Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Scandal That Just Won't Stop: Sackcloth and Ashes II

One of my intentions for the forty days of prayer and fasting for  #sackclothandashes has been that ALL of the evil in our Church that has been hiding in shadow will be brought into the light. . . . But I did not expect this.

I respect the Church as an institution and the many, many good priests and bishops who are upholding their responsibility to sheperd their flocks. I echo the words of Joshua from today's first reading, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."



Here's what's happened now. On the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, the day that we began our movement of prayer and fasting, Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ², Apostolic Nuncio, released the following testimony. I saw it for the first time last night.


It's long, but I encourage everyone to read the whole thing. News articles summarizing it really don't do justice to the scope and breadth of the report. It is just one man's testimony, but it includes an extraordinary amount of detail, and he indicates that many of those he names as able to corroborate his story are willing to go on the record as well.

There is a lot of information in this testimony. But the most surprising and disturbing and saddening, is the claim that on Archbishop Vigano's advice, Pope Benedict had placed severe sanctions on Cardinal McCarrick in 2009 or 2010: "Pope Benedict had imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis: the Cardinal was to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate [Mass] in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance." Those sanctions were lifted by Pope Francis in 2013, despite Pope Francis' knowledge of the allegations against McCarrick, and McCarrick became free to again abuse seminarians and influence important appointments and policy decisions in the United States.

It's a real gut punch.

First and foremost, there is no excusing these acts. Not the abuse, certainly. One can argue that fifty years ago, perhaps, there was a lack of understanding on how to treat people with disordered sexual desires, and that bishops were acting in the way that they thought best. But that wasn't the case ten and twenty years ago, and we are seeing that the cover-ups continued. From local bishops perhaps all the way to the Pope. It's not okay. It is a great and grave failure of individuals and the Church hierarchy.

At the same time, it would not be right to believe that any of this is new. Priests have proven themselves just as capable of failure as anyone else since the very first moment it was possible. Jesus instituted the sacramental priesthood at the Last Supper, and the table wasn’t even cleared before one of the priests had become a traitor, unworthy of his post. Sexual abuse is, unfortunately, not a rare tragedy. We can see the rotten fruits of the sexual revolution throughout our current culture.

We heard in the readings at Mass today, Jesus' question to us. Will we stay with him despite scandal and outrage? And the verse that follows the reading, is his acknowledgement that even his handpicked disciples will fail him, and us.



Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?       --John 6:67-70

As devastating as it feels, as devastating as it IS, I take solace in two aspects of this. The first, is that it is a good thing that we are shining a light on this and other sexual scandals. We do not want evil hiding in the shadows. As painful as this process is, it’s worth it to begin the process of healing for the individuals, families, and communities who have been affected, and to protect future generations of children and adults from suffering the same abuse. Secondly, as backwards as it sounds, I am comforted by the fact that the Catholic Church has been scandal-ridden for . . . ever. We’ve had bad priests, and bad bishops, and bad popes, and bad regular folks in the pews throughout the last two thousand years. And the gates of hell have not prevailed against us.

As Cardinal Ercole Consalvi is reported to have asked Napoleon Bonaparte, when the French emperor threatened to crush the Church, "If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?"

If we believe that the Catholic Church is the One True Church, that the Eucharist is the True Presence, we are stuck with it. We must say with St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

So, here I am and here I will stay. Wounded, bewildered, but Catholic.

God hears us, and suffers with us. The first reading, from Ezekiel, on the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, leaves no doubt that God's justice waits for those shepherds who betrayed their flocks and their Lord.

The word of the Lord came to me:
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,
in these words prophesy to them to the shepherds:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who have been pasturing themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool,
and slaughtered the fatlings,
but the sheep you have not pastured.
You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick
nor bind up the injured.
You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost,
but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd,
and became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered
and wandered over all the mountains and high hills;
my sheep were scattered over the whole earth,
with no one to look after them or to search for them.

Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As I live, says the Lord GOD,
because my sheep have been given over to pillage,
and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast,
for lack of a shepherd;
because my shepherds did not look after my sheep,
but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep;
because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I swear I am coming against these shepherds.
I will claim my sheep from them
and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep
so that they may no longer pasture themselves.
I will save my sheep, 
that they may no longer be food for their mouths.

