record and has exerted enormous energy in insisting on strict measures of accountability, discipline, and prevention in the world-wide Church. (He would be wise to keep doing so!)

The US Bishops have established arguably the highest standards for transparency and accountability and victim-care for the US Church than any other branch of the RCC. For that to become a living reality, ‘all diocesan leaders must be committed to transparency about their actions, ensure that immediate and appropriate responses to abuse become routine, and ensure that all such actions are adopted by all church leaders.’ (John Jay Report, p.93)

Having stumbled recently, the Kansas City Diocese under Bishop Finn has set up a new and solid system of checks and balances that line up entirely with recommendations from the Graves Report. Instead of alleged abuses going to the Vicar-General, an Ombudsman receives them and reports them directly to the police and the DFS, while initiating an investigation, which includes a Victim’s Advocate. An Independent Review Board operates as well, investigating whether alleged perpetrators should continue in ministry.

Jennifer Valenti, the new and apparently dynamic Ombudsman, urges all of us to do our part as faithful, discerning members of the one Body. She implores us:

In order for the safety net to be effective, you must take a stand. You cannot stand in silence when you suspect abuse. It takes courage, but you must report it.

If we discern any possibility of abuse, we are to call DFS at (800) 392-3738.

Our hope is in God, the Author and Finisher of His Church. To love the Church and to be whole-hearted in our service of her, we must forgive her grievous failures even as we discern her repentance. In so doing, we destroy the will of the evil one with good. Evidence of change in the ‘system’ still requires that we keep growing, learning how to trust others with a new maturity. That maturity requires that we do our part to ensure that the Church is a safe place for children.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water, that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has now worries in a year of drought, and never fails to bear fruit. (Jer. 17: 7, 8 )

Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced secret and shameful ways. We do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, be setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2Cor 4: 1, 2)

O Blood and Water, that flows from the heart of the Savior as a fount of Mercy for us, we trust in You! – St. Faustina

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Merciful Discipline 3: Broken, We Endure Shame

This is the third post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 3: Broken, We Endure Shame

In the Church, God has put Himself into hands that betray Him again and again. – Pope Benedict

Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers;
may Your mercy come quickly to meet us,
for we are in desperate need.
Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of Your Name;
deliver us, and forgive us our sins for Your Name’s sake.
Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
(PS 79:8-10a)

We repent on behalf of the abuse-broken church. We do not raise a defense for churchmen who did the right thing; we confess the sins of those who did wrong—bishops who failed to adequately discipline priests, negligent care of victims and their greater communities, the failure of the powers-that-be to steward existing policies of protection for minors.

We the Church are brought low. Our failures have leveled us. Just as the abuse of one is the abuse of us all, so is her discipline the discipline of the whole. Jesus prophesied on the eve of His crucifixion that ‘the shepherd would be struck, and the sheep would be scattered.’ (Matt. 26:31) As various Church leaders have been struck down by their mishandling of abuse, we too are cast down.

Will we scatter or fall forward unto the Crucified? We can repent on behalf of the abuse-broken Church. We can wait and pray. With Him, through Him, on His behalf, we can endure shame in the hope of new life.

I faced such a choice many years ago. Under my charge, a close colleague had abused two minors. That instigated a 10-year-process of discipline which included: purging the staff, tending to the victims, searching out other potential victims, and establishing new policies of prevention. In the eyes of the law and (arguably) God, I was the one ultimately responsible for the abuse. I became the subject of countless interrogations and the agent of raising huge sums of money to repair the damage done.

We as a ministry surrendered to God. He was disciplining us. Though we had much to do, my posture was face down. Had we not discovered the Crucified we would have followed the counsel of most who urged us to dissolve the ministry in light of our new financial burden.

