CARA Study on Clergy Abuse

This study has been making the rounds already in recent weeks on various social media pages. I am posting a link to it HERE for reference and further reflection as everyone in the Church continues to pray about how we must effectively move forward in the pathways of grace, renewal, and healing.

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Silence That Unites, Silence that Divides

Several days ago, in his regular reflections on the Scriptures, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of silence in confronting the forces of evil in the world, especially in the face of voices that seek to divide.  The Holy Father noted that the Lord Himself chose to remain silent during pivotal points in his life when faced with accusations and anger, most especially on Good Friday as he stood before Pontius Pilate and the crowds calling for his crucifixion.

Silence On Trial

Many around the world interpreted the Pope’s remarks to be a justification of his own intentional silence about the explosive claims of Archbishop Vigano, former papal Nuncio to the United States, who has accused Pope Francis of ignoring warnings about the sexually corrupt behavior of Archbishop McCarrick of Washington, DC.   Those claims by Archbishop Vigano have generated a firestorm of varying reactions, as well as daily increasing calls across the globe for the Pope to give some response.

In the face of all the growing discontentment and requests for clarification, documentation, or commentary, Pope Francis has maintained a steady and resolute silence.

Meanwhile, in related strands to this ongoing public meltdown of all things Catholic, it has been noted that Archbishop Vigano willingly broke his own vows of silence and secrecy that are held in common by anyone in the Church who comes into contact with highly sensitive information about the Church’s working apparatus.  For those who serve in the Church’s diplomatic corps as he did, this is a vow that is taken with utmost seriousness. Many have suggested that the whole system of secrecy, institutionally enshrined into the leadership of Catholic life itself, only contributes to our explosive scandals.

Some have used this current climate of understandable public rage over clergy molestation and sexual infidelity to call for the end of any legal protections on the seal of confession, especially in instances where a priest learns in the confessional of cases of child sexual abuse.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of an increasingly “tell-all” culture and society, especially on matters pertaining to sexuality.  To keep ones sexual yearnings or struggles to oneself is often painted as an unhealthy act of repression.  To keep much of anything to oneself anymore is increasingly viewed as type of repression.

I have already joined my voice to other voices of who have argued that the Church must respond to our current credibility nightmare by inviting civil agencies to examine our handling of all cases of clergy abuse in order to ensure both maximum transparency, as well as an end to the improper silence surrounding this issue.  In this way the Church ought to be a leader for other institutions to adopt a matching attitude of total transparency about offenders in their own ranks (teachers, coaches, medical professionals, etc).  Pope Francis is faced right now with an opportunity to lead by example in these needed steps toward total transparency for the sake of credibility.

Does silence still have an authentic place in and out of the Church for the sake of fostering authentic holiness and unity?

Essential Silence

Pope Francis is correct that in the Scriptures there are many instances of intentional silence, or seeming absence, on the part of God in the face of a variety of situations.  That fact alone tells us that silence can at times be a holy and necessary thing.

Cardinal Sarah has written extensively, as have other great spiritual masters, about the necessity of silence for intimacy with God.  Without it, there is no authentic unity between God and man.

The silence of the clergy surrounding the details of sins sacramentally confessed is noble and holy because it facilitates the indispensable transparency of man before God.  Such transparency before God deepens not only the bonds of communion between God and man but also among the members of the mystical body of Christ whose divisions are healed at the root in sacramental Confession.

Whenever one deals with the Sacraments, one deals with the unique arena of God’s concrete actions in this passing world in a way that far surpasses even the most solemn of merely human exchanges.  This is why the Church defends the seal of confession, and the necessary silence surrounding it, at all costs.  Precisely because of our conviction that it is God himself who acts in the Confessional, our silence about what is said is an acknowledgement of the limits of mere human authority.   We will die before we break the silence of that seal because we know we cannot take power over God’s action to remove sin.

