So Much More That Must Be Done: Part 2

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

Last month, in my previous blog, I suggested that nothing less than a Reformation of the Priesthood was needed to begin a path toward restoring credibility in the Catholic hierarchy. Since then, much more has happened with the resignation of Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC and Pope Francis’s indication that he is investigating the case of Theodore McCarrick’s past behavior — who knew what and when. Not to mention what is happening throughout the Catholic world on the subject of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

I have struggled to offer anything constructive on how we might recover from this devastating cancer. We laity have very little voice and almost no influence over what the bishops will do to correct their course going forward.  But there is so much more that needs to be done, that I wonder what would happen if we all wrote to our local bishops and offered some serious feedback about would help us as laity to feel there was any hope of recovery from this sin in our Church.

So here are a few seriously considered recommendations you could make to our bishops:

Stop blaming the gay community. This is the most blatant scapegoating and it is cheap and disrespectful of people who have nothing to do with the problem of pedophilia. Rather, recommend that your bishop focus on some serious revisions to his own understanding and Catholic understanding in general of human sexuality. It might be a bridge too far for many bishops to think that homosexuality is simply a particular place on the spectrum of human personality, but he could at least not blame gay people for this pedophilia problem.

Stop blaming celibacy. It is not for everyone, clearly, but you could point out that it is possible to live a healthy and productive celibate life, with the right support and committed community of friends.  The best way to choose a celibate life is to have great men and women who are examples of healthy and happy celibate lives as inspiration. Learn by good example. Celibacy is not for everyone so can we at least begin to talk about an option for a married priesthood? Bishops don’t seem to mind admitting formerly Anglican married priests into the Church. A serious examination of the double message of this practice is in order and an honest explanation is needed of why it’s okay for some priests to be married and other not.

While we are on the topic, maybe we should think twice about clerics teaching people about marriage and have couples with a successful marriage do that part for us.  Surely there are plenty of qualified and educated laity around. Teaching by example and lived experience is inspiring.

Stop talking and start listening. The time for empty words and a pledge to do better is over. To be honest, I don’t appreciate being invited by the hierarchy to join in a common prayer for healing and forgiveness. It seems pretty strange that a bishop would invite me to pray for forgiveness when he needs to be asking the laity for forgiveness.  I’m having a hard time taking bishops seriously who have no accountability for covering up pedophilia. Ask your bishop to listen to the pain and suffering this has caused victims and the rest of the laity as well. Can he stay at the table long enough to know their hurt at a deep and transformative level?

Stop thinking that present seminary education and priestly formation is adequate. A fearless and honest look at how priests are trained is essential. Ask your bishop to tell you how their men are being equipped for lifelong development of their own spirituality, pastoral skills, and how they can maintain a community of personal support. What is he doing to be a brother to his priests who are struggling or lonely or poorly suited to a ministry?

Finally, my last suggestion is that the hierarchy follow the traditional steps for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  1. Examine your conscience. What sins of omission or commission do you need to own in order to make a good confession? Ask the Holy Spirit for help.
  2. Publicly admit the exact nature of your wrongs to the people of your diocese. Being able to admit wrong takes humility and a willingness to accept the consequences of your actions. Losing power can be scary, but it is not the end of the world. We, the laity, are very capable of forgiving, but not very tolerant of covering up sin.
  3. Express your remorse and contrition for offending God and the people whom you serve.
  4. Ask for the forgiveness of those who were abused, be willing to make amends to them, without a lawyer present, no matter how long ago the abuse took place.
  5. Do public penance and meaningful acts of contrition that demonstrate a sincere desire and openness to reform. Then follow that with action that begins to rebuild some credibility.

Reconciliation is possible, because in the very long haul, the people of God have been sustained by their faith in good times and in bad, during great trials and suffering. I believe that we have the potential for a new Church, a renewed, more humble Church.  But I think this one will take a very long time.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

Victory is Ours: a Reflection on Holy Hope

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

Our small community hasn’t done the candle-lighting ritual before evening prayer for the past two months. In the candle’s place we have a small globe encircled by its stand, a ring of gold. We take the globe from its stand, and adjust its placement as we choose a country, a people, a region, where the Light of Christ seems dim and needful and we pray that the Light of the World will shine there with peace and healing and hope. It’s a way to keep us aware of Christ’s presence and promise in the midst of  the whirling winds of bad news and constant noise of things going bad, the winds and waves and fires and floods, our brothers and sisters imperiled and fleeing from war and terror, and the mounting anguish of hearts broken and lives ruined. It’s a way to bolster us in our Christian gift and task of bringing hope in Christ Jesus, the Light no darkness can vanquish.

There’s a Taize chant that I love, with words that foster my hope.

Goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate;             

Light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger that death;

Victory is ours, victory is ours, through him who loves us. (Repeat)

Victory is a bit martial sounding—a suggestion of a clash of armor heard in the distance– but it is a word that Christians use for the Paschal Mystery at work in history and eternity, with its great Feast celebrated at Easter.  As a religious metaphor, it always needs some careful trimming and more room to grow. And there is always the question, “Well, where is it, where can we see this victory?” because it wears a different face, God’s face.