For thus says the Lord GOD: 
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.

It is perhaps too early to know for sure how grave was Pope Francis' sin. It's possible that deep political and ideological differences made him unable to see the truth because of who communicated it to him. But it's clear that we have not received the protection and leadership we deserve. It's clear that we must call for the resignation of some of our Church leadership.

I am turning more than ever to the support of good Catholic priests and religious, and my solid Catholic community, online and in real life. I am convicted more than ever that the Sackcloth and Ashes movement is exactly what we need. It's never too late to join in. And we must not give up hope.

As Archbishop ViganĂ² said in the closing of his testimony:

Even in dismay and sadness over the enormity of what is happening, let us not lose hope! We well know that the great majority of our pastors live their priestly vocation with fidelity and dedication. It is in moments of great trial that the Lord’s grace is revealed in abundance and makes His limitless mercy available to all; but it is granted only to those who are truly repentant and sincerely propose to amend their lives. This is a favorable time for the Church to confess her sins, to convert, and to do penance. 


I know many of us are also wondering about practical issues. The questions I've received most often are these.

1. Should I let my children be around my priest?

We the faithful can and should protect our children around priests the same way we would around any other people. We need to avoid the clericalism that helped get us into this mess. Priests deserve to be treated with respect by virtue of their consecrated office, but that doesn't mean blind trust. We get to know priests before our kids are alone with them. We teach our kids to trust their guts and to ALWAYS come to us if the ever feel uncomfortable and to RUN AWAY if necessary.

2. Should I continue to support the Church financially?

As for donations to the Church, each family must make their own decision there. If we don't give, Catholic schools and parishes will close. Bad ones, perhaps, but good ones too. I'm intrigued by the idea of a tiny underground Church, meeting in dusty catacombs and secretly in people's houses like in the early days of the Church. The Church would survive like that if necessary. But it would break my heart to see our buildings sold off and put to other uses. It would break my heart to see good pastors lose their parishes and their flocks. So, we continue to give. I believe that our archdiocese has implemented good policies to help prevent abuse and coverups. With that, we don't feel the need to hold our donations back.

3. Must I pray for these sinful priests?

It's always okay to start where you are most comfortable. Pray for good priests and bishops. Pray for the whistleblowers. Pray for the children and young adults who suffered at the hands of predators. Pray for their families and communities. Then, my trick is always to pray, "God, if you want me to do this, help me to want what you want."

To everyone reading this. I know how hard it is. I can't think of anything in my life that has disappointed me more. But know that our continued faith in the face of these repeated tragedies is a gift from the Holy Spirit. We must pray and act and persevere.




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Monday, August 20, 2018

Sexual Abuse, Sackcloth, and Ashes: Meeting Scandal with Acts of Reparation

We find ourselves again rocked by scandal in the Catholic Church. On Aug. 14, a Pennsylvania grand jury released its report on an 18-month investigation into seven decades of clerical sexual abuse allegations in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The details are sickening and devastating.

I’ve been thinking about and praying about it ever since (although I would have much preferred to avoid it). As a mother, as a Catholic, as a person with a platform, how do I respond to . . . this?

I spent time talking with other moms, other writers, other Catholics. We all wanted to stop feeling so helpless. We all wanted to channel our outrage. We all wanted to make this better in some way.

Others, including Bishop Barron, Bishop Morlino, and the USCCB have made concrete suggestions for how the magisterium will address the issue of suxual abuse and cover-up. That is good and necessary. My husband wrote an email to the USCCB, voicing his concerns and offering his assistance, and received a prompt and personal reply. I talked to our children about sexual abuse. But now, we want to suggest something else. Something real and important beyond letter-writing that WE can do.


Based on the words of Daniel 9:3: "I turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes," and the longstanding Catholic concept of making Acts of Reparation, my friend Bonnie Engstrom and I have written this statement . . .