Prudential Silence On Trial

The same thing cannot be said of other secrets in the Church, be that the pontifical seal or other realms of discretion that are part of the fabric of Church life.  However, such silence still has its place and can be at the service of unity in a variety of situations and for a variety of reasons, all of which revolve around placing trust in the judgment of another person to handle sensitive information with prudence and also with total regard for the well being of every party at stake in the situation.

It is in this realm of non-sacramental secrecy that the Church will face the greatest challenge for the near term because it has become clear that there have been many situations in which trust has been broken, and judgment, most especially about the safety of youth, has been poor. In such a climate, a suspicion of silence is understandable and maybe even necessary for the sake of authentic renewal.

Francis’ Judgment About Silence On Trial

This may be the crux of the problem for Pope Francis who has chosen now, as he has also done in prior cases of uncomfortable questioning of his decisions, to adopt a posture of discretionary silence about his own knowledge and behavior.  It essentially boils down to:  do the members of the Church trust his judgment?

If we were all in a trusting mood right now towards the hierarchy, one could make a case for his stony silence about the accusations now laid before the world, since it is clear that silence has its role in the fostering of holy unity. However, in the current moment of a torrent of news about bad clerical judgment, especially for the safety of the vulnerable, any type of silence about accusations, especially those it appears could be easily verified or dismissed by rummaging through the old Vatican filing cabinets, is a silence that only furthers mistrust.  Therefore, it is a silence that divides rather than unites.

To continue to persist in silence about the topic, in the light of the current mood, is a mark of a pastor who is out of touch with a large segment of his flock.  That could very well be the fault of his closest chosen advisors on whom Pope Francis relies for accurate information about the sprawling sectors of the global Church.  Worse, it might be a decision to turn a deaf ear to the shouting that has surely reached his ears.

Either way, it is poor leadership from the man who is supposed to devote all of his energies to fostering the unity of the flock.  To be a martyr for the role of silence in this situation is, so to speak, to be crucified on the wrong hill.

The Worst Silence Might Be Coming

If this persists, it may end up leading to what might be the worst silence of all, namely, the widespread silence of apathy on the part of the faithful who stop calling for an answer not because they have decided the Pope is right to stand above the fray speechless, but rather because they have decided he simply does not care.  Apathy is the spoiled fruit of despair, and the most poisonous fruit of a silence that divides.

May God protect the Pope, and the Catholic Church, from the apathy that is born of persistent unholy silence on the part of her leaders and her faithful alike.

May God place in our hearts a true longing for authentically holy silence, one in which we find ourselves standing quietly before God in our hearts.  Only in such a posture of authentic silence before God do we truly know when to face the rest of the world with responsible transparency, or appropriate silence, in a way that unites rather than divides.

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John Four Revisited

Jesus had to pass through the public square of the world, on His way toward the fullness of His manifestation.  While there, around noon, when all is exposed at the brightest time of the day, and when all earthly forces wither in the heat, Jesus sat down by the well.

The Woman came to the public square at the same time of the day, mindful of Her shame, seeking not to be noticed by all those who would acknowledge Her sins, and seeking yet again to draw water from the well of the world.

Jesus said to the Woman: “Give me a drink.”  It was a request that the Lord had made of the Woman over and over again, all throughout history, as He promised He would from the wood long ago.  The thirst of the Lord is satisfied only in the willful reliance on Him and on Him alone by those who have been raised higher than all the angels.

“Give me a drink,” comes like a familiar voice from the past to the Woman who at first responds that surely She cannot give Him a drink.  She has convinced Herself that He belongs to another era.  His Word has been a whisper.  Until She found Herself in the bright light of noon with Her bucket empty and Her shame exposed.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again.”  It is the water of self-reliance, and the vinegar of those whose vision has become dim, and whose horizon has grown flat, and who have become closed to the miraculous, and who have turned their backs on the transcendent.  She has been to that well over and over again.

“Go and call your husband and come back.”  Have you forgotten your spouse?  “I do not have a husband,” She whispers.  “You are quite right. You have had several. The man you are with now is not your husband.”

