The investigation revealed that over 300 priests, many of whom have since died or retired, and more than a thousand victims, although the numbers could be higher with unreported cases, were involved. For those that haven't, you can read the disheartening report here.
Some of the graphic and disturbing evidence indicate a conduct so despicable, reprehensible and outright evil, that it tarnishes the credibility of the Church, its clergy and culture, especially after the sex scandal that rocked the American institution in the early 2000's and bishops vowed to clean up (albeit, the great majority of the Keystone State cases were before 2000).
According to the probe, Church leaders, including Washington, DC Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who led the diocese of Pittsburgh from 1988-2006 and recently came under fire for another scandal, involving his predecessor retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was using his position to sexually abuse and exploit seminarians in the 1980's, conspired to cover up evidence, transferred accused priests and did everything possible to avoid scandal.
Cardinal Wuerl tried to defend his actions during an interview on FOX 5. However, his attempts haven't been well received in Catholic and secular circles. Many are calling for his resignation and/or immediate removal. And, to make matters worse, the Cardinal hired a PR firm to safeguard his reputation, which critics see as more of a corporate move than pastoral.
Granted, if the abuse went back to the 1940's and he took over in the late 1980's, there was a lot of damage already done. He may have been trying to clean up some of the mess in his own diocese and wasn't responsible for the five other diocese named.
Still, the report concluded he was complicit. In fact, he became embroiled in the cover up of very evil acts, including a child-porn ring and priests targeting and marking victims for abuse. It's sickening and disturbing for anyone, let alone a man of the cloth.
In any case, I can't defend the indefensible and won't even try.
I also won't pretend to put myself in the victims' or their family members' shoes. The closest I've come to sexual assault was a PE teacher when I was in fifth grade, who was known for grabbing young boys' buttocks whenever he got the chance. Every boy in school knew to stay away. It was a running joke, which is why cases such as Congressman Jim Jordan, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno and Cardinal Wuerl, who claim ignorance, can sound a bit suspect to say the least.
Men who have sacrificed their lives for Christ and His Church. Men who have a true vocation for serving God and do so courageously. Men who I've personally seen and sensed the sorrow they feel after visiting the sick and dying in the hospital, especially when the sick and dying are children and there is no consolation or words of encouragement to suffice for the parents, or consoling a husband, whose wife died after a long bout with cancer or a wife, whose husband died unexpectedly in an accident.
In our parish, we have two full-time and two part-time priests (shared with other parishes) for over three thousand registered families. The clergymen take turns celebrating three masses each day during the week, two more on Saturdays, plus confessions, baptisms and weddings. And, on Sundays, they celebrate five more masses.
In between, they visit hospitals, prisons and funeral homes, console grieving and/or distraught family members, counsel couples getting married or struggling in their marriages, lead catechetical instructions, organize charity drives, fund raising campaigns and special liturgical celebrations, meet with parishioners, manage staff, supervise over fifty lay ministries, field and address complaints, deal with the day-to-day problems that arise; like the church air conditioning breaking, leaky windows in the rectory, a flooded parking lot that needs repair, meeting contractors and repairmen and the financial obligations of the parish. Not to mention, make time to read the Bible, complete their daily prayers and prepare their homilies for masses. And, those are just the responsibilities I know of!
For all that, they usually get criticized for saying or not saying the right thing during their homilies, accused of being rude or dismissive when someone approaches them and they can't give them their undivided attention and blasted for making unpopular decisions. It's an unappreciated and thankless career choice; only, for them, it's not a livelihood. It is a calling.
I have a few priests who I consider friends and have invited to the house for dinner with my family. We've shared laughs together. We've shared good meals, conversation and wine together. And, we share a sense of responsibility and moral obligation to God, our parish and the Catholic faith.
|Under fire; Cardinal Wuerl...|
Just when the Church thought it was getting past the previous crisis, where thousands of faithful abandoned ship but slowly but surely started making their way back, and seminaries were gaining momentum in the number of vocations, bam! The Church is right back were it started 15 years ago.
A priest, who heads one of the most prominent Catholic schools in Miami and was invited to lead our men's group in a spiritual exercise last week, said, "For the first time in more than 25 years as an educator and priest has a mother, whose son is transferring to our school this year, ever called me and said, 'Promise me that my son is not going to be molested by one of your priests'." What a sad commentary and indictment against the Church.
Moreover, aside from the faith crisis it creates and cloud of suspicion it raises towards the clergy, for me as a lay Catholic, who go out of my way to defend the truths of Catholicism and share it openly with family and friends who have drifted away, it's a betrayal of confidence and, in all honesty, incites anger. I can't imagine how shameful and demoralizing it is for the priests who have chosen sacrifice and service over comfort, modesty over riches and celibacy over marriage and family.
There are some who will automatically say that celibacy is to blame but, as Fr. Anthony Sciarappa stated on his social media account, "No priest is forced into celibacy. We chose this. No one is forced to be a priest (It can take over 8 years of instruction and discernment to be ordained). Not having sex does not make you want to abuse people."
Another poignant comment I read asked, "How long can you go without having sex before you want to rape a child?" Celibacy is not the reason some priests molest children.
In fact, Jesus himself encouraged men to a life of chastity, "For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others -- and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." (Matt:19:12).
"So why?," the priest who heads the Catholic school asked, "How can a Church that does such amazing charity work around the world, more than any other institution in history, and nurtured so many great saints; St. Ignatius of Loyola, Mother Theresa, St. Francis of Assisi to name a few, and has built so many beautiful churches and cathedrals and inspired transcending artwork and heavenly-inspired music, can commit such evil?"
|St. Ignatius of Loyola...|
"You only have to look at the gospels," the priest continued, answering his own question. "In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter goes from speaking the words revealed by God and Jesus changing his name to "Rock" (i.e. the "rock" upon which He would build His Church) and handing him the keys to the kingdom of heaven, to being rebuked by the Lord just a few verses later and being told, "Get behind me Satan!"
Then he said something that really struck me, "You may think you are doing great things but, without realizing it, you may be dancing in the Devil's camp."
It's sin that lies within. The sin that draws us away from God and distracts us and, if we let it, consumes us, to the point where, not only may we find ourselves in the enemy's camp, but doing the enemy's bidding.
That's the sin the Church has battled, both internally and externally, for two thousand years. And, it's the sin it continues to battle today.
The reformers were right in one thing; the Church needs reform. It has always needed reform and will always need reform. But, reform has to come from within.
Ultimately, the choice, at least to me, is clear. As Peter said to Christ when most of the followers abandoned Him after the Bread of Life discourse, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
You don't leave Jesus and the Church He founded upon Peter, and promised the gates of hell would never prevail against, because of Judas, three hundred Judases or three thousand. The Church is the legacy that Christ left on earth.
As I told a man at a retreat once, "You don't let the sin of men keep you from the sacramental life that God intended for you."...