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Rend Your Hearts: Our Response to Sexual Abuse

This was originally published in our parish Bulletin on September 9th 2018. It has been slightly edited and expanded from the original version. The final paragraphs are the most important part, so please read to the end.

To all of my parishioners,

Thanks to everyone for the support over the last few weeks as we have confronted these horrible scandals. As was very clear in my writing and preaching, the scandals have clearly disturbed me and I know it has disturbed many of you as well. As time has gone on I have been able to get closer and closer to the core of my personal frustrations, but more on that later.

Some of you have been concerned that this is shaking my faith in God, the Church, and my vocation and I don’t want you to be worried. My faith remains strong and at this moment I can’t imagine ever not being an active priest, and I certainly cannot imagine being anything other than Catholic. I simply have no other place to go.

When I was in college I had an encounter with Jesus similar to the encounter of the woman at the well. You know the story, but in case you have forgotten you can find it in chapter 4 of John’s Gospel. In the story, the woman at the well was astonished that Jesus knew everything about her. This woman, so misunderstood by everyone else, finally experienced the joy of being known.

I will remain Catholic because I believe Jesus and his Church know who I am. The Church has proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that it knows what I need deep down, and it also has shown me how to pursue these deep desires. Jesus, through his Church, has shown me things to avoid in life and things to pursue. While I’ve been far from perfect at pursuing the right things and avoiding the wrong things, the days I do both of these well have been very happy and very peaceful days even in the midst of trials.

I just don’t find this wisdom anywhere else. Nobody outside of the Church has shown me that it knows me and what I desire. Instead I hear things like, “Boy it must be awful not having sex,” or, “Why don’t you use your skills to make more money. I’d give you a job!” Come on. If I thought that sex and money fulfilled these desires within me, I’d leave in a moment. But in the end, all those comments do is remind me that I truly have nowhere else to go because only our weird, broken, and scandal ridden Catholic Church has been able to explain to me who I really am.

And when you feel truly known and truly loved you don’t just leave when something goes wrong. You don’t even leave when something goes extremely wrong. If people have left the Church over this, the real scandal is that they never experienced Christ the way the woman at the well experienced Christ. Those of us who will endure this scandal will be the ones who need to show the world that we understand who they are and what goes on in the depths of their hearts.

Which brings me back to the reasons I’ve been frustrated. We haven’t really given an adequate response to the sex abuse scandal yet. Our policies and procedures have been excellent, in my opinion (not including the gaping hole of bishop accountability, of course). Even the Pennsylvania grand jury report said there has been a big improvement! But there is still a vacuous hole in our response as a Church and until we fill that space this is never going to end.

In the midst of a terribly destructive plague of locusts, the prophet Joel instructed the people to “rend their hearts, not their garments.” Joel told the people it wasn’t enough to tear their clothing. Their hearts needed to break over the infidelities of their nations. Similarly, a destructive plague has passed through our Church, and the lives of many have been destroyed.

We have torn our garments by settling lawsuits and creating new policies and procedures, but our hearts have not yet broken. Until tears are shed by the faithful – bishops, priests, deacons and laity alike – our response will remain ineffective, and our estranged, sad, broken, and angry members will never feel as though we know their pain and suffering. Until we shed tears, we will not give them the encounter with Christ that they need to experience healing and peace in these sad times.

Blessings to you all,

Fr. Bryan

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