First, let me apologize for my bulletin letters these past few weekends. I have been out of town on vacation, and I had to write them all before I left. The news of the PA Grand Jury of the abuse in the Church broke while I was away. Therefore, I did not have a chance to address it here in the bulletin letter. I do not want you to think I was ignoring it in any way. I did want to make sure that you had the opportunity to read the letter by Archbishop Lori as well as a the response of Pope Francis.
Each and every week, I sit and try to write a letter for the bulletin. Sometimes it is easy and the thoughts and words come quickly. Other times I am not sure what to write. This is one of those letters. This is perhaps the most difficult letter I have ever had to write as a pastor. In all honesty, I am not sure what words I can possibly write, but I will do my best and speak from my heart and not my mind.
The other week, the PA Grand Jury disclosed their findings about the long and ongoing abuse of children and vulnerable adults in the church over the years by priests in dioceses throughout PA. I sat and listened to it with tears in my eyes. I was hurting for the many victims who suffered through it and lived with those terrible memories and experiences for so many years. I was hurting for their families and friends who perhaps never knew or who knew and could not do anything about it. I sat and listened with anger. Anger at those priests who could do such horrible things to littles ones so trusting and innocent. Anger at those who covered it up for so long. I was left with so many questions without any answers. Where do we go from here? How strong is my /our faith to weather such a colossal storm of so great a magnitude? What can be said or done to rebuild faith and trust in the church that has been shaken to its core? How many will leave the Church or never come into the Church because of this?
I have always loved and been proud of being a priest. But after this news, it leaves me at times embarrassed and ashamed to admit to others that I am a priest. That pains me more than you know. I am not speaking selfishly, this isn’t about me, it’s about victims and those priests who harmed them and those who covered it up. But of course, this also leads many to paint ALL priests the same way. I want to cry out, “that isn’t fair, please don’t do that.” But I understand it. I feel badly for all the priests and bishops through more than 2000 years of the Church who have been so faithful to their vocation, who have done such good work and prayed so hard, now to be tainted and stained with the sins of other priests and bishops who were not faithful to their calling and vocation and responsibilities. From the bottom of my heart, I sincerely offer you my apologies on behalf of those priests and bishops who did what they did to innocent children.
Sadly, I don’t have any answers. I know it will take time and much prayer for healing and wholeness to happen. In light of the evil and horrors that have happened, change has happened and steps have been taken for the better to help prevent such atrocities from happening again. I know both the Redemptorists, as well as well as almost every diocese in the United States, now requires fingerprinting and background checks as well as training for the protection of children and vulnerable adults for every priest, deacon or religious. I know that any report of possible abuse, the Diocese and the police are immediately contacted and the case investigated. Although that change has happened for the better, it had to happen because of those who were harmed, and because of those who had harmed them and those who in turned either turned a blind eye or covered it up.
You know, whenever September 11th comes around each year, it is a day I dread. For me it recalls not only the countless loss of life that day, but for me it also recalls somethings else. To me it was the day life in the United States and the world changed. I am not sure if Aug. 14th, the day the PA report was released, is such a day in the life of the Church or not. I know for me, it sure feels that way. Perhaps that is a good thing.
So I close only asking and begging for your prayers. Prayers for those victims who need healing. Healing for those who have been harmed physically, emotionally and also spiritually. I thank those of you who have written words of support to us priests here at St. Mary’s and elsewhere. That means more than you can imagine in this difficult time. I can assure you that I as pastor and we as Redemptorists will continue to work and serve you faithfully as good priests. Please be sure of our prayers for you our parishioners. Please hold on to your faith and let us support and pray for one another. I close with a quote from the Gospel of Matthew: "If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”