Tag Archives: Abuse

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Fruit of Scandal

‘For you became sorrowful as God intended…Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done’ (2 Cor. 7: 9-11).

Like you, I strain to see good come from Church-mishandling of abuse. And I’m not sure if mandates from the top down—even decisive, far-reaching ones—will satisfy. We must pray, bearing with her exposure; we who wait expectantly will be doubly blessed when we behold beauty emerging from the broken ground. I am doubly blessed as I write this. During a trip to a state where the Church has been rocked by criminal investigations, I began to see life signs.

First, the abuse scandal has prompted a renewed commitment to healthy communion among priests. I was privileged to attend a chastity group run by a priest for priests. A handful of men have forged deep bonds through their differing vulnerabilities—same-sex attraction, porn temptations, inclinations to unchaste relations. These brave men are equally diverse in their stations in life. Some are young and newly-ordained, others at midpoint, still others retired. All led out humbly with their frailties and have forged a fraternity of mercy and accountability that is glorious, free of competition and drab shoptalk (aka grumbling). Authentic, attuned care prevailed.

I witnessed the fruit of their communion, as I had met most of them a couple years earlier. This round they were more focused, more earnest to ensure that their weaknesses become holy strengths; instead of isolating in fear, these men are learning to connect with humble courage.

Second, I had the honor of meeting Paul, the Dean of Students at a large seminary in that state. He is extraordinary—open, humble, holy. And grateful that the seminary is flourishing, with this year’s class being the largest one in twenty years. Amid the scandal, solid young men are being summoned by God to become a new standard of integrity.

Paul and his team have a lot to do with that. Among the main priorities of the seminary is cultivating a culture of transparency. Mentors are activating the students themselves to set up a variety of small groups in which peers provoke one another to holy self-giving. I asked Paul if a ‘gay-identified’ student could make it in the seminary. ‘His brothers would never let him get away with it. He would have to lose the ‘gay’ rap and get on track towards integration like everyone else.’ Awesome.

Paul continued: ‘We work especially hard to discern the emotional maturity of students, to ascertain that they are growing in their capacity to form healthy relationships with both men and women. They need to wrestle with what it means to make a fruitful commitment to celibacy. That may mean taking a break from the seminary in order to figure out what they really want. Seminary should be a place where people come and go. We pray that some will return, better able to say ‘yes’ to God in a healthy, fruitful way that will endure.’

What Paul emphasized was that seminary is not just about individuals discerning a lifetime commitment to the Church but also the Church discerning a lifetime commitment to them.

For the first time, I witnessed the fruit of scandal. From the fire of abuse, a repentant Church is emerging. She is at once sorrowful for her sin and zealous to glorify Jesus, each member doing its part to become one chaste bride.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Humble Priest

Humble King

I sent out a series of questions to my favorite priests and Rev. Msgr William J King who runs a Living Waters group in his parish responded. Excellent priests exist and deserve our prayers.

“Dear Andrew, your email is a source of grace. Thank you.  It is a blessing for me to be spiritual director for a few priests and to work with the accountability group that you have met.  These inform my responses, below…

1. How has the ongoing exposure of your fellow priests impacted you?

I grieve for them, for many priests are disillusioned especially by a perceived absence of concern and fraternal encouragement from their bishops. Personally, I share that disillusionment and I am, frankly, angered by the dearth of leadership shown by our bishops.  I am different, I suppose, than most priests, since I spent 28 years in diocesan administration, with 24 of those years directly involved in these cases.

2. How can we the laity pray for you in this season?

Pray that we never lose confidence in a loving Father who called us to priesthood and sustains us in the likeness of His Son.  Pray that we never withdraw from being Christ to others, with confidence and hope and love instead of fear.

3. What for you is the worst aspect of this exposure? the best?

The worst aspect by far is the unrelenting, unremitting, unrepentant single-minded focus of the secular media on decades-old abuse within the Catholic Church, while turning a blind eye to current abuse in schools and other churches.  The obvious bias is ignored.  I wonder, where are the Catholic leaders who ought to be standing up publicly and pointing out this obvious and unjust focus?  Can anyone really and truly believe that abuse of minors, or inept handling of reports of abuse, occurred only in the Catholic Church and nowhere else?  Yet, this laser-like focus continues, without distinction between cases 40 and 50 years old, and cases today which are handled totally differently.  The unremitting reportage in this vein is having a clear impact on our people, even our most loyal parishioners, whose loyalty and confidence in the leadership of the Church is eroded by the constant reporting and repeating of stories involving old cases.

