Bishops really want to do God's will
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time,
July 20, 2003
and the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 27, 2003
2 Kings 4:42-44
Victims of child sexual abuse suffer its ef-fects throughout their lives. When the abuser is a respected adult - a family member, a teacher, a babysitter, a scout leader or a priest - the victim often comes to distrust the institution the abuser represents. The victim loses the opportunity to advance through adolescence under the clear guidance of moral leadership, and loses the ability to trust the very professions created for support.
In the Catholic Church, a heavy burden of responsibility for the abuse scandal has fallen to bishops. Society has held them accountable for keeping pedophile priests in service, transferring them from one parish to another, and spreading evil, rather than eliminating it. Bishops have lost stature, dioceses have lost money, and priests have lost trust. But make no mistake: The victims have lost the most.
It is hard to see this weekend's first reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6) without thinking of the tragic failures the United States bishops have had to face. "Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord. ... You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them."
Of course, Jeremiah did not have bishops in mind. He was condemning Israel's kings. During the prophet's lifetime, Jehoahaz was deposed by the ruler of Egypt after three months in office; Jehoiakim built swanky buildings for himself at the expense of his people; and Jehoiachin became king at the age of 18, lasted three months and died in exile. Jeremiah called them shepherds, not kings, to show the kind of leadership they were supposed to be offering. God was fed up with the whole lot of them.
But God loved the victims. "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock. ... I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord." The people suffering under false leaders would receive the care they needed: community, property, descendants - and good leaders.
Because bishops today are shepherds of their flocks, those angry with church leadership might put Jeremiah's oracle on their own lips.
But bishops do a lot of good. They lead diocesan worship. They appropriate funds for staffing, facilities and the poor. They establish policies that favor the common good, education, evangelization and human life. They challenge people to follow the Gospel. At this summer's annual meeting, the bishops covered many topics essential to society. But the media covered few of them because of the prevailing odor of the sex scandal.
Jeremiah concludes his oracle saying, "I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land." He's speaking about Zedekiah, the only good king of that age. But to Christians, Jeremiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah. Jesus would bring new righteousness in the spirit of David, whose long reign flowered with the sincere worship and moral behavior expected of those in covenant relationship with God.
In the following Sunday's Gospel (John 6:1-15), Jesus is at work as the Messiah Jeremiah prophesied. He took pity on a large crowd when he realized they had no food. (Did someone really have the addled foresight to bring twelve wicker baskets but no bread?) In the miracle of the loaves, we see the kind of leader Jesus was: one who went out of his way to care for the needy.
Even the fragments served a purpose. Gathered up, they showed the bounty of God's love and the promise of another meal.
The difference between today's bishops and Jeremiah's kings is that today's bishops really want to do God's will. They still make mistakes, but they are trying hard to correct the errors of the past through the punishment of abusers, support for victims, precautionary work with seminarians, and continued education for clergy. Jeremiah's kings couldn't care less about any of that.
Good religious leadership follows the example of Jesus to the end of that Gospel story: "he withdrew again to the mountain alone." After all was said and done, after the poor had been fed and the Gospel had been preached, Jesus spent time alone with God. That practice creates righteous shepherds who will respond when lives are shattered and lost. May God use the fragments of this scandal to satisfy the hungers of all who hope for justice.
Father Turner is pastor at St. Munchin Parish, Cameron, and coordinates the Good News column.