‘When You disciplined them, they could barely whisper a prayer.’ (Is 26: 16) We had no strength to run from His refinement. We stayed down and discovered that only His wounds could heal the shame of the wounds we had inflicted on others. Our hope lay in faith: ‘He only disciplines those He loves.’ (Heb. 12:6)

Similarly, the Church today must learn to get low and stay low in this season of discipline. We err in raising fists at greedy lawyers, godless journalists, or an outraged public. We look to the Lord of our discipline, who uses many agents to refine those He loves. Through the Crucified, we can endure the shame and accept His discipline as a severe mercy. In the words of Benedict: ‘I wish to exhort all of you…to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them.’

Enduring the shame means accepting a loss of credibility, especially in regards to the Church’s advocacy of the dignity and integrity and inviolability of every life. Sexual abuse mocks her beautiful sexual ethic, and weakens her authority to uphold it. Referring to decades of unrestrained minor abuse in Ireland, Benedict exhorted the bishops there: ‘All of this seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.’ We glimpse this in the Old Testament. After Eli failed to restrain his sons, Israel suffered a terrible defeat. She fled the Philistines who then captured the ark of the covenant. (1Sam 4:17)

We can endure the shame because of Christ. He endured the final shaming at Calvary to grant us grace to endure ours. Take heart! We become more like Him as we submit to discipline. Maybe that’s why Lent is so long: 40 days along a thorny ascent path that ends before the broken body, crowned with thorns.

Lent is for slow learners like us. Change takes time. Discovering how to bear the shame of our corporate abuses is a lesson in endurance. In time, He will assume it wholly and transform us into transparent witnesses of our own failures and defenders of the weak.

Our discipline need not be morbidly introspection. He actively refines our hearts—their values and practices—employing real shame generated by the real damage done. As we turn toward Him, He burns off ‘the worldly sorrow that brings forth death’ (2Cor 7:10).

We ‘fix our eyes on Himself, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame…Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ (Heb. 12: 2, 3)
The hope of resurrection sustains us in this season of crucifixion, His merciful discipline. We are reduced to the bloody God. Like Him, we endure shame for the joy set before us.

It is likely that the rest of Pope Benedict’s pontificate will be consumed by this scandal. Sexual abuse in the Church will most likely define it. – Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Burnson Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis

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Merciful Discipline 2: Broken, We Repent for the Church’s Mishandling of Abuse

This is the second post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 2: Broken, We Repent for the Church’s Mishandling of Abuse

‘This crisis isn’t about sex abuse. It is about covering up sex abuse.’ Spokesperson for victims of priestly abuse

‘God’s justice summons us to give account of our actions and to conceal nothing.’ Pope Benedict to priests who abused children

As the Church, we are united as members of one Body. When one is abused, all suffer. When abuse is covered up or mishandled by Church leaders, the abused are abused further. We all are exposed.

Only the truth sets us free. In order for the wound of abuse to heal, it needs to be acknowledged and aired in order for all sufferers to be delivered. Healing requires that the full extent of the damage be brought into the light.

The Church has historically excelled at damage control.

Our corporate shame is overcome through repentance. Church membership grants every Catholic the authority to repent on behalf of the whole Church. We can implore God for His Mercy, and ask Him to change us.

As one Body, we must become a transparent witness of our own failures and of painstaking effort to repair the damage done to minors. We can then become transparent safeguard of minors—of their dignity, inviolability, and integrity.

We begin by acknowledging the failure of many Catholic leaders to be transparent safeguards. When aware of priestly misconduct, they failed to act on behalf of victims and the greater community.

In the Old Testament, overseer Eli failed to act. The elder knew his 2 sons—both priests—were having sex with women in the temple. He failed to act in a way that stopped the abuse. God addressed Eli through Samuel the prophet: ‘I told Eli that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and Eli failed to restrain them.’ (1 Sam 3:13)

Serious business. Spiritual overseers release and restrain God’s servants in order to build a strong, clean Church. We are all secured in love when a leader acts rightfully; when he fails, as Eli did, the most vulnerable are unprotected.

Historically, the Church has tended to protect herself, not victims or surrounding communities, in cases of minor abuse. A careful review of the most comprehensive study done on the sexual abuse of minors in the US Catholic Church over the last 60 years (‘John Jay Report’) reveals several disheartening themes.

