The Best and Worst of Times
Readers will probably not be surprised to learn that the deadline for submission of my Harvest columns is always a couple of months prior to publication. As I sit down this morning to write, it is still the Easter season, and I have just returned from a weekend of celebrating baptism, confirmation and first Communion in five of our northern Maine parishes. I also had the joy of joining with our “neophytes”– adults received into the Church at Easter – in a Mass of Thanksgiving for the gift of these enthusiastic new Catholics. The week before, I celebrated the Eucharist with several hundred faith-filled teens and their youth ministers and adult chaperones at our annual diocesan youth convention in South Portland. Eastertide is truly the high season in every bishop’s ministry. I Iove it! I wanted to tell you about it.
Last night, though, as I was preparing for bed, my mind and heart were overwhelmed with sadness and anger at the terrible reports of widespread sexual abuse of children in Ireland, Germany and other countries. I could not shake off a sense of profound dismay at the failure of some bishops to deal properly and effectively with allegations of clergy abuse. And I was and continue to be deeply distressed over the attacks -- completely unwarranted, in my judgment --on the integrity of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. I knew I needed to address these concerns in this column, because they are the cause of heartache for every committed Catholic…for you.
I finally fell asleep with my radio on, and awoke to a morning news report announcing that it was National Inspirational News Week. The message: Write only about positive things. A quandary, for sure. Charles Dickens’ oft quoted opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities came to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….” How apt.
So I decided to begin this column as I did, highlighting Easter joy, and then turning to the tragic reports of abuse and the mishandling of allegations of abuse. I know that you join me in condemning any and every instance of sexual abuse of children by clergy or any other representative of the Catholic Church. I know that you share my disgust over any intentional cover-ups on the part of Church officials. I know that you join me in prayer for victims, and in a strengthened resolve to protect our children in every way possible as we go forward. This is the commitment of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is my commitment.
We are making significant progress in the protection of children, though what we have been doing receives little media attention. News coverage of sexual abuse … not sexual abuse in the larger society, of course, but, almost exclusively, Catholic sexual abuse … has been unrelenting, but there is rare mention of steps taken under the guidelines of the Charter of the Protection of Children and Young People, which include permanent removal of any priest who has abused a child, complete cooperation with civil authorities, mandatory safe environment training to help clergy, workers, and volunteers recognize signs of abuse, and mandatory background checks of all clergy and workers.
So there is something else that must be said, and I turn to George Weigel, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Policy Center in Washington, who says it better than I can:
To be sure, the Catholic Church ought to hold itself to a higher moral standard than other similarly situated institutions. But after too long a period of denial, the CatholicChurch is now at the forefront of combating the sexual abuse of the young in the United States. And no one in the Church has done more, over the last decade, to compel the sclerotic institutional culture of the Vatican to face these problems than Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI.
…Thus the concern naturally arises…that those who continue to portray Catholicism as a global conspiracy of sexual predators are indulging in the last acceptable prejudice, anti-Catholicism, while aiming at nothing less than the destruction of the Catholic Church’s credibility as a global moral teacher.” (Philadelphia Inquirer April 4, 2010)
The best of times, the worst of times…but Jesus Christ is risen. The ultimate victory of
light over darkness has been won. Alleluia!
Most Rev. Richard J. Malone
11th Bishop of Portland