August 19, 2018 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
August 19, 2018
Fr. George Smiga
“I am deeply disturbed, saddened, and angered.” These are the words of our bishop, Nelson Perez, in response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on child abuse released this week. It is important for me, as your pastor, to say that I too am deeply disturbed, saddened, and angered. You should be also. The Pennsylvania report is devastating. It documents that over 300 priests molested children over a seven-decade period and were protected by bishops who kept the abuse secret and in some cases allowed the priests continued contact with children. It is morally wrong to abuse children. It is morally wrong to allow that abuse to continue. We are facing a moral catastrophe in our church.
Now clearly the majority of the abuse took place before 2002, when the US Bishops adopted a charter for the protection of children. That charter requires those with credible accusations of abuse be removed from ministry and their actions reported to civil authorities. However, the recent revelations from Baltimore concerning Cardinal McCarrick indicate that the 2002 charter was in some places only selectively enforced. This has to stop. I support Bishop Perez in his commitment to work with the other bishops of our country to strengthen protection against predators in the church and all who would conceal their actions. You may pick up a complete copy of the bishop’s statement as you leave church today.
Where does all of this leave us who love our church and abhor the presence of child abuse in our midst? Today’s second reading from Ephesians says, “Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the day’s are evil.” The days are evil indeed. The presence of child abuse undermines our church’s credibility and life. Ephesians says in such circumstances we should be wise. But what does it mean to be wise? Allow me to suggest three wise choices we should make.
First, face the facts. Child abuse is a reality in our society and in our church. It would be foolish to presume that because a person is a priest or bishop that our children are safe. Priests, bishops, coaches, doctors, teachers, and others in high positions have abused children in the past and unfortunately may do so again. Those are the facts. Second, be vigilant. Because child abuse is a reality we must carefully watch our children. We must know who is with them and why. Our diocese has in place a Virtus program to protect children against abuse. I want you to know that St. Noel is in full conformity with that program. Adults who minister to children in our parish have undergone background checks. We do not allow ministry to take place in private settings where children could be endangered. We are committed to remain vigilant along with you. Third, speak out. Our church leadership needs to know how important this issue is to us. Bishop Perez needs to know that we fully support his commitment to strengthen protection for our children. We must also insist that the bishops of our country realize that any new guidelines can only be effective when there is a mechanism in place to hold bishops accountable when they fail to follow them.
We are deeply disturbed, saddened, and angered. But if we are wise enough to know the facts, remain vigilant, and speak our expectations to our leaders, the deeps wounds of sexual abuse in our church may begin to heal. As we continue this Eucharist, let us pray for all victims of sexual abuse and for our church leaders. Let us also pray for our children that they may grow knowing the love of God in parish communities that are unquestionably committed to their protection.