Before 2002, Church overseers who became aware of minor abuse tended to focus on the priest-abuser more than the abused. Rarely did she subject her priests in question to legal scrutiny; she became a law unto herself. Due to the complications of canon law, these priests were not dismissed but rather put on leave or transferred to other communities who had no knowledge of the new priest’s ‘vulnerabilities.’

Overall, victims’ needs were minimized and the needs of the communities surrounding the abuse were kept in the dark.

In 2002, the Church sought reform. Dioceses throughout the US adopted a new set of norms for handling priestly sexual abuse. These norms include speedy and diligent inquiry of alleged abuse, priority-tending to the victims and their communities, removal of priest from office, and full compliance with the law.

The St. Joseph/KC Diocese adopted these norms, and today stands as a cautionary tale of sliding back into damage control, as the Bishop’s own confession and an investigation revealed (‘Graves Report’).

2 years ago, a KC priest was discovered to have a computer full of child porn. The vicar-general (second in command to the bishop) took matters into his own hands. The matter was not submitted to the diocesan review counsel, nor was the computer turned over to the authorities. A therapist claimed the priest was depressed, not dangerous; Bishop Finn reassigned him to a community house where he soon began engaging with children again, all ignorant of his ‘discipline.’

By God’s mercy, diocesan mishandling was exposed, the priest arrested. Six months had elapsed between the seizure of the porn and the arrest. Within those six months, a father lamented plainly to the Bishop: ‘That monster was in my house to prey on my kids and you let him in because you felt you were above the law and made that decision not to turn in photos of my kids.’

The norms of reform protect only when followed. With Bishop Finn who takes full responsibility for the damage done by damage control, we cry out for mercy, and ask that we would change. We can and must become transparent witnesses of the damage done. Only then will victims and their communities be healed, and minors safeguarded in the future.

How a man who has said ‘yes’ to Christ…could fall into such perversion is hard to understand. It is a great sadness also that Church leadership was not sufficiently vigilant and sufficiently swift and decisive in taking necessary measures. On account of this we are living in a time of penance, humility, and renewed sincerity. We must renew and learn again absolute sincerity. Pope Benedict

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Merciful Discipline 1: Broken, We Pray for the Abused

This is the first post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 1: Broken, We Pray for the Abused

No wound runs deeper in the Church today than the sexual abuse of children by her priests. Over the last 30 years, the wound has become apparent as brave, broken souls throughout the world have dared to confess the perversion deposited in them by priests.

We the Church bear this wound. We are the broken: bewildered, angry, more tempted to strike the Church than to heal her. And yet we are ‘her’, the wounded bride, as needful of her graces as we are appalled at her failures.

Gratefully, we serve a wounded God who Himself suffered unjustly in order to bind up our wounds. He invites us to into His Mercy that we the Church might be healed and so become a healing arm for the abused.

How can we do this, mere laymen and laywomen? We gather, we bend the knee, we cry out with repentant hearts on behalf of those damaged by the Church. We cry out for Mercy for those most in need of it. Might the water released from His side cleanse those bearing the shame of another? Might His blood administer new life to broken lives? Might we become the face and hand of Jesus for those scattered by evil shepherds?

We take up both a priestly and prophetic call when we pray rightfully for the abused. We become a part of His solution for His wounded bride.

His wounds are the only just response to the wounds of those sexually abused by priests. Only His wounds, extended tenderly and patiently, can cleanse the ‘abuse’ wound and send its evil source to flight.

Consider the evil: the Roman Catholic Church is the last coherent institution on earth with a sexual morality that upholds the dignity of each individual, beginning with conception. Her teaching advocates for each life from the start, and upholds each as an inviolable sexual gift, instructing him/her to protect that gift until marriage. Her priests model that sanctity, and encourage little ones to walk accordingly, with priestly help.

When priests become predatory, the Church herself becomes an arm of evil. Her morality and mission are torpedoed; children are left in the wreckage, defiled and disoriented by one who was supposed to mirror his/her dignity.