Over recent weeks we have seen the ugly fissures scarring our American landscape and felt the fear that things may be falling apart. We will never know ourselves in the same way, never again sing “God Bless America” without taking a knee. We’re mystified at our own processes of self-destruction. We cannot explain ourselves to ourselves. Our nation and our world cry out for Truth, justice, and repentance.  Optimism is far too fragile a vehicle to sustain the transformation eternally offered us. Only hope in God’s presence and promises can carry us on that journey, which we can see is the Way of the Cross writ large, a hard path, and painful.

Our scholar brother Marie-Dominique Chenu once wrote, “You might say that when something new is beginning, when things shake and tumble, then (we) are most happy. For a special opportunity is being given to observe the Word of God at work in history. The “Nowness” of God is shaking up the world.”

God, the prime “mover and shaker” is at work in the rattling and rumbling of sin and death, stronger than all that threatens us. Victory is first and finally God’s work, and it seems for now that God is calling us to preach grace wherever and whenever it breaks through, and to “wait in joyful hope” as God-in-Christ gathers us all into the Light and the Peace surpassing all understanding.

Posted in Wednesday's Word

Dignity is on the Menu

Sr. Pat Thomas, OP
Blog by Sr. Pat Thomas, OP

“What does it look like to treat others in a way that contributes to their health and well-being? It looks like honoring their dignity”.

These words are taken from a book entitled Dignity by Donna Hicks, Ph.D. Many of our Sisters have read this book as part of their committee work or study groups. Dr. Hicks defines dignity as “an internal state of peace that comes with the recognition and acceptance of the value and vulnerability of all living things.”

Those are some good words to reflect upon but now I can put a face to the truth that they speak.

Down here at the Peace Center we are often able to take our folks on field trips; we believe that this is good use of the generous grants that we have received from organizations such as Catholic Health Initiatives. One such trip was to the World War II museum with our adults. Many of the men had been in the service; all of them had “war” stories; so they enjoyed the outing.

We were able to end the trip by having lunch at the great restaurant there called the American Sector. As we sat at the tables, and menus were distributed, one fellow (I will call Joe) asked if he could order a salad. “Sure,” I replied. “Could I order soup, too?” he asked. “Of course.” “Well, could I order soup and salad?” “Absolutely! Order whatever you would like to eat, even dessert.”

When we returned home and were getting off the bus, Joe and a couple of the other folks came over and thanked us profusely for such a great experience and Joe said, “It was so awesome to be able to order from the menu.”

That is what honoring their dignity looks like. The value and vulnerability of another human being was found in being able to simply choose anything from the menu.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

There Is So Much More That Must Be Done: Part 1

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

People have asked me: what is our position on the horrendous news we’ve been hearing about the cover-up of US bishops in the sexual abuse scandal, particularly after the Attorney General‘s report in Pennsylvania? Keep in mind that the Leadership Team of the Dominican Sisters of Peace are members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. That means we stand with the LCWR statement completely, because we are members — it speaks for us.  I invite you to read our very comprehensive and fearless statement below.

For me, however, there is so much more that needs to be done.  I’ve been pondering what I’d like to see happen and am very aware of our Dominican charism to speak the truth – so a few thoughts:

In spite of the good work of most priests and the integrity of many bishops, the hierarchy as a whole has lost moral credibility. This is the most damaging aspect to me. How can the bishops make public statements about immigration, family values, or any other issue when their own house is corrupt? Can they correct themselves and restore the confidence of Catholics — let alone the general public? I do not think so – not by themselves anyway.  Before bishops can speak of healing for victims, they need to address the root causes of this very public sin. Otherwise, the wrong people are putting a bandage on a cancer.

The 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People did not stop Rev. Kevin Lonergan, a 30-year-old priest from Pottsville, PA, who was charged with indecent assault and corruption of minors after being accused of inappropriately touching a 17-year-old girl and sending nude images of himself to her. He was ordained just 4 years ago. Where is the oversight even now?

Some have called for women to serve in positions of oversight. This is half true to me. I suggest that the USCCB recognize that independent and objective oversight, by both professional lay men and women, who are qualified to serve, is absolutely necessary. It would take enormous courage and humility to submit to such an investigation. But who would appoint and to whom would they report? This question lies at the feet of Pope Francis and I hope he can demonstrate the kind of fearless resolve that we need for the People of God at this time. We need no less than a Reformation of the priesthood. That is just a beginning.

So I look to Pope Francis who certainly as the power to call for a deep cleansing and reform of the priesthood. Vatican bureaucracy has successfully derailed his efforts so far. What will he do now?

