Bad Shepherds in our Catholic Church
“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord.” We heard these words in our first reading from the Book of Jeremiah this past weekend, and they definitely hit close to home. I got home at 11:30 pm the night before, or I would have preached about this on Sunday, but I thought I would say a few words here.
I was in high school in 2002 when the priest abuse crisis hit us in St. Louis. I actually remember being on retreat when I was pulled aside by a teacher and informed that a priest I knew and had worked with had been arrested. It definitely hit me hard because this was a priest I had looked up to and saw as a very holy man, and in fact, his work, alongside other priests, had landed me in the middle of the application process to the seminary when I received this news. I felt betrayed, as so many others did, to find out this horrible information, but this betrayal pales in comparison to that wound suffered by the victims, and my heart breaks for them.
These things had seemed a distant memory, but in the past few weeks, more and more accusations have come forward against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington DC. Unfortunately, many of them seem to be well founded, and the fact that this man is a Cardinal does great damage to his victims and to the Church, opens up old wounds, and damages the trust that we have worked so hard to rebuild.
We cannot dismiss these sins or sweep them under the rug. These cowardly acts only do more to amplify the horror we feel. We must follow the lead of the Prophet Jeremiah in calling out the sins of the bad shepherd who preyed on the flock instead of shepherding it. Since the Dallas Charter passed in 2002, protective measures and standards have increased dramatically, and most of you are familiar with Protecting God’s Children, in which each and every person working with youth in the Church is required to take specific training and uphold a zero-tolerance policy. And although it has been statistically proven that priests are no more likely than anyone in the general population to be guilty of these crimes, we, priests, bishops, deacons, and all of the faithful, can and must be held to a higher standard as followers of Jesus Christ.
St. Augustine once compared the Church to a lily in the midst of thorns. Jesus Christ is the head of the Christian Church, and as such, the Church is a beacon of His hope and beauty in the world. Sometimes the thorns obscure that beauty or injure us as we reach for it, but we must nevertheless keep our eyes fixed on Christ. Please join me in praying for the victims of sexual abuse throughout the world, especially those perpetrated by priests. Join me also for praying for an increase in faithful vocations to the priesthood, that the Lord may use them to “gather the remnant of [the] flock from all the lands to which [he] has driven them and bring them back to their meadow, where they shall increase and multiply.”
For more information about Protecting God’s Children visit VirtusOnline.org, and to see more about what the Archdiocese of Saint Louis is doing to protect children from child abuse, visit Archstl.org.