While Catholic morality encourages sexual integrity (wholeness), sexual abuse provokes sexual disintegration. It fractures his/her gender identity, and moral clarity; abuse clouds one’s vision for a whole Christian life in general.

Such disintegration is rooted in the Greek word for devil: ‘diabolos.’  It means ‘to throw apart’, in other words, to disintegrate. Perhaps that is the most precise way of defining the impact of priestly sexual abuse of children—disintegration.

Does that not break Jesus’ heart and ours? The ‘throwing apart’ of a child in Jesus’ name violates His very purpose for the Church: to protect and redeem the wholeness of every life.

Priestly abuse is particularly diabolical because of the spiritual power of the abuser. In assessing the depth of abuse, one must consider: was the abuser someone that the child trusted and had good reason to rely upon? The spiritual power of the abuser amplifies the impact of sexual abuse.

In other words, an abusive priest intensifies the act of sexual abuse with spiritual abuse. He manipulates the sheep for his own purposes; instead of feeding them, he partakes of them.

Arguably, priestly sexual abuse has done more to disintegrate the mission of the Church than any other single force over the last 50 years.

We consider the damage done in His Name so we can be a part of His solution: crying out for Mercy for the wounded Church, and in particular, for her children that have been ‘thrown apart’ by sexual abuse.

We are ‘to mourn with those who mourn.‘ (Romans 12:15) ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it’. (1 Corinthians 12:26) When one member of the body is abused, we each share in that suffering. I urge you: may our shame in the light of priestly abuse be transformed into prayerful solidarity with the abused?

Might you join me this Lent in crying out for a river of Mercy to be released in the Church for her abused? As we reflect upon His wounds, might we also intercede for the binding up of the disintegrating effect of abuse?

May those sexually abused receive the first fruit of Your suffering, Holy God. Unite them in Your healing arms, through trustworthy members of Your Body.

Pope Benedict recently reflected:

I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, His sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives. I acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; I invite you to offer it to the Lord, and trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of victims, the purification of the Church, and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people.

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Details Concerning My Conversion to Catholicism

Dear Friends,

I wanted you to know that on Easter (April 2011) this past year I was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. That significant decision began three years ago and involved two rounds of RCIA (the adult catechism course), wise counsel, and much prayer.

I want to emphasize that my decision is a personal one. Desert Stream Ministries has not become Catholic; it remains ecumenical and will continue to serve a variety of churches, mostly evangelical, which seek to minister to broken ones.

Furthermore, the Living Waters program will not be altered in any way. Its foundations are intact, a gift to the whole church.

I decided to become Catholic for several reasons. The first is the leading of the Spirit. I surrendered my desire for the Church after a year, and yet my longing intensified.

The reasons for my longings are evident: I love the centrality of Christ Crucified, the Eucharistic celebration in its two-fold emphasis on breaking open the Word and Bread daily, a non-personality driven approach to church-life, the Church calendar, and the historic teachings of the Church in regards to moral theology.

‘The Catholic Church is the sole surviving coherent institutional voice of morality in a world under the tyranny of relativism,’ wrote one Pope, expressing well one reason for my standing with the Church in this hour.

What I love challenges me continuously. What the Church believes she struggles to live. And though I agree with most fundamental doctrines contained in the catechism, I am troubled by some, and continue to seek God and wise counsel about them. Also, parish life is not highly conducive to the ministry I have pioneered, and will require more patience and wisdom than I have.

Answers to a few commonly asked questions:

Confession to a priest? I see no conflict between confessing to a priest and the type of confession we do daily with one another in our ‘Living Waters’ world. A Catholic seeking sobriety in today’s idolatrous world needs both a good priest and good friends with whom to work out grace and truth-filled accountability.

A closed Eucharist? I value the Church’s high view of communion. I did not partake of the Eucharist until I was confirmed, respecting that only Catholics are allowed to partake of what is believed to be the Lord’s Body and Blood. However, I have no conflict with partaking of the Lord’s Supper with Protestants who hold a different view of the elements.

