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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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The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

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Jesus: A Fountain of Living Water

Day 9 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘O inexhaustible spring of Divine Mercy, pour Yourself out upon us! Your goodness knows no limits. Confirm , O Lord, the power of Your mercy over the abyss of our misery, for You have no limits to Your mercies.’ (819)

The Old Testament streams of mercy converge in the New Testament and well up into a fountain of ‘living water’. Jesus is that fountain. From Him flow rivers of Life that make the unclean pure, the weak strong, and the broken whole. Jesus embodies Mercy. He releases Mercy to sinners, manifesting the truth that ‘those who were far away from God have been brought near’ to Him (Eph. 2: 13).

One barrier for sinners in relation to a Holy God is shame. The emotion of separation and inferiority, shame reminds the soul of its sinful distance from Him. It functions like a ‘shame-coat’, repelling even good expressions of ‘living water.’

Jesus offers this ‘liquid love’ for the first time early in John’s Gospel (Chapter 4). He encounters a woman steeped in shame. Her shame was two-fold. First, she had experienced much ‘social shame’ due to her ethnicity. Samaritans were scorned in that day, especially by Jews. Originally an ethnic hybrid of Jewish and Canaanite blood, Samaritans reminded Jews of the shame they incurred by intermingling with a forbidden culture.

Jews looked down on Samaritans with squinting eyes. Such social shame is evil–it has its source in the fallen traditions of men, not in God’s heart. But it can be just as powerful. That woman would have thought Jesus had nothing but scorn for her, just as a man or woman struggling with same-sex attraction might fear the bullying of an angry peer or preacher.

But the Samaritan had a second type of shame as well, the shame we feel when we go outside of God’s will. This woman had many sexual partners in her past and one in her present. She knew that Jesus was a holy man; she knew also that she was not holy, sexually-speaking. Such shame may have tempted her or us to turn away from holy ones for fear of incurring rejection, condemnation, etc.

In John 4, Jesus turns to the Samaritan woman, and to us, in our shameful state. Each of us is a mixture of both good and bad shame. We have sinned, and we have been sinned against by those motivated by ungodly traditions of shame.

Jesus makes it clear in John 4 that the cure for both types of shame is in His ‘living water.’ Only Mercy can dissolve the ‘shame coat’ that tempts us to resist Love. He says to us all: ‘The water I give you will become in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ (Jn. 4: 13)

Here Jesus is prophesying two future events: the flood of Blood and Water released at Calvary, and the Holy Spirit released at His Resurrection. (Jn. 19: 34; Jn. 20: 22)

He releases to this woman a foretaste of this flood of Mercy. What matters here is how tender His Mercy is toward this shameful one, and how powerful is His Mercy to dissolve that shame and enter into her depths. Shame is no match for Almighty Mercy!

He is not content with us just knowing cerebrally about His Love; He wants us to partake of Mercy at the most deeply personal level until it springs up within us a Fountain of Life.

‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ (Jn.7: 37, 8)

‘Jesus, remind us of how You stoop down to sinners in order to raise us up. Remove the shame that bars us from Your Presence. We pray for all who still hide from You in shame; let ‘Living Water’ flow to them. Use Your servants to make known to the shamed how You draw near to them in order to set them free.’

 

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Faithful Mother for an Adulterous Generation

Day 3 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘Rejoice, for you are closer to God in His mercy than a baby to its mother’s heart.’ (423)

Our father is the perfect parent; He combines and surpasses the best virtues of both mother and father. Just as natural parents complement each other in creating children and loving them well, so does the Father’s Mercy involve two intertwining dimensions that bear fruit in us: one masculine, the other feminine.

Understanding these two expressions of Mercy can help create a more whole view of God. What results is a more whole soul in us! The fullness of Mercy facilitates our faithful response to Him, and thus our freedom to live as He intends.

John Paul ll defines ‘hesed’, or ‘steadfast love’, as the more masculine dimension of the Father’s Mercy. It is defined by dependability, stability, and a resolute commitment to keeping its promise. ‘Rachamim’, the second most common word for Mercy in the Old Testament, connotes a tender compassion that God deeply feels for His afflicted ones. It comes from the root word ‘rechem’, or ‘mother’s womb’.

God deeply feels for us in the way that a whole mother aches for the well-being of her child. The intimate communion of mother/child grants her an intuitive grasp of its needs, and suffering.

My repentance from homosexuality turned on the tears of my good mother as I boldly told her of my ‘gay self.’ Her ache expressed itself in sweet ‘rachamim’ for her afflicted son. My good wife’s aspirations and sorrows are tied to the status of our children. Their rising and falling are hers; in this, I complement her well by advocating for the Father’s ‘hesed’ as our ‘objective’ hope for their safe return.

Out of His rachamim, God moves powerfully to heal those who have suffered since infancy from a breach in mother’s love (often entirely unintentional on the mother’s part.) I will never forget the first conference we sponsored in Los Angeles with Leanne Payne. She taught movingly on how God’s ‘mother-heart’ goes forth in the power of the Holy Spirit to unite itself with the adult-‘child’ and so heals him/her.

As Leanne spoke, a woman coming out of lesbianism moved haltingly toward the podium and quietly asked Leanne to pray for her. She did. God sent forth His mighty ‘rachamim’ and performed a miracle of Divine Mercy in our midst, healing the young woman at the source of her ‘mother-hunger’.

