On Saturday, nine parish leaders gathered at the Pastoral Center for ongoing leader training for the Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth initiative. A few days earlier, facilitator Dobie Moser and I discussed how or if we would acknowledge the current sex abuse crisis.
It’s a question facing church leaders everywhere, and one you are likely facing yourself: how do I talk about it? Do I talk about it at all?
Saturday’s time with Dobie and the SCFSCY leaders in attendance confirmed one truth: we cannot ignore this.
Dobie and I felt that we were being disingenuous if we moved forward with the agenda business-as-usual. To ignore it would be to ignore the elephant in the room. We had planned to workshop a parent session. What we did was use a process that Dobie had created and the SCFSCY leaders participated in a sex abuse crisis facilitated listening session.
It was powerful and moving. Voices were heard, as Dobie recorded the thoughts and created a summary report for Bishop Hying. Himself moved by the feedback, Bishop Hying is contemplating how to use the facilitated dialogue format with priests and laity alike. Our SCFSCY leaders demonstrated courage in participating in such a highly-charged session.
Our leaders and I also learned a valuable lesson: the faithful we serve have LOTS to say on this topic, so as leaders, maybe we have to put down our calendars for a bit, suspend our routines, and pay attention to what they’re thinking and saying. That’s tough, because it’s the start of the academic year, when many of our church programs are getting started again. We have stuff we have to do! I myself felt icky about putting together my Grasta De! mailing: how can I publish pictures with joyous youth at a time like this? Or is that joy exactly the kind of thing the church needs now? I don’t know.
But know this: people are hurt. They’re angry. They may not have the patience for a mandatory parent meeting about service hours, and they may simply not even trust us enough to send their kid to youth group.
Bishop Hying will lead a Mass of Atonement on Friday, September 14th at 7pm at Cathedral of the Holy Angels, preceded by Eucharistic Exposition beginning at Noon. He has asked the faithful to join him in “asking for healing for the victims of sexual abuse and for the conversion of everyone within the Church to a life of greater holiness, rooted in the Lord.” He has asked his Pastors to “schedule a similar Mass at their own parishes, either on the same day or sometime during the month of September.”
Youth ministry leaders, I can only ask that you use this crisis as a reminder of why we do so much in the way of safe environment training and sex abuse prevention. Fifteen years of VIRTUS emails and background checks has perhaps created lethargy on the matter. Be PROUD of the efforts that your parish, your diocese, and the Catholic Church is doing to protect minors. Tell others about it. It’s not being defensive, it’s being truthful. And it’s also a reminder that it’s not about hoops to jump through and forms to fill out. It’s about protecting God’s children.
Affirm your priest(s). Feel empathy: they can’t go to McDonald’s without the world casting an angry glare upon them. They have to bear the brunt of others’ sins, and turn the other cheek and do it again.
Spend time with teens and give them a voice. Be prepared: they might be ashamed to be Catholic. It was hard last month for a teen to tell the world he or she is a proud, practicing Catholic. Affirm their willingness to stand with Christ in the storm. Reach out to those you haven’t seen, and reach out to parents too. Let them know you care. In the weeks ahead I will try to provide you some resources. But YOU are the best resource. Just listen, and pledge with more resolve than ever to take seriously our role as responsible, caring disciples.
Our young people respond well to ritual and prayer. Here is one simple thing I am going to do for the next year, whether it’s a committee meeting, a Diocesan Youth Council meeting, Grasta De!, etc. I am going to have three candles present:
- One is to remember victims of church sex abuse.
- The second is to remember victims of sex abuse everywhere.
- The third is to remember all victims of abuse.
As compassionate pastoral leaders, let us always remember that when any victim of abuse learns of another case of abuse, the pain resurfaces.
The candles also remind us that our Trinitarian God resides in the pain: St. Paul wrote a beautiful theology of Redemptive Suffering and the Church in his second letter to the Church of Corinth (2 Corinthians 3-11).
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn 1:5). May the Spirit be with you as you provide light in this darkness.
Blessings in a Christ that Heals
Prayer for Healing Victims of Abuse
God of endless love,
ever caring, ever strong,
always present, always just:
You gave your only Son
to save us by the blood of his cross.
Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,
join to your own suffering
the pain of all who have been hurt
in body, mind, and spirit
by those who betrayed the trust placed in them.
Hear our cries as we agonize
over the harm done to our brothers and sisters.
Breathe wisdom into our prayers,
soothe restless hearts with hope,
steady shaken spirits with faith:
Show us the way to justice and wholeness,
enlightened by truth and enfolded in your mercy.
Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts,
heal your people’s wounds
and transform our brokenness.
Grant us courage and wisdom, humility and grace,
so that we may act with justice
and find peace in you.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Video message to the faithful from Bishop Hying asking for prayers, healing
Bishop Hying’s Response to Archbishop Carlo Viganò Assertion re Pope Francis