In bed with worldly power.  In bed with worldly riches.  In bed with worldly thinking.  Lusting to be popular, lusting to get along.  Chasing the man of the hour, chasing the dream of acceptance, chasing away reason so as to fall into bed with sentimentality.  Running from the bed of the cross.  Running into the arms of the world that is passing away.  She has had many men in Her life.

“The hour is coming when all worship me in spirit, and in truth.”   The Lord never forsakes His Bride, so much does He lover her. He comes to find Her, lapping from the well of the world, to call Her back to the purity of right worship in the truth, and to the fullness of the recognition of His person.

She puts down the bucket and runs, again, to tell the world about the one She loves, who knows everything about Her, even all of Her sins, and who still chooses to love Her to the very end.  Stirred back to Herself, she tells the world, again, about the one who gives real water, real truth, and who washes the world clean, by first washing His spouse.

His promise is trustworthy, and therefore, He will do it.

On Twitter: @FatherReesman

 

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Homily: Better to Eat Food off the Floor than to Commit Adultery

Click HERE to find the audio file of Father Reesman’s homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, given at the 10:30am Mass at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, September 2nd, 2018.

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Babylon Comes Knocking: What The Church Must Do Now

These have been sad weeks for Catholics across the globe and especially in the United States, as more and more headlines have spilled forth a seemingly endless stream of failures in the Church’s handling of sexual abuse, of clerical power, and of topics pertaining to sexuality in general.

Our present mega-storm is composed of several tempests all drawn together.  First came the revelations about Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior, then the Pennsylvania report, and then the uproar in my own Archdiocese over a retreat for gay priests.  The escalation of the debate about the nature and acceptability of same sex attraction, in and outside of the clergy, was taken to new levels.  As if that were not enough, there came the bombshell testimony of Archbishop Vigano describing a web of protection and cover-up surrounding Archbishop McCarrick that ensnared, by name, several prominent prelates, implicating even Pope Francis himself in the sheltering of a known sexual pervert. What we are left with is a mess of epic proportions.

What’s worse has been the explosion of a civil war, out into the open, among some of the bishops, the varying wings of the Catholic and secular press (along conservative and liberal lines predictably enough), over the need for the Pope to give an answer to these claims.  Several voices of the laity have added their voices to the same cry for transparency and accountability. Meanwhile, it appears to us on the outside that Rome fiddles while the Church burns.  The Holy Father is said to be calm and serene in the midst of the firestorm, rather like Nero playing his fabled fiddle.

Many of the laity and clergy who have no means of influence feel the sickening sense of helplessness as this drags on with no clear movement toward resolution, and no end in sight. Even if Pope Francis were to resign, as some have demanded, it is not clear what that solves in light of the questions now swirling around so many others in the College of Cardinals and in the hierarchy.

This is what it feels like to be drowning in spiritually violent seas.  Our teachings on the very important matters of human sexuality have been emptied of any power or coherency. Our leadership has zero credibility. Our survivors of sexual abuse are still in pain. Our laity are feeling ignored and abandoned by the thousands.  Our Church appears to be tumbling down. This is a spiritual and moral heartbreak of epic magnitude.

The Cry of the Righteous One Who Waits for Justice

The Scriptures offer key insights on how to understand the causes, the meaning, and the remedy for our current situation. The psalms and the prophets poignantly articulate the cry of the righteous one who cries out to heaven for justice and feels ignored. The righteous one suffers violence and pain at the hands of the wicked and the powerful.  These are cries of lament in the face of forces that seem intransigent and well outside of earthly control.  Where is God?

The most poignant Scriptural laments express the sad realization that calamities have been occurring at the hands of fellow Israelites. The worst hurts are caused by those within the chosen fold, by the anointed leaders, while the priests and professional prophets (the clergy) stand by.

The same psalms and prophets also speak of confidence in God’s saving power, trusting that in the end the righteous and the innocent will be vindicated, while the wicked will be punished and brought to justice.  If it does not happen in this life, then it will happen in the next. These days we, who have no official authority to make changes, find our voice echoed in that of the righteous one who painfully waits God’s justice.