‘The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all that He has made.’ (PS 145:8, 9)

‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; you are ever before Me.’ (IS 49: 15, 16)

‘Humble us, O God, by the tender and mighty nature of Your ‘rachamim’. You feel deeply for our needs, and ache over our afflicted state. Would You move us with the Mercy that moves Your heart? Grant us a share in Your Mercy. May our prayers for the release of Mercy promote healing action. Bring the unfaithful home! Transform them through Your (and our) faithful love.’’

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Father of Mercy for an Adulterous Generation


Day 2 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘Apart from God, there is no contentment anywhere.’ (42)

A painful fact of life for my twenty-something children is the sexually immorality that defines their generation. If not subject to parents who failed to keep their commitment to each other, they are steeped in a culture that celebrates the relentless erosion of holy boundaries. These are a people so scorched by porn they no longer feel the burn; these are ‘friends with benefits’, open to the sexual possibility in any amicable union (with either gender). This is the first generation to disavow marriage while championing the rights of gays to do so.

These are a people in need of Mercy. They need a Father who keeps His commitment of love to them even as they discover their inability to stay true to Him. ‘Steadfast love’, or ‘hesed’, is the main word used for mercy in the Old Testament. It usually applies to the Father’s covenant with Israel. There, the Father exercises His mercy by upholding HIs love and commitment to the nation that betrayed Him. Continuously.

‘Hesed’ keeps giving, reaching, and believing in the object of one’s love. In divine mercy, God vows to make a way for unfaithful ones to become faithful through the gift of His love for us.

That does not mean that ‘hesed’ is easy for the Father. For Him to so love His world only to be betrayed by that world breaks His heart! The Scripture opens us to His jealous, passionate love for the wayward nation. When Israel would pursue other gods, the Father likened them to lovers, her own heart to an adulteress’.

She broke her vows to Him, over and over, often resulting in the sexual immorality that defined the fertility cults surrounding Israel. Through the prophets, God would speak with vengeful passion toward the holy nation: ‘Rebuke her, for she is not my wife…let her remove the adulterous look on her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts…I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery. Their mother has been unfaithful…’ (Hosea 2:2, 4, 5)

Such anger would then evolve into ‘hesed’, the merciful promise that God would make a way for her to return to Him. ‘I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her…There I will make the Valley of Achor [judgment] a door of hope…in that day, you will call me ‘my husband’, not ‘my master’…I will betroth you in love and compassion (hesed); I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.’ (Hosea 2: 14, 15, 16, 19, 20)

Adultery of heart, both spiritually and sexually, breaks His heart. And from that heart flows ‘hesed’, the steadfast mercy that stands in the gap for us. It works. We have a faithful Father who makes a way for us to return to Him in spite of the adulterous flood around us and in us.

My 22-year-old son Sam, no stranger to false gods and goddesses, rejoices in being won over by ‘hesed’. ‘I don’t want to be anywhere else but in His Presence. Nothing else satisfies me like He does…’

‘They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them besides streams of water, on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim, my firstborn son.’ (Jer. 31:9)

‘Make Your steadfast love known to us, O God. Let Mercy flow from us to unfaithful ones. How can we refuse to give mercy away? Mercy liberated our faithful response to You in the first place. Your ‘hesed’ became ours.’

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Merciful Rest

Running hard in the jungles of Venezuela or on the pampas of Argentina (or crazy lost anywhere in Europe) may sound fun but actually it is exhausting. And so I was upon returning home after a particularly arduous trip.

Annette and I took a few days off—no release; I increased my sleep each night—no release. Everything seemed hard and a hassle; even normal sources of connection and renewal seemed more a drain than a gift. I was approaching burn-out (the experts call it ‘pre burn-out’), and it scared me.

I went back into counseling with a trusted Christian and began to see that my works for Jesus were overtaking my devotion to Him. Slowly, steadily, I was spending less time in His Presence and more time tending to the needs of my large family and the growing global family of ‘Living Waters’ ministers.

The Lord turned and looked at me the way He did Peter after the apostle’s third denial. Like Peter, I wept bitterly. (Lk 22:62) I had made a vow to the Lord years earlier that nothing would come between us, that I would wake up every day and seek His face, regardless of other demands. I denied Him that. My works for Him had overtaken my devotion to Him.

I had to return to Him. That began a rather long process of exploring fresh ways to pray. I discovered contemplative prayer, the quiet prayer in which one simply rests in His Presence, calling to mind and heart only His unfailing love. In that way, God works His way in us, without a lot of words, as we seek only to rest in Him.

I spent anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 minutes each morning just gazing on His goodness. (Meditating on the cross and a few choice scriptures helped out here.)

To be honest, I was so tired that’s all I could do—no interceding for the ‘10-40 window’ or racing through the Old Testament for this haggard saint!

I re-entered the rest of what He had done for me. I fulfilled the exhortation ‘to make every effort to enter the rest’ (Heb. 4:9-11), and discovered there was a Sabbath rest for me. If I did not draw constantly from that merciful stream, then I risked ‘falling into disobedience’ (v.11).

That disobedience involved my works outpacing my devotion to Him, and could disqualify me from God’s call—to grow in strength and wisdom as I keep digging ditches around the globe.

I found rest as I sent down my roots into this mercy stream. I could draw from it at the beginning of the day, and throughout the day, as I paused to consider what He had done for me.

He restored my soul. The water levels rose as I made the little daily effort to be still and receive His grace.

‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me besides quiet waters;
He restores my soul.’ (PS 23: 2, 3)

‘In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.’
(Is. 30:15)

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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