Friday, February 01, 2013

Fall From Grace

Both secular and religious news outlets are abuzz today with the that retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and Bishop Thomas Curry have been relieved of public duty as a result of their involvement in the sexual abuse cover up in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Released, too, on a website operated by the Archdiocese are the clergy files of those priests involved in the $660 million dollar settlement reached in 2007.

I have read through many of the documents and I can say, simply, that they serve as a monument to a clerical culture that would put the institutional church over the best interest of the individuals it exists to serve. The documents serve, in short, as a testimony to how far we fall from grace when we devise tactics to evade the truth of our misdeeds rather than seeking transparency.

There is no silver lining to this latest chapter in the Church's story. Reading the personal accounts of men and women who suffered abuse at the hands of priests defies response. When I read that those involved were"naive at the time about the effectiveness of treatment for abusers and the impact on victims" I feel a knot in my stomach: reading the harrowing personal accounts of abuse, I simply cannot believe that church officials failed to grasp how dire the situation was. I am, sadly, confident that they did understand the seriousness and chose to do nothing, hoping that it would blow over eventually. Instead, the maelstrom has only grown in strength and, in the wake of the storm, few lives remain untouched.

I have respected Cardinal Mahony for his prophetic witness on immigration reform. While his "sin of omission" does not erase the good that he has done, it has left a permanent blight upon his and his record as the shepherd of his flock. No longer able to work as a public minister, our Church and our nation has lost a powerful voice for those who have no voice in this country. He, however, provides a tragic reminder of the cost of grasping, too late, the severity of the issue of the abuse of minors and the inevitable consequences of deceit and evasion: broken lives and hearts and a compromised ability to share the Good News. That said, his final words on his blog say the only words that remain for him to say: "I am sorry." These words will not erase the past or take away the scars but, perhaps with grace and time, be the site where those who have been victimized and who continue to suffer will one day be able to say, "I forgive you."


Karl Rahner, almost sixty years ago, described the history of theology as "no means just the history of the progress of doctrine, but also a history of forgetting...". Today, the Church must modify this and say, instead, a history of asking forgiveness. There is much to celebrate in the Church, of this there is no question. Yet where we have failed to live up to our witness as women and men enlivened by the Good News of Jesus Christ and in, under the cover of his name, used or abused others...we must ask forgiveness. Pope John Paul II began this in 2000 with an apology for the Church's sins. Let us be grateful, Church, for all that we have done and for all that we have failed to do, for all the ways we have not lived up to our calling as the People of God, let us say, "We are sorry" and pray for the grace and healing that can only come from forgiveness. 
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