The Destruction of the Temple Was Permitted for a Reason

The Scriptures gradually coalesced around the understanding that the destruction that befell the Israelites, most devastatingly with the Babylonian destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, was the result of the infidelity, hubris, and self-satisfied smugness of the chosen nation itself.  God himself permits necessary suffering to come to the people He loves in order to teach them to repent.

Babylon has been knocking at the gates of the Church for a while now under a guise of many faces, brought on by multiple layers of infidelity and hubris.  The prophets speak of an abandonment of the covenant. In our day there is the infidelity of decades of gradual watering down of the Scriptural and theological teachings about sexuality, especially the sensitive subject of homosexuality, during which the Church and the wider culture became slowly unmoored from the rock of Divine Revelation.

The prophets condemn the shepherds who prey on their sheep. In our era, over decades, the shepherds preyed on the vulnerable for the twisted sexual gratification of the clergy, fueled by the abuse of clerical power. Such evil rots the Church from the inside out.

The prophets speak of faithless leaders. In our era, over decades, there has been an abject failure of judgment and leadership on the part of the hierarchy who did not act to correct the offenses against doctrine, or the offenses against the vulnerable.

The prophets speak of bad politics and the forming of camps in favor of divergent agendas. In our era there has emerged, over decades, “conservative” versus “liberal” fault lines in the Church, causing earthquakes throughout our seminaries, our parishes, our dioceses, our presbyterate , and even between our recent popes. What gradually became more important than protecting young people was the question “which side of the theological battle are you on?”  Little else can explain how it is possible for Pope Francis to, allegedly, ignore the warnings of the leadership of the prior regime other than the suspicion that a member of the “conservative” theological camp was trying to smear a member of the “liberal” camp, and therefore he was dismissed as a zealot.  Similar arguments have been advanced to explain how Saint John Paul II became blind to the grievous sins of Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ. This type of ideological filtering that leads to tragic misjudgments of facts is occurring these days at all levels of the Church.

The abuses of power by the clergy do not confine themselves only to sexual abuse of minors, teens, and seminarians.  It is an abuse of power for clerics and theologians, especially those who make the popular media circuits, to set themselves over and above the revealed tradition of the Church by seeking to make murky our doctrines on sex, sin, and grace.  Those who suffer most are those who need clear teachings to sort out the muck of their own moral messes.  They are the vulnerable who are led astray by clerics on power trips.

The parallels of our own day with those of the prophets are clear.  Therefore we should not be surprised if our current strongholds and structures, like the Temple of old, are allowed to burn down.

The Necessary Transparency of the Gospels

Not only are the psalms and prophets helpful to understanding our situation, but instructive also are the Gospel narratives and the writings of the New Testament.  In the ancient Church, whose picture is painted in the divinely inspired writings of the Bible, we are given a model of how to handle the reality of a failure of judgment on the part of the Church’s leaders, namely, the Apostles themselves.

The Apostles, and their close followers, are the ones who told the story of their encounter with the Lord during His life, on the last night of His life, and in the days of His death and resurrection.  It is a very unflattering picture of themselves that they paint for all the world to see. There is no attempt to protect their reputation by papering over their own bad judgment and failures.

Their transparency intentionally serves to demonstrate the Savior’s power. God saves, not us.  It is His message, not ours.  His Sacraments have power not because ministers are holy, but instead because God is holy.  His Church is true not because men have kept it going, but rather because God pushes her forward, through storm after storm, allowing with great care all the buffeting that she must endure for her good.

What We Need to Do Now

In the light of the Scriptures, I propose the following remedies for the epic mess in which we currently find ourselves.

First, the Church herself, as an entity, needs to go to Confession.It is true that the majority of the abuse cases roiling the news and the public now occurred a long time ago.  However, our attitude about this fact should be the same attitude any good pastor has when someone approaches him in Confession, explaining that it’s been 40 years since his or her last Confession.  The answer from our side of the screen is always: “Confess it all, even the things that happened 40 years ago. Then you will know healing and peace.” The Church needs to go to Confession, and we need to confess everything.

