Inspired by Bishop Robert Barron’s acclaimed Letter to a Suffering Church, a reader was moved by These Stone Walls to post this reply at the Word on Fire Institute.
- Editor’s Note: On the Feast of the Holy Innocents TSW reader Dilia E. Rodriguez published some inspired commentary at the Word on Fire Institute. Father Gordon MacRae is postponing his annual New Year post by one week in order to start the year at These Stone Walls with this spiritually empowered writing re-posted with permission of the author.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and to me it offers symbols for the crisis in the Church.
First, let me say that, as so many others, I am moved by the impassioned efforts of Bishop Robert Barron to stop Catholics from leaving the Church. His heart and soul are on fire with the love of Jesus, of His Church and of His People.
I never thought of leaving, and it is not just “to whom shall we go?” It is that God is LOVE, and as one saint, whose name I cannot recall, said, “LOVE is not loved.” I see the current scandal as stark evidence that LOVE is not loved. So my reaction is that I want to love God, I want to love Jesus, as I have never loved Him before, with my whole being.
I want to consider (… think aloud … pray aloud …) three points: the devil’s masterpiece, evangelization at this time, and the call for saints.
Bishop Barron convincingly describes the sexual abuse scandal as exquisitely designed by the devil. He shows the horror that attends the sexual abuse of young people by priests, and the cover-up of these abuses by bishops. Whether or not it is seen as the devil’s masterpiece, this is what is described almost universally as the entirety of the sexual abuse scandal, by the mainstream media, by the Catholic media, by attorneys general and others.
But there is more to the devil’s masterpiece. There is a mirror image that remains invisible to most. The Father of Lies surely can use lies in this masterpiece of masterpieces. In this mirror image the accused priests are innocent, and the ones who claim the abuse are the abusers. In this mirror image bishops disclose lists of names of priests who have not been proven to be abusers. At this time of anti-Church fervor, a “credible” accusation is one that cannot be proven beyond all doubt to have been impossible.
So two abuses coexist: the visible one, the sexual abuse of young people by priests; and the invisible one, the abuse of innocent priests by those who falsely claim their abuse.
In the accused innocent priests Jesus is living His Passion. Pilate said, “I find no guilt in him.” There is no evidence against many of the accused priests. Jesus stood wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. The chief priests and the guards cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him.” Pilate tried to release him, but the crowd insisted, “Crucify him!” Bishops may want to do the right thing, but they cave in to the pressure and they crucify innocent priests; they remove them from the ministry to which God called them. Bishops cave in to the pressure of those who ask cynically “What is truth?”, and do not listen to the One Who is TRUTH.
The massacre of the holy innocents captures in symbol the two coexisting abuses. Herod’s killing of the innocent children represents the killing of innocent faith of the young who have been abused by priests. The way of Herod, to kill the many to ensure killing the One, is the way that has been adopted to assuage the anger and fears of the crowd and the media. So Herod’s killing of the innocent children also represents the destruction of the lives of innocent priests without
compelling evidence to the contrary. Both are very grievous abuses.
A mirror adds much light where there is light; the mirror-image abuse deceptively intensifies the dark evil of the abusive priests.
What can I do, we do, the bishops do, in response to the devil’s masterpiece of masterpieces? Absolutely nothing. Jesus said it, “Without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) But He said, “Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit.” Only Jesus can respond to the devil’s masterpiece of masterpieces.
This time of great scandal is the Olympics of Evangelization. The Gospel is not just for intellectual discussions or for run-of-the-mill problems. It is only the full power of the Gospel that can cope with the immensity of this scandal.
The response of Jesus cannot be implemented by the weekend Catholic “athletes.” After the recent EWTN / Real Clear poll, Professor Robert George of Princeton University noted: “So even if you take the most devout Catholics – those who believe all of what the Church teaches or most of what the Church teaches, only 66% of those believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.” Clearly, an overwhelming majority of the laity can in no way be part of the response of Jesus. They are way out of shape.
The response of Jesus is the response of His Olympic team, the living saints, whom Bishop Barron and Benedict XVI point out as the great evangelizers; those who remain in Him, and He in them.
God is LOVE. Jesus said, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE.” In the mystery of Jesus, LOVE, TRUTH, and LIFE are synonyms. There can be no love without truth. There can be no life without love. Only Jesus can love both the abused and the abuser. Only Jesus can restore their lives. Only Jesus, the WAY, can reject the way of Herod. Only Jesus… through those who remain in Him and He in them.
Bishop Barron wrote (p. 97): “Above all, we need saints, marked by holiness of course, but also by intelligence, an understanding of the culture, and the willingness to try something new.”
Under “intelligence” and “understanding of the culture” should come a realization that the moral relativism of this age, the pervasive misinformation in the news (e.g. huge pro-life marches become invisible), the readiness to attack the Church, etc., do not foster an accurate portrayal of the scandal in the Church.
CONDITIONED BY THE MEDIA
If in trying to solve a problem, or to understand a phenomenon, we ignore whole classes of facts and observations, we have no possibility of success: we will not solve the problem or understand the phenomenon.
Even though way back I realized that the real abuses of minors by priests could be exploited by others against the Church, I was still conditioned by the media. When the Pennsylvania Attorney General report came out, my knee-jerk reaction was “Here we go again.” But there was almost nothing new in it, and truth and fairness may not necessarily be its hallmark.
Jesus said: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). A saint marked by intelligence and understanding of the culture should eagerly seek to be well- informed. This means seeking to hear voices that are almost drowned out, such as “A Weapon of Mass Destruction: Catholic Priests Falsely Accused”; Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast; Men of Melchizedek; A Ram in the Thicket; The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights ; Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories.
I began to see the magnitude of the mirror-image scandal when I accidentally discovered the blog “These Stone Walls” . It is the blog, published with the help of some friends, of Father Gordon J. MacRae, a falsely accused priest who has been in prison for 25 years. When the “hour had come,” Jesus prayed to the Father for those the Father had given to Him, “Consecrate them in the truth.” With a plea deal, Father MacRae could have been out of prison after one year. But he is consecrated to the Truth, and did not lie. For that, he got a life sentence.
Of his case Father Richard John Neuhaus wrote: “You may want to pray for Father MacRae, and for a Church and a justice system that seem indifferent to justice.”
The scandal of the Church is a colossal problem. The Dallas Charter of 2002 got some things right, but it also helped create the mirror-image scandal. Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote in 2004:
- “The church must protect the community from harm, but it must also protect the human rights of each individual who may face an accusation. The supposed good of the totality must not override the rights of individual persons. Some of the measures adopted [at Dallas] went far beyond the protection of children from abuse… [By their actions, the bishops] undermined the morale of their priests and inflicted a serious blow to the credibility of the church as a mirror of justice.”
He also added:
- “having been so severely criticized for exercising poor judgment in the past, the bishops apparently wanted to avoid having to make any judgments in these cases.”
If the priesthood is to be renewed, Jesus must be the foundation of this renewal. It must be His Way, His Love, and His Truth that renews the priesthood. The Church cannot be divided. It cannot call for saintly priests, while at the same time depriving some saintly priests of their civil and canonical rights when falsely accused.
Jesus, train me in Your ways. May I not utter empty words, and cry out “Lord, Lord.” May I love all the abused, all the abusers, and as Bishop Barron says, all fellow sinners. You have redeemed me through a Very Great Sacrifice. May I constantly beg You to make me Totally Yours.