The best? I am completely confident that our loving Father will raise up saints in the midst of this crisis — saints to lead us into a new era of holiness and purity.  This crisis is also purging the Church of toxic clericalism, which starts with the implicit notion that priests and only priests should perform certain functions, and leads to a desire to focus on the institution of the Church rather than the people. This was one of the principal mistakes we made who were involved in handling these cases — we looked to the safety of the institution instead of feeling, truly feeling, the hurt and vulnerability of the survivors of abuse.

4. Might you give us keys you employ to stay present to Jesus and others amid what may be a new temptation to discouragement?

I beg the Father for the grace to see others as He sees them, not as I do.  When I offer the Mass, especially in holding the sacred body of Christ and His most precious Blood, I consciously call to mind the victims or survivors of abuse and pray that Our Lord unite their pain to His.

5. How have the rumors of a ‘gay’-infested curia impacted you? Is there a homosexual problem in the priesthood or do you perceive this to be a smear campaign?

The rumors are based on fact. My experience in diocesan administration has brought me into contact with this reality.  I am angered by this objectively, and yet I have seen the loneliness and isolation of priests in curial positions and other positions within the Church. At times I have given in to discouragement, to the point of entertaining (only briefly) the idea of pursuing a profession or career other than priesthood. The Father’s faithfulness calls me home as soon as discouragement enters my feelings, and I am grateful for that. I find myself refocusing my priestly ministry away from diocesan and Church matters and more toward individuals, and so I am extremely grateful for the spiritual direction in which I am engaged, and for ministries such as Living Waters in which grace is evidently overpowering the negativity.

6. As men not immune to temptation, has this crisis prompted you into finding new or renewed ways of ensuring clarity and accountability in your own commitment to chastity? Might you describe how you go about this?

I hear a renewed invitation to personal prayer and to prayer on behalf of brother clergy and for survivors of abuse. I find myself more ready to turn feelings and thoughts of impurity into intercessory prayers for victims of sexual abuse and pornography — a prayer for those whose purity was injured involuntarily..

7. Explain any risk you see in this season of priests fearing exposure for moral weakness and thus being more likely to hide from authority.

Priests are in fact reluctant to seek help from their bishops, fearing that self-disclosure will lead to removal from ministry. This fear, sadly, is based on actual action against priests who have self-disclosed and sought assistance in recovery.

8. How can priests best facilitate a culture of accountability and healing that will prevent sexual immoralities?

Priests must find other priests, and trusted laity, with whom they can be themselves: socialize, find enjoyment in healthy relationships, as well as discuss their own vulnerabilities.  Priests are, almost universally, lonely and overwhelmed by their inability to do everything they believe they must do in order to be “good” and effective priests.  This is a result of a misguided metric of what “success” means in priesthood: home visits made, classrooms visited, parish income, Mass attendance, hospital rounds, filling the obligation of the Liturgy of the Hours — when any of these fall, priests too often judge themselves to be failures and “self-medicate” their feelings of inadequacy through impurity, unhealthy relationships, pornography, or alcohol. This culture of equating overwork with success can be undone only by cultivating healthy and mature friendships within the priesthood and among laypeople. A healthy and life-giving prayer life follows, but I believe that it is the fruit of healthy and life-giving personal friendships, which can them model and promote a healthy friendship with God, and the embrace of a loving Father.

9. What good do you pray will result from this season of exposure?

A better-focused leadership in the Church, less concerned with the size and health of the institution than with the holiness of the people and faithfulness to the Father in abject dependence on His Providence.”

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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praying for priests

Radiance from the Ruins: Praying for Priests

What had been alien to me—a black-coated mystery, heady and aloof, men in rectories, celibate yet suspect—became engaging and vital through actual priests who loved me well. Priests I know possess an attuned compassion that has deepened my trust in Jesus through His Church. No priest has enough time and resource, yet his faithful ‘yes’ to me has been the occasion more than once where I’ve seen the Father multiply his loaf and fish many times over.

The priest brings a feast—he offers up the sacrifice of Jesus at the altar; he makes the Mass a real meal, the center of Catholic worship. Maybe that’s why some of the devoted defer to him slavishly, and become nearly infantile before his ‘power.’ Rather than treating him as an icon of the divine, they make him an idol.