Secondly, we need to confess to the civil authorities.We need to request that every attorney general, in every State, and also any international authority with any teeth, conduct a full investigation of every American Archdiocese, and of the Vatican, of how the issue of clerical abuse has been handled.  For a complete picture, those same civil authorities also need to be given an accounting of our handling of finances and contributions right down to the local parish level.

Sadly enough, I do not think we are capable of making a full confession without the assistance of an external agent. For the record, I do not trust the secular and anti-Catholic agenda of many of the civic powers that will no doubt have to carry out this embarrassing exercise, but the fact is that if we are honest then we have nothing to fear.  If we are dishonest we need to suffer. Did not the Lord freely place himself into the hands of his enemies for the salvation of the world?  What else is there to say?

Thirdly, I join my voice to others who have already called for an inclusion of the lay faithful in the process of making priest assignments within dioceses and bishop appointments throughout the world.  I also echo the recent calls for the creation of a lay review board for accusations against bishops.There are challenges with this to be sure, for example, who decides which laity are included, but nonetheless there is immense benefit to seeking the wisdom of professional lay leaders in evaluating the suitability for clerical leadership within the Church.

Lay professionals offer a vital extra pair of eyes on the judgments of clerics. One occupational hazard of the priestly vocation comes from the “power of the keys,” or of “binding and loosing” that is of the essence of Holy Orders itself.  All bishops and priests exercise this role of discernment and judgment within the confessional.  It is the weighing, with hopefully tender heart and sound theology, of the gravity of a person’s sins, as well as their sincerely expressed desire to change, in order to extend absolution.

This duty of priests hearing confessions is unique on the face of this earth.  After years and years of it, we run the risk of developing a mistakenly high tolerance for the failures of others, as well as an overly optimistic view of how some situations may change with time. Priests see miracles of grace and transformation all the time in the personal lives of our flocks, and we do accept God’s awesome power to transform even hardened sinners into changed men and women. One can see how an overly optimistic mentality about conversion could have been applied to personnel decisions of priestly assignments, especially when there were no professional laity involved to check our reasoning about difficult cases.

Lastly, the laity and the clergy need to be inspired to take up true, internal reform. This requires embracing the fullness of the Scriptures, the fullness of our teachings especially those pertaining to sexuality, returning to penance and fasting, increasing our prayer, embracing simplicity, assisting the needy, and being ardent in devotion to the Lord Jesus. From such reform movements new lay sodalities grow, and new clerical associations are born. From those groups, new bishops are chosen, new cardinals are named, and authentically reforming popes are elected. This all takes generations.  It will come again.  I dare say it must come soon.

Only a New Generation Will Move Us Forward

Until the reforms I speak of come about, we find ourselves in the psalms and with the prophets.  We find ourselves as well on the long journey out of Egypt, a time of real testing and trial.  None of the Egypt generation were allowed to see the Promised Land, including Moses, because of their sins.  A new generation had to move forward with God.  Similarly, a generation or two were lost in the Babylonian Exile, and the Temple was burned, and the priests were taken captive, before God would again allow them all to return home.  If we end up losing it all, then one must conclude it was time for it to go.

Such things are necessary in every era.  It is how God purifies His chosen people.

On Twitter:  @FatherReesman

 

 

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Audio of the Homily: Holy Hour of Purification and Reparation

Some sins run so deep, that only blood can remove them.

Click HERE for the link to the audio file of Father Reesman’s homily for the August 19th, 2018 Holy Hour for the Purification of the Clergy and in Reparation for the sins of clerical abuse of power, and for the healing of the Church.

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Holy Hour for the Purification of the Clergy and In Reparation

This Sunday, August 19th, I will lead a Holy Hour from 12:30pm to 1:30pm at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, 1025 South 7th Avenue, West Bend, Wisconsin, to pray for the purification of the Church’s clergy and ministers, and to pray in reparation for the sins against chastity and the abuse of power that have been committed against our people.

Please join us in prayer.

 

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