Monday, May 25, 2009

Wounds reopened

“And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matt. 18: 5-6, NAB)

On May 20, 2009, an investigative commission, created by the Irish government, issued a report on child abuse in Church sponsored institutions. It covered a period from 1930 to about 1990. ( It is reported to be a list of horrific acts perpetrated against children by both clergy and religious. In this country of Ireland, a nation with the most visible Catholic identity, a dark side is once again revealed about the Church; once again, Church leaders seek to protect the reputation of the institution rather than the safety of children.

As a Catholic in the Archdiocese of Boston, MA, this story opens old wounds. It brings back memories of reading the reports in the Boston Globe about the clergy abuse scandal, seeing the stories constantly on the local TV news. I have listened to survivors of clergy abuse relate their stories, one time at a permanent diaconate formation class. Each time I felt a great sadness for the victims, and great anger at those bishops who let these horrors continue. Yet, I never felt angry enough to leave this Church, as I said to someone who asked why I stay, I am Catholic to my core, to my bones.

What I want to see is the Catholic Church to address these issues of child and sexual abuse honestly and make reform. Some feel that this is beyond the ability or will of Catholic bishops; many want to see bishops prosecuted in the courts. Many want the current hierarchical structure torn down completely. I am not so radical, but what I want to see is the laity demand that the institutional culture be changed from one of monarchial leadership, to one of servant leadership. Bishops need to learn that they are shepherds of people, not institutions. They must be open to dialogue with their people, to hear their concerns and fears and act on them. They need to earn the trust of their communities, by serving them, not ruling them.

We laity can never let our bishops forget what has happened; always remind them that people come first. At the same time, we must respect our bishops and priests, for the offices they hold, and remember that in this country, a person is innocent until proven guilty. As difficult as it may be, we are all called to have compassion and charity to all, saint and sinner alike.

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