Date: Sunday, August 19, 2018
St. Paul admonishes the Ephesians: “Brothers and Sisters: ‘Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.’”
Paul’s letter, written long ago, cautions us, during evil days, to be mindful of how we live and to discern the will of God during difficult times. These words are timely as we absorb revelations of priest abuse of children and teens in our own diocese; when a Cardinal of the Church, after two financial settlements connected to his misdeeds, is allowed to continue as a prominent public figure with respect and influence; and now after the release of a grand jury report chronicling clergy abuse going back 70 years in Pennsylvania. Words are inadequate to express our shock and dismay.
Our hearts go out to the children and teens that suffered abuse, and now as adults, are coming forward to tell how deeply they have been harmed. The Diocese of Buffalo has established a Reconciliation and Compensation Program that offers a voluntary opportunity for healing, justice and monetary settlements. For victims of abuse it is a matter of validation. Bishop Malone states: “The Diocese of Buffalo is committed to learning from the sins and crimes of the past and from the ways they were handled. I share in the sense of horror at the magnitude of damage wrought on victims by ministers of the church who, of all people, should be eminently trustworthy. It is a different church now in the way we respond to any claims of abuse.”
How is church leadership, the hierarchy, responding to the crisis? Back in 2002, the U.S. Bishops adopted a Charter for Protection of Children and Young People setting “Essential Norms” in the creation of diocesan policies and procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse. When the diocese of Buffalo receives a complaint from a person who alleges abuse by a priest, Jackie Joy, the Victims Assistance Coordinator, prepares a report with the essential details of the complaint and informs civil law enforcement. A determination is made if the accusation is “manifestly false or frivolous” or “has semblance of truth.” If it is credible, an investigation ensues that respects both the victim and the accused with civil and canonical legal protections.
In the Church of the Annunciation, all employees including the pastor go through a criminal background check; sign a code of good conduct; and must attend a workshop and be current in Virtus – a program raising awareness of the dangers of abuse. Volunteers (catechists, youth ministers) working with children must do Virtus training. We have a responsibility to inform the proper authorities of anyone harming or threatening to harm another person or to harm him or herself.
We have been proclaiming and listening to chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St. John. Jesus nourishes us with the Bread of Life in the Liturgy of the Word and shares his very life with us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. When we receive Holy Communion, Christ is incarnate, in fleshed, in us. We are the mystical Body of Christ. The Body of Christ has been deeply wounded. We believe that on the cross Jesus takes on the weight of our sins in sacrificial and redemptive love. From his pierced body flow streams of blood and water -- sacramental life, healing and mercy.
Before we confess our faith and approach the Altar of the Lord, we pray for the gifts of God’s wisdom and courage to deal with issues of abuse that have sadly surfaced in the church and are present in society; we pray especially for the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical well-being of those who have been abused and for their families; we pray for church leaders to respond to this “summer of shame” with transparency and accountability, with great empathy for the victims, to include qualified independent lay persons on review boards and when investigating allegations; we pray for a renewal of trust within the betrayed community of faith; and we pray for those responsible for these grave sinful actions and for their families who must live with such dishonor. We pray in and through Christ Our Lord Amen.