The idolatry of Mary? I have always valued Mary more than most evangelicals: ‘Blessed is she among women’ is biblical truth!  I honor her because she points away from herself and toward Jesus continuously. The Catechism forbids the deification of her and thus of anything approaching worship. Because I value her humility above all else, I struggle with the attention the Church gives her, and certain doctrines that grant her attributes that I do not see reflected in Scripture. Though these are not ‘deal-breakers’ for me, they give me pause. Pray that I might distill what is precious from what isn’t.

Lay ministry in the Catholic Church? The Church highly values the ministry of lay persons. That is essential for me, for our mission at Desert Stream involves equipping the saints to walk with other saints into sexual and relational wholeness.  For my volunteer service (each Desert Stream staff person must be involved in a church-based healing group), I am exploring an opportunity to serve the Church where I live. God help me and them!

Wholeness and holiness in a perverted Church? The Church has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals for a couple of decades now. It is a good and necessary thing. I believe that God is disciplining her, as Christian ‘love’ without discipline is not love at all. Strangely, my allegiance to the Pope came about in the last year amid all the scandals. I entrusted myself to him as the leader of my Church and vowed to prayerfully stand with him in this crucial hour of his leadership.

I await new partnerships with which to serve the Church in this hour of her discipline. She currently has few effective outlets for sexual restoration, beginning with her priests. It is too early to tell how I might help her. I shall begin by serving where I can in the local church or diocese.

A schism in Living Waters due to my conversion? A rumor began last summer that my Catholicism broke up our unity in Living Waters, especially in South America. That is false. Argentine Mauricio Montion chose to no longer serve under my leadership due to my change, and the Living Waters International Council assigned him another overseer. I am glad he is still committed to Living Waters and that he has fresh oversight.

Is Annette a Catholic? Annette began the process toward Roman Catholicism with me then stopped mid-way through. We work hard to sort out our differences here. I attend her Church on Sunday morning then go to early Communion most mornings. It is not easy but as mature Christians and married partners we are seeking to grow through this challenge.

(I would not recommend that spouses go to different churches! At this point, however, we are doing the best we can, respecting one another’s consciences.)

An evangelical Catholic? You betcha. My roots will always be evangelical. I believe in the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ, founded on the Scripture. I also believe in the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. That means I have more to learn than I ever will; I hope it also means that my reliance upon Jesus and each other as our Source for sexual wholeness will wake up sleepy Catholics.

Catholic elitism? I do not think of myself as having found the exclusive or best Church; I respect everyone’s right to discover Jesus where (s)he finds Him on the local Church level. The Desert Stream staff represents a variety of Churches; we work out daily what it means to find the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Combined, we compose one body.

Church Unity? The little conflicts that have arisen thus far over my Catholicism are an acute reminder to me of how divided the Christian Church is. While praying the other day, I saw a gulf of water between two groups of people. It was vast, water mixed with blood. Instinctually I knew that this was the Mercy stream from the Crucified; it also represented the Protestant/Catholic divide, still bloody, still too large to bridge.

Then I saw broken people coming to either side of the river and putting their weary, fractured limbs in the water. They were receiving healing and were unconcerned about the doctrinal differences on ‘the other side.’ They just wanted and needed Jesus and welcomed all who sought the same.  Healing of sexual brokenness was helping to heal the greater divide between the two groups.

I pray that the mission of Desert Stream Ministries will do its part to heal our one divided Church.

‘There is one body, and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’(Eph. 3:4, 5)

UPDATE January 23rd 2012 at 2:00 PM CST:

Dear friends,

Thank you all for your concerned, thoughtful response to my Catholicism. It honors me that you would take the time to respond. I am reminded of the many years we have stood together for holiness and wholeness in Christ’s body. Our commitment endures, even as the particular arm of Christ’s body in which we stand may have changed! Again, bless you for your friendship, advocacy, and respect, even if you disagree with aspects of Roman Catholicism. We all love Jesus, and are seeking to prepare a people for Himself. Even so Lord, come!

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