The following is a deeply personal statement written by a pastor in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and posted in the bulletin in order to give guidance to his troubled flock. In this poignant bearing of his heart, he not only gives us all good advice about how to find a way forward, but adds a new perspective to the scandal that has shaken our Church to its core.
“Do you also want to leave?” This is the question Jesus asked the twelve, this is the question He asks of us.
A flashback to 2011 after the 2nd Grand Jury report in Philadelphia and the aftermath, it was a very difficult time to be a priest. Over the next year, I struggled. One of the thoughts that came to my mind, “This wasn’t what I signed up for.” Priests who had abused children, a Church that covered this up. And now, some priests were removed not for molesting children, but for actions labeled as “boundary violations” some of which could be mis-perceived acts of kindness and instead looked at as grooming. What am I supposed to do if someone tried to hug me, including a child?
I was so worried for me and other priests, that an act of kindness done with pure intentions could lead to us being removed. I was tempted to give up, to walk away from being a priest out of ear that any of my actions could be mis-perceived. It would be much easier to not be a priest, to choose another way of life.
I heard Jesus ask me the question, “Do you also want to leave?”
As I pondered this question, I was convinced by the words of St. Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life . . .”
Where would I go? I could never leave the Church Jesus established upon the Apostles. I could never abandon the teachings of Christ and His teachings through His Church. I could not leave the Eucharist.
The Lord placed on my heart, am I going to be a part of the problem by giving up, or am I going to be part of the solution, to bring healing to the Church by living out my vocation faithfully?
The abuse scandal was a failure to live out the Gospel and teachings of Christ and His Church as guided by the Holy Spirit. It was, and is, a failure to faithfully live out our calling to protect the most vulnerable and to use the virtue of prudence, to make good prudential judgements on how to deal with what is grave sin, but also a violation of the civil law. According to Social Justice teachings in our Church, all of us are to follow all the just laws of society, not to ignore them.
“Do you also want to leave?”
I now many of you have questions why are you Catholic, why do you still go to that Church? At a moment when people are rightly disgusted and fed up with the abuse and cover up, we realize it might be easy to walk away like many already have from Jesus and His Church. The words of St. Peter inspire us that walking away is not the solution, “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.”
The calling to St. Francis by our Lord to “REBUILD MY CHURCH” is a challenge to all levels of the Church, laity, religious, deacons, priests, bishops and pope as the Body of Christ, the Church. We need to be part of the solution; to restore our broken Church, to reform how we deal with abuse, to bring compassion and healing to the abused and broken-hearted, to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus and His Church. Our prayer should guide us because it is this time spent with Jesus, that the Holy Spirit will guide us how God is calling you and I to REBUILD JESUS’ CHURCH.
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