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Dear Friends,

          No one who has been following the findings of the Pennsylvania grand jury regarding clergy sexual abuse and official cover-ups—not to mention the revelations about the former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C.—can be anything but horrified. So disturbing were the findings and revelations that I considered devoting the homily to the subject this weekend. I thought better of it after reading the scriptures. Their message—which we need to hear—is not even remotely connected to the devastating story that grabbed the headlines this past week. So, instead of using the pulpit, I decided to write to you, hoping that I might bring you—if not understanding—at least some clarity and a word of comfort. Little did I realize how difficult that would be.
 
          To my way of thinking, the entire issue of abuse on the part of clergy (including highly placed members of the hierarchy) and the callous cover-up that many bishops have been guilty of, defies understanding. We all understand human weakness and human sinfulness, of course. That is a given. But when the sins are committed by people whose very calling in life puts them in privileged positions of trust—and who, in betraying that trust, not only wound and scar their victims for a lifetime, causing them to lose faith in themselves, in God, in the church and everything it stands for—well then, any attempt at explanation fails.
 
          And when these crimes are compounded by Church leaders hiding the truth, favoring perpetrators over victims, and caring more for the Institution, its reputation and its assets, than for the helpless victims, then a heinous offense comes close to being unforgiveable.
 
          But we know all this. We have been forced to deal with it for the past two decades and more, and we are weary of it—weary beyond words. And we are angry, too, and scandalized and, let’s be honest: we are also ashamed. I know I am. How could this happen in the church we love? And how can we still hold our heads high and continue to own our Catholic faith?
 
          More than fifteen years ago at what one might have hoped was the nadir of this long nightmare, I remember how difficult I found it to appear in public wearing my clerical collar. The present moment of renewed revelations isn’t much different. But this is not about me and my feelings. I am sure many of you find yourselves at a loss for words as you interact with family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, many of whom are not Catholic and who are appalled and simply don’t get it. I wish I had words to reassure you, words you could use to reassure them. I do not. And I wish I could take away the sense of powerlessness that comes from the fact that the channels open to you for speaking out and effecting change in the Church are few. I cannot.
 
          And I take no comfort in knowing that this is a societal problem that occurs most often in families—that the church has no corner on these crimes or their cover up. There is no comfort there. The church should be held to a higher standard. Nor is there any comfort to be found in the fact that these recent revelations come from across the country. Geography has nothing to do with this, although we can be grateful that our own Archdiocese, back in the mid-1980s, was one of the first in the country to understand the gravity of the situation and to take steps to address it.
 
          Speaking for myself, the only comfort I can find in this situation is my belief that this is God’s church and that God can use this terrible tragedy not only to awaken the church to its sins, but also to force it to deal with the underlying causes of those sins. Nothing short of a thorough, searingly honest and completely transparent examination of conscience and admission of guilt will do. And no laws, canons, or traditions, no matter how sacrosanct, should escape critical examination and review. We must find out how this has been allowed to happen and we must face the truth and not hide from it, no matter the cost. And then we must repent and reform. I know this is the commitment of our Archbishop and it must be ours as well.
 
          Dear friends in Christ, with every fiber of my being I believe that the church is the Body of Christ, and I know that God will see us through this nightmare. But that is no excuse for complacency. We have our work cut out for us. As we refuse to tolerate any further cover ups or dishonesty on the part of Church leaders, we must demand of ourselves the same faithfulness, honesty, integrity, and courage we demand of them. And as we do our best, with God’s grace, to survive this dark hour and to learn from it, we must pray without ceasing for this Church we love, this Church we are.
 
                                     Sincerely yours in Christ,
 

                                     Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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