'Stand firm in your faith,' bishop says in light of abuse scandal
The following is the text of Bishop Raymond J. Boland's homily at the Chrism Mass March 21 in St. Joseph.
Bishop Raymond J. Boland
Welcome to this annual Mass for the Blessing of the Oils, a Mass which in a special way marks Christ's institution of the priesthood. After many years you all know that I usually base my remarks at this Mass on the Holy Father's Holy Thursday message to his priests. I cannot do so this year because the message only arrived a few hours ago and I just had time to read it very quickly. I hope everyone here will read it at your convenience. It is a continuation of last year's message and takes as its biblical icon the encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus, well worth reading for its excellent insights into that unusual event.
However, the Holy Father, towards the end of his letter, inserts one paragraph which deals with sexual abuse, the topic which has been making headlines in this country for many weeks. Allow me to read you the paragraph in its entirety:
"At this time too, as priests we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of Ordination in succumbing even to the most grievous forms of mysterium iniquitatis (the mystery of evil) at work in the world. Grave scandal is caused, with the result that a dark shadow of suspicion is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity and often with heroic self-sacrifice. As the Church shows her concern for the victims and strives to respond in truth and justice to each of these painful situations, all of us - conscious of human weakness, but trusting in the healing power of divine grace -are called to embrace the "mysterium Crucis" (the mystery of the cross) and to commit ourselves more fully to the search for holiness. We must beg God in his Providence to prompt a whole-hearted reawakening of those ideals of total self-giving to Christ which are the very foundation of the priestly ministry."
Now, what I am about to say is not meant to be a comprehensive statement on the matter. I just want to add a few brief points to the reflections of the Pope in keeping with the purpose of this Mass.
Catholics in general and priests in particular are all personally afflicted by the sexual abuse scandals now rocking the church.
I attended the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Kansas City and was struck by the reception Kansas Citians gave the policemen and firemen of New York City who were specially invited guests . By contrast, I saw on television last night the dismay in the faces of the Independence, Mo., police officers who were sent to arrest a fellow police officer on criminal charges. I have no doubt of how much those charges impacted his fellow officers. How much, also, has the scandal involving Enron and its auditing firm affected other executives and accountants, other CEO's and CPA's? They too must be wringing their hands!
To return to the Scriptures, have you ever wondered how the apostles, Christ's future priests, must have felt when they discovered that the mother of James and John was going behind their backs in an effort to seek promotions for them?
And have you wondered what the apostles must have felt at Peter's denial of Christ after he was arrested, or about Judas's selling out of Christ? Sadly, they had to find someone to take his place.
And have you wondered how the scandal involving Enron and its auditing firm has affected other executives and accountants, other CEO's and CPA's? They too must be wringing their hands!
It is not surprising that the scandal involving our priests has aroused a plethora of emotions: anger, disappointment, depression and the urge to hide. Truly, as the pope said in his Holy Thursday statement to priests, a "shadow of suspicion" has fallen on all of us, and especially on the fraternity of the priesthood.
The problem exists. The numbers are few, but even one is one too many.
The priest who is a pedophile uses his priesthood to destroy the innocence of children, often stunting their emotional life and frequently alienating them from the faith.
There is a moral problem, but it is far more than that. The classic pedophile is a very sick person possessing an aberrant personality trait which impulsively and addictively directs his perverse behavior.
Priests with this diagnosis have no place as ministers in the church. They need therapy - in some cases maybe lifelong therapy. This is what we mean by "zero tolerance": For the sake of our children, for the sake of our families - my dear priests, for the sake of your nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, and even for the sake of the priests themselves - they must never be reassigned to a parish.
I have met with children who have been abused. I have met with their parents. I have felt their anger. All I can say is that we must do everything possible to help those who have been harmed, to help them rebuild their lives, restore their self-confidence and assist them to distinguish between the actions of a rogue priest and the church which is the continuation of Christ's love in the world.
What do we do now as priests? I ask you to stand firm in your faith. Do not run away. Do not hide your head in the sand. You are needed now more than ever. Have courage - which is a gift of the holy Spirit, one of the gifts of your Confirmation.
As Paul told a hesitating Timothy, stir up the grace within you, the grace you received by the laying on of hands. You are priests of the Upper Room. March out, fortified by the spirit, as the disciples did, to be his witnesses.
Remember your ordination. You are more than a witness to Christ. In many ways you are Christ, the alter Christus - you stand in his place. "This is my body," you say. "I absolve you," you say.
It may be uncomfortable to go on. People may murmur behind your back. Christ experienced the same thing. Our culture often needs "a sign of contradiction," and if you do not provide it, maybe nobody will.
I am proud of you and I am convinced that Christ is even more proud of you. You may not want to believe it, but you are good priests and the people you serve are proud of you. You know, there are times when I wish Christ had put his angels in charge of his Church. But he didn't. He selected people like us, and we are all sinners and we all have "feet of clay."
And to all of you who came in such great numbers to this Mass this evening, may I ask you to continue praying for your priests. In conclusion, let me quote the Jesuit Karl Rahner's description of a priest as he really tells it how it is:
"The priest is not an angel sent from Heaven. He is a man chosen from among men, a member of the Church, a Christian. Remaining man and Christian, he begins to speak the Word of God: this word is not his own. No, he comes to you because God has told him to proclaim God's word; perhaps he has not entirely understood it himself. Perhaps he adulterates it. But he believes and, despite his fears, he knows he must communicated God's Word to you, for must not some one of us say something about God, about eternal life, about the majesty of grave in our sanctified being? Must not some one of us speak of sin, the judgment and mercy of God?
"So my dear friends, pray for him. Carry him so that he might be able to sustain others by bringing them to the mystery of God's love revealed in Christ Jesus."