This is my homily for this weekend.
There are no words. This is one of those rare times where I really do not know what to say. I do not know how to make my words helpful. The revelations about Archbishop McCarrick, and the grand jury report from Pennsylvania were all too much to absorb. Having been a priest in New England witnessing the horrors of the revelations in Boston, I should been better prepared. Having seen priests removed from ministry for actions I knew nothing about, was really hard. Were it not for the unbelievable support from the people of God, I do not know what would have become of me.
But I thought, at least, we had moved forward. While in some ways we have, in other ways we have not. There was the failure of Archbishop Finn in Kansas City to report to authorities when he should have done so. There was Archbishop Myers who allowed a priest with credible allegations not only to continue in ministry, but to work with youth. There are other circumstances as well. But you get the point.
Despite these actions, I still (naively) thought that changes had been made. But the problem for many priests in 2002 was the fact bishops exempted themselves from oversight. To be fair, only the Vatican can discipline bishops. But it would have sent an important statement to the Vatican about the seriousness of the offenses. But I am really having a hard time with all of this.
But this is not meant to be about me. I will struggle. Many priests will. In fact, I believe most will. But as an official minister of the Church, I must begin with an apology. While it seems lame, I am sorry. To the victims of sexual abuse, especially those abused by clergy, I am sorry. To those who loved these persons victimized by clergy and had to watch them suffer, I am sorry. To those whose faith in God and in the Church has been profoundly shaken by these revelations, I am sorry.
I am also not ready to leap to suggestions about what should be done. I am still feeling like I have been punched in the gut. In some ways, I am still numb. But what I do know is this: the bishops of this country must recognize they have no credibility on this issue. The path forward must rightly be led by the laity. And if I had any immediate recommendations for bishops it would be to say that what is needed from you all now is public penance. It is to let go of power and prestige. It is to have the courage to do what is right.
But for me, the path now involves penance. While I am still working out what forms my penance will ultimately take, the first step for me is to read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. As I read about each victim, I pray for them. This is a very, very hard report to read. But I remind myself it is much harder for the victims who experienced it.
The ultimate path forward must be for holiness. Thankfully the Church is bigger than any one of us. The Church is about working to strengthen a relationship with Jesus, and it is his promise to always be with the Church that reminds me that there is hope. But I know I must become more holy. I must pray more. I must work to listen to the voice of God more. And I must focus on allowing God’s grace to work more completely in my life, so that I can be an authentic witness to the gospel. In short, I must become a better priest. There is no other way forward for the Church than holiness. And I am not there yet.
This is not easy. I still sin too much, though in his mercy God forgives me in the sacrament of confession even though I do not deserve it. And every time I sin, I contribute to the circumstances that make greater evil possible.