Friday, May 20, 2011

A Reflection on the John Jay Study of Clergy Abuse

There has been a lot of buzz about the report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It contains the results of their five year study on the causes of the Roman Catholic clergy abuse scandal. The Jesuit magazine, “America,” has a report on the study as well as an analysis written by Kathleen McChesney. She was the first executive director of the Office of the Child and Youth Protection of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The findings of the study are not going to go down well with either conservatives or liberals in the Church. Leaders of clergy abuse survivor’s support groups are already denouncing the report as a whitewash, covering for the bishops.

I am not going to go over all the points that the study has covered, I encourage any readers to click on the links provided above. What I want to share is some of my seminary experiences that provide at some anecdotal support for the conclusions in the study.

I entered the seminary as a college student during the early 70’s. The minor seminary, for high school students, had been closed a few years earlier. As I recall, the only psychological testing we received was a fill in the dot’s test. It was nothing compared to the intense psychological testing I had to take a few years later, when I was admitted into the Franciscan Friars formation program; or when I entered the Permanent Diaconate formation program. Had the testing been more rigorous back then, it might have shown how socially immature I was at the time, and I might have received better assistance dealing with it. By luck or by the guidance of the Spirit caused me to realize I needed to seek a different path. But how many men were allowed to go on through to ordination, who were not ready to deal with the stresses of clerical life.

The seminary tried to provide some formation help on understanding how to live as a celibate priest; but it was not sustained, and did not occur frequently enough. Again, how many young priests entered a world undergoing the “sexual revolution,” ill prepared to deal with it.

Despite these obstacles, the study estimates that 4 to 6 percent of the clergy during the period examined, would become sexual abusers. Unfortunately, because of the way the bishops mishandled these cases of abuse, these abusers were allowed the opportunity to offend again and again. The bishops have a long way to go before they can win back the full trust of the laity, if that is ever going to be possible.

Monday, May 16, 2011

These Stories Make Me Nervous

There have been two stories in the Catholic news services that are making me very nervous. One is a Catholic News Service story that the National Catholic Reporter posted on their website. It was a report of the Vatican issuing instructions to local bishops, telling them to make access to celebrations of the Tridentine Mass easier. The other CNS story, posted on the blog “Pray Tell,” reports the comments made by a Vatican official. He stated that it is the Pope’s intention not to have two forms of the Mass existing side by side, but to merge elements of both into one liturgy

Now I grew up during the time when Vatican II was still in session. The Mass my family and I attended was the Tridentine Liturgy, and I mean attended, not participated in. We observed the liturgy being celebrated. When I became an altar boy, I memorized the liturgical Latin, but the words had no meaning for me. The Eucharistic liturgy that came out of the Vatican II renewal was meant for all the people of God. We, the laity, can actively participate in the celebration, worshiping in a language we can understand, being able to witness, to see the miracle that is the consecration; the Body and Blood of Our Jesus Christ, present on the altar.The current liturgy is not perfect, that is because of the human element. But this liturgy has become a very important part of my faith life. Now I understand why there are those who still find the Tridentine liturgy attractive, but for me, it does not represent my understanding of what it means to be Church, to be the People of God in today’s world.

So instead of trying to turn the clock back, we need to listen to the faithful, what are they looking for in the Eucharistic liturgy, and how can we improve it so that it will answer the spiritual needs of all the Church.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

St. Damien of Molokai

“This is how God inspired me, Brother Francis, to embark upon a life of penance. When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I had once become acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became a source of spiritual and physical consolation for me. After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.” (The Testament of Saint Francis of Assisi)

Today is the feast day of Saint Damien of Molokai (January 3, 1840 to April 15, 1889). A Belgium missionary priest, he volunteered to go out to the Hawaiian leper colony to serve the people who were under quarantine. Living conditions were poor, the lepers had lost hope, Father Damien did all he could to provide for both their physical and spiritual needs. Like St. Francis, he found them to be “a source of spiritual and physical consolation.” Eventually, he, himself, came down with the disease, and would eventually die from it.

St. Damien is an example of one who practiced “kenosis,” that self-emptying of one self for the sake of others, for the goal of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the fullest.

He has been one of my favorite holy persons. I have read one of the biographies of him, “Holy Man,” and have seen both a one man play on public television, and a movie based on his life. His life of service and sacrifice is both frightening and inspiring. Frightening is so much as what living the Gospel can demand of us; inspiring in so much as it shows what one person can do, with the help of God’s grace.

One final note, he would eventually receive help with his mission, among them would be a group of Franciscan sisters.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reflection For Evening Prayer - Feast of Saints Philip and James

This feast, which celebrates the memory of the two Apostles, Philip and James; who answered the call of Christ, comes close on the heels of the celebration of the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Many of us watched the liturgy being held in Rome, with thousands of people celebrating this wonderful event,

But as I have been looking at the photos of events in Rome, at all the pomp and ceremony, the Franciscan in me recalls something St. Francis of Assisi wrote for his followers;

“Let all of us, brothers, look to the Good Shepherd Who suffered the passion of the cross to save His sheep. The sheep of the Lord followed Him in tribulation and persecution, in insult and hunger, in infirmity and temptation, and in everything else, and they have received everlasting life from the Lord because of these things. Therefore, it is a great shame for us, servants of God, that while the saints actually did such things, we wish to receive glary and honor by merely recounting their deeds.” (VI Admonition)

The Church holds up individuals like Philip, like James, and like John Paul II; as examples of what it means to help build up the Body of Christ, what it means to take on the roles of service that the Holy Spirit is calling each one of us to fulfill.

So yes, let us celebrate the lives of the saints, but may they also inspire us to greater efforts to build up the Church, the Body of Christ; to lead lives of love, of hope, of service, that will bring the light of our Risen Lord to the world.