Over the last few weeks, the drama of sex-abuse has played itself out on a national stage. The New York Times has carried a series of articles raising trenchant questions concerning, "Who knew what and when was it known?" concerning abuse allegations that date back decades.
I am in no position to offer commentary on these. Were I to try to defend or contextualize the actions of the bishops and the Holy Father, I would be accused of being a "party-man" and failing to recognize the grief of the abused. Were I to join the chorus of voices calling for the Pope to resign or those decrying the entirety of the Catholic Church, I would be accused by others of being a traitor.
So on this Holy Saturday, I find myself silenced. It's profoundly difficult to speak to the complexity of the issue of sexual abuse...sort of like trying to speak to a person following the death of the beloved: you want to say something, you want to offer a word, but deep down you know it's better to be silent. It's hard, too, to speak of the horrifying trauma that has scarred the lives of so many innocent children: it feels as though even speaking of it would make things worse, would open up even deeper levels of pain and sorrow.
My prayer this morning finds its center in this condition: silence. The numb, aching silence that ensues after a terrible loss. The silence of shock and dismay, of agony and confusion. The confidence of Palm Sunday or the vision of a Church Triumphant has been undermined and replaced with grief. Today, it seems like our once confident Church in whom we prayed and lived our lives has been arrested, humiliated, tried, and hangs now on the Cross.
Do not think for a moment that I draw too close a parallel to Jesus. I am no fool: Jesus was the spotless Lamb, the One executed because he dared to love as God loves and to preach a Kingdom founded upon that prodigal love. The same cannot always be said for His Church.
For some, the public trial and crucifixion of the Church is a long time in coming. It is seen as the death blow that will finally end nearly two thousand years of oppression and corruption, the final scene before the once grand dame of religion retires forever, consigned to history as a curious vestige of a benighted past.
For others, this is yet another instance of a conspiracy against the Church. Interestingly, I do not hear many denying that mistakes have been made and that the sins of the past must be atoned for. And yet, the defensiveness of their position makes many wonder if they recognize fully the scope and extent of the damage that has been done. Recourse to "concentric attacks against the Pope" only galvanize those who believe that the hierarchy pays only lip-service to the problem of abuse and secrecy and fails to realize the extent to which trust has been violated.
So where are we on this Holy Saturday? As Catholics watch their Church tried publicly, we don't have the luxury of knowing that it is an innocent victim being executed by satanic forces. So we must wait in prayerful silence. Catholics should pray that this trial be a time of healing, a time for bringing to light past indiscretions so that we can get on with our mission to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ...Good News the world, quite plainly, needs desperately to hear. We ought to pray that a spirit of honesty and truth prevail so that we can begin again to restore the trust that has been lost among so many.
Less than fifty years ago, the great Dominican philosopher Father Herbert McCabe famously quipped that the Church is "quite plainly corrupt." This was not, however, any reason for one to leave the Church. Sometimes it seems that the Church has been more concerned with the maintenance of its institution rather than its mission: to continue Jesus Christ's earthly ministry, preaching the Kingdom by Word and by Deed. Without question, the Church's Mission has often been compromised its sinful membership and the result, as we have seen, is a culture of secrecy that has impeded, rather than impelled, our ability to share the Gospel with the world.
Today is, for me, a day of silent prayer. I pray that God's creative will be done in and through sinful humanity, a humanity that still has much to learn from the Catholic Church. I pray for my Church in whom I have grown and to whom I have offered myself that she might grow through this trial. I pray for those who have been victimized by the Church's members, that they might find healing and peace. I pray for a conversion of hearts and minds, a healing of souls, and a spirit of forgiveness.
The Holy Saturday we dwell in today is going to last far longer than 24-hours. It will take years for us to grow through this scandal and become ever more the People of God. Nevertheless, our hope and our assurance rest in Easter, a hope that will be nourished by the Eucharist and the foretaste of God's Kingdom we receive each time we gather around the Lamb's Table. Our confidence must be in the Resurrection, one that we profess each week, but one we must now look toward with the red, grieving eyes of a people who have watched the death of their beloved.
Emboldened by the Resurrection of the Innocent One, we wait in prayerful and expectant silence for the Rising of the Church that she might be a beacon of hope, dwelling place for all who seek rest, and a witness to a broken world of the Kingdom of God.