The idol has fallen. He lies before us in pieces, a divided human being, poured out and bleeding, possibly infectious. Of course not all priests abuse; the majority has not. No matter. We don’t discriminate. Hit nearly every day by another stinking wave of abuse allegations, we wonder what lurks beneath every cassock. The brave collared servant racing through the airport or post office provokes our grim reaction: ‘I wonder what he’s hiding…’ He is no fool; he sees your mistrust. Wise priests offer that up to Jesus as a prayer for real victims.

Every priest today shares in the suffering of little ones sacrificed on the altars of demonized colleagues—both living and dead. They know what they represent to us in our disillusionment. They pray more; they take the hit.

Pray for them. They laid their lives down for this Church that we visit weekly at best. They live there. Do they not experience our shared disappointment in her many times over?

As I consider the prayer needs of priests, I see clay oil lamps with simple globes of glass. Might we first pray for the source of that light—Jesus—to be alive and well in every priest? Might we pray for a special unction in this season for each priest to ‘go boldly to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help him in his time of need’ (Heb. 4: 16)? His need for Jesus has never been greater.

Then we can pray about the projections of others upon his ‘lamp.’ In my prayers, I see dirt hurled at him, unholy judgments we fling upon a human being who deserves our respect until he proves unworthy of it. We sin against God’s servant when we assume the worst about him; we darken his globe like mud spattering a house or street light. Pray for Jesus Healer to make know to his heart any way he has been darkened from without, by groundless accusation. Pray also for the fresh washing of his globe by undiluted mercy—cleansing of the blood and water so that he is able to make Jesus known to others in a clear, undistorted way.

Then we can pray for his heart, his source, where he can welcome the Source and stay true and undivided in his moral life. These abuse scandals have revealed the vulnerabilities of priests to immorality—not just on the extreme end with children but with adults, with pornography, in their own fallen imaginations. Might we pray for a fresh humility—an inspired fire upon the sacrifice of his life, that might compel him to give account to wise friends and elders? No more Jesus alone—He invites us to share our divides with His members. Let us pray for priests to willingly discover new and challenging communities where they lead out in moral weakness, discover love as never before, and learn to refuse a host of counterfeits that breed in isolation.

Lastly, I ask that we pray for priests to discover a new impetus for sharing their humanity with us. Unspoken rules of ‘prudence’ have rendered most priests big on ‘teachiness’ and low on self-disclosure. Today we need the witness of how to live the truth-in-love; how do priests actually work out their integration as celibates? We all benefit from our leaders sharing a bit how they stay at once pure and open to Jesus’ members. Apart from well-worn prohibitions, what do we do with longings for love when there is no genital outlet? Pray for priests to wisely and candidly let us in a little to their process of sanctification.

As for the faithful who have fawned a bit too much over ‘father’ and who now are levelled by his cracked, clay foundation: pray for that priest. And repent of the childishness that made the jar an idol. He is just a man with a call that requires our prayers. We each have a priest in us that needs to arise on behalf of our beloved priests. I for one want to help them shine.

‘We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side…struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might also be revealed in our body’ (2 Cor. 4: 7-10).

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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priestly abuse

Grieving the Divides

In her face, I witnessed my sorrow and somehow could feel it. My friend conveyed simple pain over her (natural) father’s ongoing failures, a man she wanted to love but could not trust. All she could summon was pity. And now grief as she witnessed him unraveling before her eyes.

Strange. Since this prayer/fast for a Church shackled by abuse, I have been overcome by grief, a loss I cannot shake. Outrage over cover-ups and talky inaction has given way to disappointment, an abiding sadness for her, this Church, MY Church for whom I left all other churches in order to know her more. For she is the first and last and most coherent champion of a culture of life for persons– from conception to childhood through puberty onto adulthood– whose gendered gifts can become fruitful. And she has been taken hostage by a filthy few. Predators in the mercy pool have polluted the waters for many. I grieve. A recent survey claims up to one-third of all American Catholics are considering leaving the Church.

Yet she is still my Church, my champion, founded on the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as her cornerstone (Eph. 2: 20). Called and capable of integrating lives, her abusers have divided them. I recall a conversation with a young man cut down in his most formative years as a pre-adult by a former colleague of mine who, in the true meaning of diabolical (Gr. ‘to tear apart’), divided this boy right down the middle. Before jail time, a wolf tore into this sheep and rendered his body alien to him, a foe. In our meeting, the young man acted vagrantly. Instead of helping him secure a masculine home, that minister made him destitute.

