“Blessed is that servant of God who has confidence in priests who live according to the laws of the holy Roman Church. Woe to those who despise them. Even if they fall into sin, no one should pass judgment on them, for God has reserved judgment on them to himself. They are in the privileged position because they have charge of the Body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they receive and which they alone administer to others, and so anyone who sins against them commits a greater crime than if he sinned against anyone else in the whole world.” (Admonition XXVI, St. Francis of Assisi)
“Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.” (Art. 6b, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)
Once again, there are stories of sexual abuse committed against children by clergy. Once again, we hear of bishops, who were more concerned with the image of the Church, and who covered up these crimes. They failed to act to protect the children, and they allowed these priests to abuse again, and again …and again! Once again we hear of bishops and Vatican officials accusing the press of anti-Catholic bias, of blowing the stories out of proportion.
Whether or not there are some in the press who have an anti-Catholic agenda, the facts are that hundreds, if not thousands of children have been abused. We know that it has occurred in the United States; investigations have proven it has occurred in Ireland; and now there are revelations of crimes in Europe. And the bishops and Rome have failed to stop it.
What should be our response as Franciscans? We need to continue to honor the office of priest, and those who faithfully carry it out for the good of the People of God. They need our prayers, our love and support. But we need to demand, respectfully, but forcefully, that our bishops address this crisis. The victims of the past need to be cared for by the Church. Their abusers must be revealed, removed from ministry and turned over to the law. And bishops need to acknowledge their failure to act and be accountable for it. And finally, we the laity must call on our Holy Father and bishops to take those steps needed to insure that this never happens again.
It is going to be very hard to be a Catholic for coming months, maybe years. We need to continue to love those who are abandoned, to care for the poor, to faithfully live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as Saint Francis did. In that way, we will be participating in rebuilding the Church.