As a Catholic bishop, I say, “I am sorry.” I sincerely express these three words with you. I regret the pain that so many are feeling throughout the Catholic Church in the United States with the abuse that surfaced in Pennsylvania. You, the faithful, are shaken by the scandal. I myself am saddened and troubled. This should have never happened.
On the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, the reading from the Gospel of John couldn’t have come at a better time. In the Gospel of John 6:1-71, we read of a situation in which many people turned away from the faith and reverted to their old way of living after Jesus preached that all those who eat of His Body and drink of His Blood will have eternal life. His disciples were deeply troubled about it, too. Then, Jesus turned to his disciples and asked the twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn 6:67) Although we are faced with a different situation, this is something many Christians are thinking now. How can I stay in a church that is filthy and sinful? But to that I say, lean on Simon Peter’s response to Christ’s question when he says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68-69) Reflect on the weight of this response. Peter, the man that would deny Christ three times and abandon Him at the cross, nevertheless believed and remained faithful to Christ’s teachings. In other words, it is not men that make the Church; it is faith in Jesus. So why remain Catholic? Why be a Christian? Why this Church?
Jesus is the only reason the Church is still standing- not because of the pope, cardinals or bishops, but because Jesus wants it to be, with the power of the Holy Spirit and according to the Father’s will. God is the Great Physician that will bring the Church back to restored health spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. In this time of great pain and trial, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. This is a time of repentance and forgiveness and purification.
All suspicions and occasions of abuse should be uprooted and eliminated. I’ve been offering my prayers for victims and their families and for healing among all of us who love the Church. In a crisis like this, I can’t emphasize how important prayer is- pray for the victims, pray for good priests, and pray for the souls that need forgiveness. What can we say to someone who is so hurt by the situation? One could never fully understand the pain unless he or she has experienced the pain. Yet, just as in moments of grave crisis – whether it be illness, loss or death – sometimes the best response is found in nothing more than simply being present to them. Hold their hand, listen to them, be with them, encourage them, let them see hope and healing in their life amidst the darkness.
Everyone seeks to do their part in a responsible way to prevent sexual abuse of minors. In the Diocese of Laredo, I can tell you that since our establishment in 2000, we have not had a report, an accusation or an occasion of sexual abuse of a minor by church personnel whether that be clergy, religious, or laity. At every level of the Church, we work hard to prevent such cases from happening through our Safe Environment Training for children and adults.
Right now, the Church is asking all people in pain, or those who know of anyone who has been abused, to let us know. We want to listen to you, pray with you, and be at your side. We are ready to assist you in whatever you might need. For those who feel now is the time to leave religion behind, I say, the Church needs you to support it, not leave it. Even though Peter was weak in many ways, Christ asked him to lead the Church, and Peter remained. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:66-68)