So I grieve. I cannot give that young man back his dignity. He distrusts me as much as he does his predator. Unable to make him ‘right’, I grieve. I grieve for all the men who as teenagers were divided by priests. According to the John Jay Report, 3-6% of American priests allegedly abused 11,000 children, 78% male teens, between 1950 and 2002.

I ask God to make my grief good. Maybe He will do so by channeling inaction into prayer. I can lament along with the Psalmist: ‘We have become the reproach of our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us…Do not hold our iniquities against us; may Your compassion come quickly, for we are brought very low.’ (PS 79: 4, 8)

And we can ask Jesus to raise senior shepherds who are lion-hearted, courageous in their discipline of spiritual sons under their charge. 1 Samuel 2-4 describe better than I can the consequence of fathers not curbing their kids’ bad behavior. If you recall, Eli’s sons acted immorally in the temple, neither respecting God nor the people they served (1 S 2:12, 22); these young men did not heed their father’s warning and kept on defiling God’s house. As a result, God withheld His blessing from the Israelites and they suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Philistines (4:10), including the death of Eli’s sons.

Swift discipline helps us all. How else can trust be regained? As we pray for its outworking, we do well to remember that Jesus created this Church in His image, not ours. I’m grateful. A visiting priest joyfully asked us: ‘Aren’t you glad your ways are not God’s?’ Utterly, I thought. This padre grabbed my attention, held it.

Jesus’ way for the Church isn’t mine. This same priest reminded us that ‘faith was imputed to Abraham as righteousness who believed even though he did not quite understand what was happening.’ He closed: ‘Aren’t you grateful for the riches of our Church? Aren’t you glad to be Catholic?’ Taken aback, I saw the light of Jesus beaming on his 80-something-year-old face and I smiled, nodded within then returned to prayer for her healing.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Unflinching Mercy for the Abused

‘The beauty of the cathedral does not oppose the cross but is its fruit.’ – Cardinal Ratzinger

The other morning in prayer I was startled by the image of a priest opening his vestments in a cathedral and abusing a boy. The act was as ugly as the building was beautiful. I felt rage: the boy was sacrificed on the altar of another’s perversion, and this, before the Lord! Ordained to protect, the priest destroyed. And the man over him—a bishop—protected the building, not the boy.

I wanted to race from the image and lose myself in mystery. But I could not. I asked God why and He seemed to say: ‘That boy relives the nightmare constantly. I give you a share in it. Money cannot heal him; His restoration hinges on whether or not he is believed and that priest defrocked, along with any bishop who covered for him.’

I could not flinch and turn away from the boy’s nightmare. To be unflinching means ‘to not be frightened of, or not to not try to avoid something dangerous…to look and describe something directly.’

I vented my anger in prayer and asked for justice to be served at the recent US Bishops’ gathering in Baltimore; I prayed for ways that the bishops might censure themselves (apparently, this question will be taken up by a global gathering of bishops in February.) Please pray for this crucial issue: unless bishops are disciplined, there is no restoration for victims.

I realized that day was the Feast of the Lateran Basilica, one chance a year for the Church to honor the cathedral of the pope in Rome, a mere building but one that conveys an essential about this Church built on apostles and prophets who point us to the new Jerusalem. I felt conflicted; in our abuse crisis, I am tempted to disdain the Church for what I fear hides beneath her ancient creeds and cloaks.

And yet this rather minor feast has always been my favorite day of all. Why? As I reread the Scriptures—Jesus on fire for the temple, incinerating its robbers (John 2), and the river flowing from the temple to ‘make all things new’ (Ezek. 47), I remembered: this is the Church I love—zealous in truth, and boundless in its river of life flowing from the Cross at altar—the water levels rising and my friends and I growing as trees along the banks of this holy river, our fruit becoming food for the hungry, our leaves anointed to heal the broken (v. 12).

Might this be the hour, O holy and merciful Jesus, when You re-enter Your house and expel those who crush the most vulnerable then lie about it? Might You then stir the waters and release a greater flood of healing for those most in need of it? May those devoured by robbers in Your house be restored by Almighty mercy.

May we not cease to pray and act until this is accomplished for the abused. Through the fruit of Your suffering—the healing flood rising in our midst—might the beauty You intend for Your house be restored, first for them then for all.

‘I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest, until He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of all the earth.’
(Isaiah 62: 6, 7)

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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