|This year, I celebrate 25 years of being a priest. I have been blessed to serve the Lord and his people. I love priesthood, I love the many ways that people have invited me into their lives. These past couple of days, however, I have felt sucker punched. Listening to the pain of survivors of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania has been gut-wrenching. My heart bleeds for those who have had the strength to come forward with courage and dignity, and speak of their abuse. My heart bleeds as well for those survivors who bear their pain in silence, unable or unwilling to speak about the unspeakable. I ache for their families and friends who walk with the pain of those who have been abused, but can only walk so far, they cannot understand a survivor’s daily reality.
I grieve for those who came forward and were not believed, those who were believed but were silenced, shamed or blamed, and those whose offenders were left in positions to harm again, or moved around the Commonwealth while their victims with shattered lives were discarded by those in authority. They were left like “sheep without a shepherd.” May God have mercy on those who had the power to be part of the healing, and instead only increased the pain. They were not only negligent, they were complicit with Evil.
I have been angry, frustrated, hurt, and challenged over the last few days. I have felt betrayed, I have known contempt, I have screamed in silence during prayer. I have asked God how he wants me to change my life. I have asked God not to let me be complacent. We have complied with the Archdiocesan guidelines for screening of employees and volunteers, with training people to recognize boundary issues, for forming our young people to be alert to the signs of abuse in their ministries, and providing family life instruction on child and youth safety. But that is not enough. We need to be ever-vigilant in providing a safe and welcoming place for our children and youth.
I know that so many of you have the very same jumble of emotions. We share a rage at the actions of hierarchy, we feel the pain of a loss of innocence, and we wonder where God is in all of this. We feel that the Church that we all loved somehow failed to love us back. These are, sisters and brothers, difficult, difficult times. And at times, the pain is unbearable. Betrayal has robbed us of our trust.
Let me say a word about Fr. John, his classmates ordained less than ten weeks and all of our younger priests. My heart goes out to them. It is difficult to be the punchline of late-night comics’ humor, of not being given the benefit of the doubt when you encounter someone, of being challenged in a disdainful way when you don’t deserve it. We are called to accompany angry people as well, especially when some of our bishops and priests are at the root of the anger.
To the parishioners of St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist, I look forward to joining in prayer with you for those who are survivors of clergy abuse. I look forward to having our voices come together in a call for accountability and working in whatever way I can to achieve that goal. I look forward to standing in solidarity with Archbishop Lori as he leads us in healing, reconciliation, and reform. Most of all, I look forward to a day when there is no sheltering of abusers and an end to abuse.