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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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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.

MORE:

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

 

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False Mercy

Join us today at 3pm (CST) as we intercede for loved ones in need of God’s mercy.

False Mercy

40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012 – Day 7

The great sins of the world are superficial wounds on My Heart, but the sins of a chosen soul pierce My Heart through and through… (1702)

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness… (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Father, grant us clarity as to what pleases You and what does not. Thank you for the clear witness of Scripture and the Church. Help us to discern ‘blind guides’; most importantly, help us to discern our own tendency to conform the truth to our lusts. We especially pray for Christians caught in lies of their own design. Set them free before it is too late. Let the truth set us free for Mercy.

For the complete 40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012, click here to download.  For a paper copy, United States only, please call Desert Streams Ministries at (866) 359-0500. 

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry from the diary is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com

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No More Angels?

As I begin my 54th year (my birthday was January 13th), I am aware of a tendency to lock into familiar ways and to resist what is peculiar, untested by my experience.

Wisdom? Nah…More likely the hardening of the arteries, the closing of the womb, that menopausal tendency in both men and women to rebuff angels and resist the new life they announce.

I pray for the simple, elastic faith of Mary, Jesus’ mother; I marvel at her response to angel Gabriel. His announcement that she will become the mother of God troubles her, but she believes it. All she wants to know is: ‘How will this come about?’ She trusts God, even though it means yielding to Him at the most personal and vulnerable manner conceivable (pun intended).

I relate more to Zechariah who was also visited by Gabriel. The old man’s response to becoming a father so late in life? Prove it to me! ‘How can I know this?’ Time had clogged his heart valves, gave him a spiritual vasectomy. We know from scripture that religious disciplines and duties had kept Zechariah righteous. Such rituals may have also made him rigid, controlling, suspect of dreams and angels and heavenly babies leaping in wombs and saving the earth.

Religion did not necessarily incline him to new life; you could say that its rules gagged him, rendered him mute, unable to grant God a humble ‘yes’, let alone a song of praise for His sovereign control!

I take note, and consider who will define me more as I age—Mary or Zechariah? Both were afraid of an unfathomable future, but while the old man wanted proof, Mary surrendered, in fear and trembling, trusting that God was good, His will fruitful regardless of its cost.

God is patient and merciful to those like me whose hearts and wombs bear the normal scars of age—unhealed wounds, losses yet to grieve, disappointments that tempt one to unbelief.

It is a new year. Let us pray together on my 54th in the spirit of Isaiah 54, that our youth would be renewed, a marvel of elastic, expectant faith.

“‘Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of she who has a husband,’ says the Lord. ‘Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen the stakes’…For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is His Name–the Holy One is Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth. ” (Is 54:1,2,5)

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The Kingdom Among Us

I have never been quite comfortable with Luke 17:21 : ‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’ Here Jesus responds to Pharisaic questions about the nature of His Kingdom. His answer seems to feed that highly individualized, American approach to life: trust no-one, rely only upon the God-within. When the Kingdom around us falters, we pack our Bibles, stifle our wounds, and carry God-with-us into the formation of yet another ‘church’.

Does Luke 17:25 reduce His Kingdom, that swirl of holy creativity in which the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the mute shout for joy, to the kingdom of self? Then I read that the Greek word for ‘within’ can be translated ‘among’. A light dawned: the ‘Kingdom is among us’ points to the whole Body of Christ in which each must bring his/her gift and offer it to others.

In other words, the Kingdom is not mostly an interior gift that we contain and brood over as a mystery; the Kingdom is a powerful current of divine gifts that He intends to give one to another. That means that we first must gather, in expectation. And then it means that each one must do his/her part by giving the gift. It may be an encouragement, a word of knowledge or wisdom; it could be a type of discernment or prophecy, maybe a leading to pray for another’s healing.

The point is: the Kingdom ‘among us’ calls us out of ourselves and into the one Body where He dwells. It is a level playing field where all are receptors and extenders of God’s Kingdom gifts. God gives His gifts freely to all who seek His face and the good of His Church.

He loves to act through us. Imagine how much He loves His broken bride! Does He not want to act to extend His Kingdom rule over and through her? That means we each must do our part, attending to His leadings and activating them by releasing a word, a prayer, some act of Kingdom encouragement to the one next to us.

Last week, amid all the holiday hustle, a group of us paused for a few hours just to listen to His voice and to pray for one another. The Spirit of His Kingdom was sweet and strong among us. Words of confirmation, clarity, and gentle challenge moved among us; it was a feast of God-with-us, the Spirit brooding and depositing His rich life in us. I ate then and am still savoring now the riches I received that day as we discovered afresh His Kingdom among us.

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