March 25, 2010

Sexual Abuse

For years I have been praying and daily offering the intention of my sorrow for the victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Though the issues are complicated and I don't feel as if I have it all figured out, I have come to believe that this only the tragic and criminal edge of larger sicknesses that enabled both the abuse and the negligence in responding.

Nothing shocks me anymore, both because we are saturated with terrible revelations, but also because I have seen the roots of the whole thing at work. One time I met a priest and jokingly remarked to myself that I would see him in the newspaper. A couple of weeks later, there he was, not for the sexual abuse of children, thank God, but for another sort of criminal sex offense.

What does a person do with such a "coincidence?" Laugh? Cry? In my own prayer, I have to come to realize that I need to do something.

For every priest who has abused children, there are many more who are just creepy without doing anything criminal. My eye must be upon them too. With whatever authority or jurisdiction the Holy Spirit gives me, I must always be working to keep them away from any child at risk of losing his integrity or dignity in even the slightest way. In my own teaching and pastoral care of the young, I must make myself the intense servant of their dignity and freedom, doing and suffering whatever I can in the name of their flourishing. Even if I did this at every moment for the rest of my earthly life it would hardly amount to any reparation, but at least it would be something.

I must ask the Lord for the grace, willingness, and opportunity to do hard penance on behalf of my brother priests. I must be ready to accept with patience the public suspicion and anger we have brought upon ourselves.

I need to do something. Yes, dioceses have put procedures and trainings in place to protect children, and I have no doubt that they will work. I am an administrator of such procedures where I work, and I believe in them. But they don't approach the sicknesses in the priesthood itself.

I have to come to realize that at some level my own vocation has to be a lived as a response to this situation. I'm not sure exactly what this means or what it will look like, but it has become increasingly clear to me that through the ins and outs of my own journey, the Holy Spirit has been preparing me for this. Pray for me for the courage to be faithful to it.

It has been hard to write this post without crying, but that's the least I can do.


Unknown said...

Oh, Father, you are very much touched by the Holy is very sad indeed and satan surely did take his gloves off. I'm praying and will specifically add you to my prayers in a special way. Thank you for this post and will dedicate Holy Week of sacrifice for you and all priest.

Tina aka Snupnjake said...

As someone who was in a parish with a *sick* priest, I know what you mean about the creepy feeling. I *knew* something was off about him, but everyone else raved about him. One of my sister's friends has now become afraid of all priests because of him.

My advice, as insignificant as it is, is to be as normal and as uncreepy as possible :)

FYI: I sent you an envelope :)

Anonymous said...

I woud like to echo Kathie's sentiments Father~I would like to think i can feel your pain as I read your post but no doubt the pain and sadness I feel for you and other FAITHFUL Priests is nothing in comparison~I have a chronic pain condition and will try to remember to offer this up for you as you battle this demon that has infiltrated. God Bless You Father Charles
Pax Christi

Anonymous said...

Brother Charles, the children of Fatima too were driven to pray and make acts of reparation for the conversion of sinners that they offered all their sufferings and sacrifices to God. I see a similar vein with your statement, "I must ask the Lord for the grace, willingness, and opportunity to do hard penance on behalf of my brother priests." Your calling to the priesthood is a blessing to a wounded church. My parish is one such church publically scandalized by a pedophile priest. The victim's mother still sings in our choir and has not lost the faith. Perhaps therein lies the solution to your musings on ministry. Perhaps we as a Church united need to fix our gaze off the "I" unto Christ crucified. The narcissist "I" is at the root of all sin. We need to strive to become truly the suffering body of Christ. Shephards and sheep alike need to focus on making atonements and acts of reparation on behalf of sinners. Only then will the healing balm of Love Himself be poured upon a wounded Church.

Tc said...

I respect you so much for writing this. You laid yourself open, and that isn't easy.

Sometimes I think it's good to remember that no matter the vestments or pious talk grave responsibility, priests are human- just like the rest of us.

Until we realize that we are dealing with real human beings- real men- we will never be able to meet the problem head-on.

You have a very heavy cross to bear, Brother.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, thank you for writing this. It was very difficult to read. While I was surrounded by priests and religious throughout my childhood and youth, nothing (thank God, and the nuns who surrounded me like very protective hawks) ever happened to me. but up through my adulthood (as recent as 2 years ago) I have witnessed and experienced the EXACT behavior you described. I even used a similar comment regarding one priest in particular, saying "there's a lawsuit waiting to happen." And sure enough...

Man-to-man, there IS a reason that fasting, long hours of prayer and near sleep-deprivation are (or used to be) an absolute component of religious life. It is no coincidence that when such rules were "relaxed" and the doors were flung open to the priesthood for any man with a pulse that abuse skyrocketted.

Since coming to your blog early on I have been convinced you are indeed being guided by the holy spirit on many issues. I have no doubt that if you set your mind to restoring the sanctity and dignity of OUR church in your corner of the world, it will happen, as it IS happening.


Brother Charles said...

Kathie: Knowing that you are someone who picks up the good fight both within and without of the Church, thank you.

Tina: The envelope came today! Thanks for the inspiration!

Anonymous 1: Pray for me that I may be faithful to your sacrifices, as I will for you.

Anonymous 2: You remind me that I read "The True Story of Fatima" not too long ago. Perhaps the example of the visionaries is somewhere in my heart from that. Thanks also for telling me about the mother of the victim. May she be an example to me.