Next time, I’d like to share a few more thoughts, but for now, here is the LCWR statement:

LCWR Statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy

August 23, 2018

[Silver Spring, MD] The recent news detailing the extensive and sometimes brutal sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in the United States has left us at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious sickened and ashamed of the church we love, trusted, and have committed our lives to serve. We weep and grieve with all who over the decades have been victimized by sexual predators within the faith community and feel their pain as our own. We recognize that the damage done to many is irreparable.

Sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and the horror is so much worse when committed by persons in whom society has placed its trust and confidence. Equally difficult to comprehend is the culture within the church hierarchy that tolerated the abuse, left children and vulnerable adults subject to further abuse, and created practices that covered up the crimes and protected the abusers.

We call upon the church leadership to implement plans immediately to support more fully the healing of all victims of clergy abuse, hold abusers accountable, and work to uncover and address the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis.  We believe that the work to implement the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its subsequent revisions has been an important and effective step in addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. We have watched the Conference of Major Superiors of Men diligently work to assure the protection and safety of children and youth and applaud its efforts. However, it is clear that more serious action needs to be taken to assure that the culture of secrecy and cover-up ends.

We also call upon church leaders to attend to the severe erosion of the church’s moral standing in the world. Its members are angry, confused, and struggling to find ways to make sense of the church’s failings. The church leadership needs to speak with honesty and humility about how this intolerable culture developed and how that culture will now be deconstructed, and to create places where church members can express our anger and heartbreak. We call on the leaders to include competent members of the laity more fully in the work to eradicate abuse and change the culture, policies, and practices. We are committed to collaborate in the essential work of healing and transformation that our church so desperately needs.

Finally, we recognize that the vast majority of priests have not committed abuse and are suffering greatly because of the actions of some of their brothers. We offer them our prayer and support as they continue their ministries in these very challenging times and as they too struggle to understand the complexity of factors that led to this deplorable situation.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

Preaching Truth in Parlous Times

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

“Sisters, we live in parlous times.”*  Those times were the later 1960s, and the speaker was Mother Eileen of  the  Akron Dominican congregation.   Her pronouncement endures.

Parlous times indeed. The connection of these times and troubles with the times and troubles of the early Christian believers couldn’t be clearer than in the gospel story we heard recently about the beheading of John the Baptist. He was a clarion voice for the truth, unafraid to speak to the corruption and power of his day. He paid with his life.

Truth in a Tangle

Today we live in a knotty tangled world where truth and lies, good and evil, service and selfishness are so intertwined that we can barely separate the fibers. There is great difficulty in truth-finding, and there is great peril in truth-telling.

Pick any point on the globe on any day. Evils and terrors, rebellions, barbed wire and refugees from persecution, so many forgotten ones. There is the vast gap between the “justice” accorded to the privileged and the “justice” meted out to the disadvantaged. (A recent Time Magazine reported that  a study of the top 350 corporations in the U.S. revealed  a CEO-to-worker ratio of compensation  as 312 to 1.)  There is false news and “alternative truth,” and at our doorsteps, indefensible poverty and racism. Truth and falsehood tangle together in every newscast, every soundbite, every “tweet.”

Truth: Noble and Naked

Two weeks ago, in an ironic political drama, we heard the tributes to Senator John McCain, the ornery maverick, the worthy opponent, who spoke his truth,  a civil servant  who reached “across the aisles” to achieve not what he personally wanted, but what he thought was best for the country. Tributes to him contained a critique of present government, along with our palpable yearning for more public figures like him. Two days later, back to political deadlock.

Then there is our church, open now to public view of the protective treachery of leaders who have been entrusted with the shepherding  of God’s people.  They have failed us. No wonder they walk away, the wounded and broken-hearted, and their children see faith and/or religious practice as irrelevant to their lives. What a disappointment to Vatican II Catholics, still hanging on, still wanting to believe in their call to a holy priesthood with a full share of the Spirit by their Baptism; and how sad for the faithful women who do 80% of the ministry.

Why?  Because…

So of course we are asked: How can you stay? Your church has betrayed you–how can you remain faithful to Roman Catholicism?

First, I stay because I am not alone, but always a part of “We.” God’s Holy  Church  is not “It” or “They.” So WE stay believing that the “parlous times” of today are still actively addressed by the Gospel, because we still stand in the courts of Herod and Pilate, and under the cross, and before the empty tomb, and we mourn the malignancy of evil, and our own poor witness. Because we are God’s church by God’s choice and God’s faithfulness–not our own. Because Jesus is Risen and his Spirit never leaves us.

Because by our daily dose of the Scriptures, we are formed by the Word into Living Words of  Christ who, as Catherine of Siena reminded God, is “Your Truth.” Because the Trinity in love overflowing serves us a banquet overflowing, and with it, the energy for loving service and prophetic hope and stubborn perseverance and mercy and forgiveness. Because held and entwined in such grace, how can we keep from searching for and speaking out Gospel Truth—even in these tangled “parlous times?”

* Sister Eileen Pentecost had family roots in the South.

 

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word