D uring my 13 years as a high school teacher, one of the most important lessons I tried to teach my students was the difference between “hearing” and “listening.”
The difference between them is significant. To “hear” is a process where we receive messages intellectually. To “listen” means that we receive another person into our hearts.
Since the grand jury report’s release Aug. 14, I have been trying to respond as best I can to lots and lots of e-mails and letters, phone calls and gatherings, inquiries and interviews.
My first thoughts are always to apologize to and offer care for the victims. Next, I am concerned for you, the faithful, and the general public, and you, the priests and deacons of our diocese. The harm detailed in the report echoes loudly. My fear is that some may not have been able to hear me, let alone listen to the words that come from my heart.
If God granted me the gift of being in more than one place at the same time, I would sit down personally with every Catholic in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and listen to what is in your heart.
If you feel crushed because the name of someone you trusted, someone who helped you grow in faith, was in the report for unconscionable actions — your servant, David, is listening.
If you are so devastated by the horror of the report that you feel that you want to turn away from the church — your servant, David, is listening.
If you are a victim who feels terrible about yourself because of what somebody did to you — your servant, David, is listening.
If you feel betrayed by someone you believe did not do enough to address a situation or problem in the past — your servant, David, is listening.
Last week at a meeting with all of our priests and deacons, one of my brother priests made an impassioned intervention, calling me to reach out to you, the faithful; to be with you, to walk with you, to listen to you. He counseled me to listen to where you are and with what it is that you are struggling with. Actually, he was reading into my own heart. I have always tried to be with you in our parishes and institutions, in our neighborhoods and vicariates.
Now I’m looking for the best ways in which I can come out into the various areas of the diocese to listen to you personally. While I’m working on the best way to do that, I want you to know how important it is to me to listen to you concerning the monumental struggle we are engaged in as the Church of Pittsburgh.
Rely on Jesus
As I have so often shared with you in the past, the most important description of the church is the body of Christ. The church isn’t the bishops. It isn’t the buildings. It is his body, embodied by all of us through the sacraments of the church.
It is in his body, the church, that Jesus is most profoundly present to us in those sacraments.
It is in his body, the church, that we receive and take in the words of Jesus spoken to us through the Scriptures and shared to and with one another.
It is in his body, the church, that we confess our sins and can begin anew with the help of his grace and the encouraging support of each other.
And especially, it is in his body, the church, that we receive the most precious gift of the Eucharist, the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus himself.
The most important place we gather is around the table of our Lord, who suffered and died to heal us all.
The ONLY way you and I can help each other heal is by relying on the presence of Jesus, especially in the Eucharist.
I have heard across the diocese, and have even seen for myself, that more people are coming to Mass since the report was released. It is there that we can find Jesus, who grants us the grace to do more, and to do so more quickly than we have done in the past.
He calls all of us, beginning with the leaders of the church, to imitate him in repairing the harm that was done. He gives us the spiritual strength to do so. We receive that strength through prayer and fasting. We exercise that strength through tangible efforts to support those who are hurting. As we take our own pain and our own empathy for the wounded to Jesus through holy hours, through our various modes of praying and into fasting, God will show us the steps to take next.
As I am inspired by your reliance on Jesus, I am reminded of a prayer that one of my seminary professors taught his students to pray quietly before receiving Communion: “May the Body of Christ enable us to embody Christ.”
Going back to the opening of my reflection with you, it is important for me not only to hear but to listen to what is in your heart. Jesus, in the Gospels, listened carefully to what was coming from other people’s hearts. He listened when they were angry. He listened when they were sad. He listened when they were perplexed. My call to serve him and you demands that I do the same.
Right now, you and I are hurting and grieving because victims are hurting, because the family of the church is hurting, and because our priests and deacons are hurting. But victims must be our first concern, yours and mine. During these past three weeks especially, I have met with people who were sexually abused as children and teenagers by priests. I apologized to each of them. I listened to them. I carefully take to heart suggestions they present about further steps the church can take to promote healing.
Over the course of these weeks I have heard from many of you, through letters, e-mails and when I have visited some of your parishes. On the one hand, some of you are angry, very angry, and have shared that anger in no uncertain terms. Please know that I, too, am angry. On the other hand, many of you have offered encouragement with the words: “Bishop, we’ll get through this.” You have promised your continued prayers, for which I am deeply grateful. I am listening to all of you — those with words of anger and those with words of encouragement. All of you have an important message for the church.
And once again, your servant, David, is listening.
This is my commitment to you, to your children and especially to anyone who has suffered at the hands of anyone representing the Catholic Church.
I make this promise buoyed by the strength that the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, is for all of us.
“May the Body of Christ enable us to embody Christ.”