Wednesday, October 24, 2018 - Updated: 3:07 pm
It’s that famous Charles Dickens’ opening line to “A Tale of Two Cities,” his novel of the French Revolution: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” We’re there right now, right in the middle of both.
The “worst of times” is what gets all the news and what we hear and read about every day. The clergy sexual abuse crisis can’t be hidden, can’t be avoided, can’t be ignored. It needs to be addressed, it needs to be answered, it needs to be overcome.
Always, first and foremost, are the needs of the victims. Healing and hope for those hurt in this tragedy have to be our priority. Whether locally, nationally or internationally, we have to do all in our power to help victims deal with their pain and help them to be whole again.
Let me say once more: if you are a victim of sexual abuse by anyone representing the church — whether here in Pittsburgh or anywhere else — please contact us at 1-888-808-1235.
I hate to even call it good news, but it is also encouraging to see Pope Francis taking a strong stand in the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, whom he has removed from the College of Cardinals and ordered to a life of prayer and penance.
The charges against Archbishop McCarrick of the abuse of minors and the abuse of seminarians under his authority rocked me as I am sure they rocked you. Then add that others in authority may have ignored these charges for any number of years and it becomes truly staggering.
The Holy Father has demanded that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith investigate the abuse allegations against Archbishop McCarrick. The goal of that study is to effectively learn who knew what and when. The Executive Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports such an investigation. So do I! The leaders of our bishops’ conference met with Pope Francis in September to tell him how the church in the United States has been “lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse.” Pope Francis has promised that “We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead.”
That is the same path we are following here in Pittsburgh. For weeks now I have engaged in small group meetings of laity throughout the diocese to learn better what we need to do better to combat this evil from their perspective. I have also invited all of our priests to join me in daily small group luncheon meetings to listen to their concerns and suggestions. The hallmark of our approach now and in the future is a commitment to full transparency. We must do as much as possible to keep on fighting this social tragedy.
More than 16 years ago, I was among the bishops who supported the child protection reforms in the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The charter has made a real difference in protecting children. But the charter is meant to be a living document, to be continually revised as we learn from outside experts and lived experience.
Many of us recognized early on that it had weaknesses. Chief among them was that it did not apply to bishops — either for abuse they may have committed or for how they handled allegations against clergy of their diocese. That appears about to change — and that change is good news.
As I prepare to go to the November meeting of the bishops’ conference in Baltimore, Pope Francis has called us to greater accountability. At our meeting we will work to create that accountability. Among the items I expect to see on our agenda:
• The formation of a lay commission to assist the nuncio (the pope’s ambassador to the U.S.) in the investigation of sexual abuse or harassment by bishops or the failure of a bishop in responding to such claims.
• Developing a code of conduct for bishops.
• Developing policies for restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned due to allegations that they had sexually abused minors or committed sexual harassment or sexual misconduct with adults.
• Creating a third-party reporting system to receive complaints about any bishop accused of either sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment or sexual misconduct with adults.
All of this will be done in consultation with a broad range of laity, including moms and dads, and experts in areas such as child protection, law enforcement and criminology.
When we bishops meet in Baltimore next month, our focus will be abuse, with accountability our goal. I will represent what many of you and our priests have been sharing and what we are doing here in Pittsburgh.
The foundation of what we do now and what we must continue to do in the future is prayer. Among the various expressions of prayer is one we are saying together, the Prayer to St. Michael in these worst of times:
“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”
At the same time, we can take true comfort in our “best of times.” After all our prayer, study and planning, the implementation so far of our diocesan On Mission for the Church Alive! initiative connects us to the Acts of the Apostles and the story of the birth and the growth of the church by the breath of the Holy Spirit.
Our clergy and so many of you, my readers, are responding with open minds and open hearts to the changes of this moment. Leaving one parish for another, taking on additional new assignments, is no easy task for our priests. But they will be quick to tell you that their work would be impossible without you, the laity. Let me shed light on you, the people in the pews, in our parishes, in our schools and in our offices. Let me thank you and encourage you, women and men, young and old, teachers and students, single and married. Without your faith, your commitment, your cooperation, your understanding and your support, we couldn’t move forward.
You, the laity of the Church of Pittsburgh, are working and sacrificing. You are undertaking changes in scheduling, everything from Mass times to confession times. You are sparking new initiatives of serving others in the name of and with the heart of Jesus himself. You are working with your priests to make this initiative work. You are responding to the will and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to create for now and for the future, The Church Alive! On Mission could not succeed without the prayers and the efforts of our clergy and you.
Take a look around. Think of the heritage you are confirming. Think of the evangelization that we can do together now. Think of the faith that we are celebrating together at every Mass, in every sacrament. Think of the love of Jesus that we are reflecting as we reach out in love more to those in need.
I can’t help but go back to that wonderful image of the early church:
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. … They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 46-47).
Yes! It is indeed, too — the best of times.