Thom: Though perhaps we wouldn't always agree, I know from your writing that you are someone who manages to both love and criticize our Church. Thanks for your encouragement, and for the good example, brother.

QR: Thanks, as always, for the encouragement.

Qualis Rex said...

THOM - no disrespect, but do you have any evidence to suggest that anyone here on this blog or even in Christendom has remotely speculated that priests are not "real human beings- real men"? Even someone prone to suffer the most rigorous clericalism would not argue that priests are real human beings or real men. There may be more to your oversimplification of the obvious there that is either code or referencing another quote or conversation that I'm unaware of.

Regardless, this is not a simple issue, nor does it deserve such an oversimplistic treatment. The problem has been in existance since long before the time Our Lord walked the earth. Yet to my knowledge, He is the only figure (religious or otherwise) up to then to tell humanity of its gravity and the punishment that awaits those who cause "the least of His little ones to sin". Something unfortunately many MANY people in and out of the church (and clergy) seem to have forgotten or ignore.

Anonymous said...

Father, Thank you for writing this. I will keep you in my prayers especially for strength.. I cant imagine how difficult it is.

My brother was a victim. He refuses to go to church, and misplaces the blame for what happened to him with the Church, perhaps the Lord, but not with the man who hurt him. It is so sad that it has been years since it has happened, and the wounds are still open for him... though he thinks he is beyond it

Thank you for listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. You are in my prayers, and all priests.

God bless you

Brother Charles said...

QR: I think Thom was just suggesting that sometimes in the past priests were 'put on a pedestal' in a way that made it difficult to believe in some their failings, and made them trusted when they shouldn't have been.

Mark D. said...


Thank you for posting this. It is quite moving and reminded me of the importance of all of us, regardless of our vocation, living out our lives in Christ as a witness to a broken and hurting world. I think the Jewish idea of tikkun olam -- of repairing the world -- is helpful here. As Christians, regardless of our state in life, we are called to the work of testifying witness to the redemptive power of the Gospel. The scandals provide us with a painful opportunity to provide this witness, a Lenten witness, to the world and to our fellow believers.

Sharon said...

A good book - After Asceticism:Sex, Prayer and Deviant Priests
Linacre Institute (Catholic Medical Association)

After Asceticism provides a close up look at the clergy sex abuse crisis still rocking the Catholic Church. The first study of its kind, it shows how the infiltration of therapeutic psychology on the training and lifestyles of clergy spawned a cavalier attitude in many priests and bishops about sex and prayer, causing the collapse of ascetical discipline with its devastating effects in the sex abuse crisis. Chapters probe the findings of the John Jay Report on clerical sexual misconduct; that sexual misconduct by priests was rare in the first half of the twentieth century because of the dedication to ascetical discipline; why the volumes of past research on the psychology of priests failed to predict the sexual crisis; whether homosexual priests can remain chaste.

After Asceticism moves beyond criticism to an eye-opening explanation on how self-denial, fasting, and religious devotion work together to bolster attitudes and behaviour for complete sexual abstinence. After Asceticism draws the connection between the ancient ideas about sex, prayer, and spiritual friendship with modern scientific research on the biology of fasting and the psychology of hope. It warns, however, that as society becomes more deeply immersed in pagan sexuality, the Catholic Church will remain mired in sexual crisis absent a return to its ascetical tradition.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Charles:
Maybe you are the one who has to do it.

We must all pray for you.

Thank you.

Jeanne said...

Thank you so much for this post and your openness and honesty. I left the church in high school because of a "just creepy" priest. Later on he was accused not only of sexual misconduct but embezzlement of church funds. He wasn't just creepy. Sometimes that creepy feeling is your instincts and intuition telling you something - or maybe the holy spirit whispering in your ear - that something is amiss.

pennyante said...

Thank you, Fr. Charles... I thank God for your honest and caring remarks...

Several of the commenters mentioned the change in the Asceticism practices of the priest and its relationship to the abuse. I had never thought of this issue from that direction. Thank you, Qualis and others for opening my mind and pointing my thoughts in that direction.

Qualis Rex said...

Pennyante - you are welcome. FYI, growing up, when I would ask why the church no longer does "X", I heard over and over "oh, those are things they used to do in the past" with a dismissive smirk. Not everything done in the past is due to "tradition", and not everything done in the present is done because it is "relevant". There are deeper reasons of cause and effect at work. If what was done in the past is now "irrelevant", then in all truth and fairness it should be examined and discarded. But to do so unilaterally (mindlessly) for the sake of "renewal" or "updating" brings...well...

Elias Da Silva said...

Brother, you have my prayers. I share with you in the pain of it all, and offer up my intercession for all priests, I thank Our Lord for the difficult but heartfelt responses echoing across the churches.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, Father. I have no doubt that you are exactly the sort of priest of which we need many more in order to heal from this horrific scandal. I pray that we all may take this attitude of reparation into our hearts.

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

Friar Charles, I too join in the commenters who thank you for what you have said here. Be assured of my prayers as well. I think we've all seen our share of creepy--but I also think that we've seen our share of truly holy priests who live what they believe. Our Church needs healing, and that is going to happen one soul at a time, so please keep on doing what you are doing to help those you meet on the way. Peace and all good!

Brother Charles said...

An old friend, someone who bears the ministry of keeping me honest in these posts, wondered why I didn't seem to mention the cover-ups and negligence in response of bishops and superiors. These are, of course, the real scandal.

I thought about, and of course I mean to include them in my anger and disappointment. When I talk about abuse, I'm talking about them too, just to clarify.