"We are Catholic, faithful to the Magisterium and disgusted by the abuse and cover-ups that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. We are heartsick over the 1000+ victims of abuse in the state of Pennsylvania and all the other boys and girls, men and women who have been sexually abused by priests and further victimized by the bishops who covered up these crimes. We pray for justice for the victims and their families and communities. We believe in the Catholic Church, founded by Christ and sustained by the Eucharist. We are one body in Christ. As such, we invite you to join us in observing a forty day period of prayer and fasting as an act of reparation to God for these sins. From the feast of the Queenship of Mary on August 22, through the month of September, we will join our sorrow with Our Lady of Sorrows, and make daily sacrifices appropriate to our own circumstances for this intention."


We decided to champion a campaign of Acts of Reparation by the faithful. We decided that we would personally pledge to observe a period of prayer and fasting, and we would invite other Catholics to join us. The response has been humbling and heartening. Catholic bloggers, artists, podcasters, reporters, and social media content creators all immediately wanted in.


We hope you will join us as well. In consultation with a spiritual director if that's possible, you decide on a plan of prayer and penance that works for you, and observe it from August 22 through the month of September. You can publicly pledge to join us by commenting here or on social media, or by sharing this post or any or all of these images on your own blog, social media account, or chain letter. You can print the images and put them on the fridge. Whatever you want. You can share your own words and/or images using the hashtag #sackclothandashes You can also participate privately, if you prefer.

Here are some more details.


What Acts of Reparation are:

By voluntary submission to His Passion and Death on the Cross, Jesus Christ atoned for our disobedience and sin. He thus made reparation to the offended majesty of God for the outrages which the Creator so constantly suffers at the hands of His creatures. We are restored to grace through the merits of Christ's Death, and that grace enables us to add our prayers, labours, and trials to those of Our Lord "and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ" (Colossians 1:24). We can thus make some sort of reparation to the justice of God for our own offences against Him, and by virtue of the Communion of the Saints, the oneness and solidarity of the mystical Body of Christ, we can also make satisfaction and reparation for the sins of others. (Catholic Encyclopedia)


In layman's terms, that means that we believe that God is hurt and offended by sin, and that we can console God and make up for those sins in some way by our prayers and sacrifices.

What they are not:

Just to clarify, because we know this is a struggle for some of us. We make acts of reparation as a gift to God not as a service to particular sinners. If your grandma got attacked by a mugger, you would rush to her side and spend time with her. You’d go out and buy things to replace what was in her purse. You wouldn’t do that for the mugger’s benefit. Doing it wouldn’t lessen his culpability. Hopefully you could also one day bring yourself to pray for him and wish for his conversion. But doing something to lessen the hurt of your grandma is something different than that entirely.


What you can do:

We will be observing this forty day period as a time of increased prayer and penance, like another Lent. Beginning on August 22, the feast of the Queenship of Mary, we will ask Our Lady to bring the gift of our sacrifices to her son. The month of September is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. It also includes the fall Ember Days on September 19, 21, and 22. (More on those here.)

Consider adding prayers to your daily routine, like the Morning Offering:


Or the Chaplet of Reparation, recommended by Our Lady to the children at Fatima.


Or another Chaplet of Reparation, known as Offering the Precious Blood for Priests, found in In Sinu Jesu.

(meant to be prayed on ordinary rosary beads)

Incline (+) unto my aid, O God; O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Alleluia. (DURING LENT: Praise be to Thee, O Lord, King of eternal glory.)
ON THE OUR FATHER BEADS: Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Thy Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb without blemish or spot, in reparation for my sins and for the sins of all Thy priests.
ON THE HAIL MARY BEADS: By Thy Precious Blood, O Jesus, purify and sanctify Thy priests.
FOLLOWING EACH DECADE: O Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named, have mercy on all Thy priests, and wash them in the Blood of the Lamb.



Consider fasting, a little or a lot. From meals, from snacks, from sugar or caffeine, from technology. The Catholic Gentleman has some great thoughts on how and why we should fast.


Know that if you are suffering, you are not alone. Know that there are thousands, millions, of Catholics praying for you. Know that your own prayers are important and efficacious. It is my hope that doing this together will console the heart of Jesus and heal our own sore hearts.


By request, here are the images with a white background, easier for printing.








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