HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
Abuse Scandal 2019
Brothers and sisters, I’m sure most of you are aware of the horrific sexual abuse crisis that has haunted our Church and continues to be brought to the forefront in the media.
Last fall, New York State’s attorney general launched an investigation into the handling of cases of clergy sexual abuse by New York’s seven dioceses and the Archdiocese of New York. The probe is one of nine similar investigations underway by attorneys general across the nation. Meanwhile, the Child Victims Act, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Feb. 14, which was enacted this past Wednesday will open a one-year, look-back “window” into the state’s statute of limitations on civil suits related to child sexual abuse. During this one-year period, previously time-barred claims, because of the statute of limitations, of child sexual abuse can be filed against individuals and organizations, no matter how long ago the abuse is alleged to have occurred. This applies not only to the church but all victims of sexual abuse in all public and private institutions. With this occurring we will notice much more public attention being focused on this issue. For this reason I have chosen to preach on this difficult subject at all Masses this weekend.
In our second reading this weekend from the Letter to the Hebrews where the author implores, “…let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” I believe that this is key for all Catholic believers. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we also address the issue of sexual abuse and as we work to heal and to restore victims, and continue to create a safe environment for all God’s people.
Bishop Robert Barron in his “Letter to a Suffering Church” describes the Clergy abuse scandal as a diabolical masterpiece of the evil one. In saying this he does not mean to imply that human beings bear no responsibility, actually the contrary. He says, and we know, that “the devil works typically through suggestion, insinuation, temptation and seduction.” Bishop Barron points out that the evil one “is powerless until he finds men and women who will cooperate with him.” The evil one even had the audacity to tempt Jesus himself, but Jesus always proved to be to0 strong to succumb to sin.
In our profession of faith we say “I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” And mind you; the Church is and always will be holy, but make no mistake, it is made up of sinful human beings not just among the laity but also among the clergy. I am not speaking this weekend to stand in condemnation of the men who committed these atrocities. While these acts are horrendous and sinful, I need…we need… to echo the words of St. Peter, who recognized as he knelt before Jesus that “I am a sinful man.” We are not called to stand in condemnation of the perpetrators, but to stand in condemnation of the acts and to assist the victim survivors. Leaving the final judgement to God. For we will all, each of us, stand before the judgement seat of God.
It would be understandable in light of this horrendous scandal in the church to consider abandoning the Catholic Church and your Catholic faith. But to do so would be to play right into the hands of the evil one. The Letter to the Hebrews goes on to say, “[Jesus] endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God…in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus promised the Church, in spite of its human dimension… “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
While I will not go into detail here, the scriptures are very clear about Jesus’ love for children, in His role as the Good Shepherd. In fact Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” It is the lack of humility and service that has led us to this place near “The gates of hell.”
Finally, I quote Bishop Robert Barron, who reminds us that the church has faced very difficult times before. “In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel there is a scene of absolutely pivotal importance. Finding the Lord’s words concerning the Eucharist too much to take, the majority of Jesus’ followers abandoned him. Turning to his inner circle…Jesus simply says, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ [With the entire movement hanging in the balance Peter speaks up] Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’
While the context might be different; the fundamental principle is the same: If you have found in Jesus, through the church, everlasting life, salvation, and the answer to the deepest longings of your life, as I have. Then, no matter how difficult things become, and no matter how many others turn away, you and I must stay!!
I could say so much more but for now this is enough. In order to assist you on your journey; at all the exits you will find a letter from our Bishop Salvatore Matano regarding this issue. You will also find a link in the bulletin to a video message he produced and we have ordered 100 copies of Bishop Barron’s book: Letter to a Suffering Church. Please watch our parish app for information regarding their arrival.
In the gospel Jesus says that he has “come to set the earth on fire…” It is not a fire that destroys but a fire of the cross that purifies; a fire that purges from sin and a fire that strengthens. In metallurgy, there is a process called “tempering”, where materials like iron and steel are heat treated to increase their strength. May we allow this fire to burn within our souls and within the church to purify us and strengthen our faith.
I would like to close with the closing prayer from the chaplet of mercy; offering it for the victim survivors of sexual abuse and also for the perpetrators of this horrendous act:
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.