Last week my hubby and I decided to see an afternoon flick, and since it won the Oscar for best film this year, we chose SPOTLIGHT. Now we knew about this movie's content, but as Catholics were still very interested in the facts of the Boston Globe's 2004 investigation into child abuse by priests. What they exposed was a horrific cover-up by the church's leaders that went on for decades, and sadly continues today.
Although the statistics presented were staggering, only about 6% of the clergy from around the world are known abusers. Please don't think I'm trying to minimize what these children have had to endure at the hands of the sexual predators, because I'm certainly not. What is critical though is that we understand the facts and be fair in our judgement.
I'm not going to reiterate what SPOTLIGHT so skillfully depicted because I could never do it justice, and if you are so inclined, you can see it for yourselves.
After the movie, my hubby and I discussed it at length. Again I won't impose our views on you, but we concluded that the best action the diocesan bishops could take would be to have every parish priest offer his congregation a time to get together to discuss this matter honestly with no holds barred.
And as if by divine intervention, the very next Sunday, it happened!
Because of our own pastor's failing health, a visiting priest had the Mass we attending. The gospel was the story of the Prodigal Son. It's one most known for the unconditional love a father has for his children no matter who or what they've become. To make a long story short, one of this man's son's leaves home, lives a life of debauchery, while the older son stays by his father's side doing what is expected of him. When the wayward boy returns, his father accepts him with open arms, calling for a great celebration to be held in his honor. The loyal son is disturbed by his father's generosity, asking for an explanation. You have been with me always and for that I'm certainly grateful, but your brother has come back, has asked to be allowed to lie down with the pigs to make reparation for his unsavory deeds, and for that I'm also grateful was the gist of this father's comments.
Although the celebrant never once mentioned the movie, his sermon hit right to the heart of the matter regarding sexual abuse in the Catholic church. He invited us to picture the father, God, standing in the middle between those of us who have greatly sinned much like the predatory clergy, and those of us who though sinners as well, have tried to walk in the way of Christ to the best of our abilities. As we approach Our Father from both ends of the spectrum, He extends His loving arms and offers forgiveness and compassion to all. Having been cleansed of our wrong-doings, God celebrates our return with food and drink by inviting us to partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
His sermon put everything into perspective for me. No matter what horrible actions we're guilty of, God will always forgive if we only ask. I'm not saying that the abusive clergy shouldn't be held accountable because they definitely should be. Their actions were and are criminal, and they must take responsibility for them and suffer the consequences. Long jail sentences and stringent rehabilitation are certainly in order for these offenders. Their priestly duties should be terminated, never being allowed to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, or be in contact with children again. Those who were involved in the cover-ups should be stripped of their powers so they may never be instrumental in the continuation of these horrific atrocities.
But as far as our judgement of these priests, we are not without sin and therefore do not qualify to make them. Only God, Our Father, is both judge and jury in this matter. And only when these sexual predators sincerely ask for forgiveness at the foot of the Cross, will they be welcome back to the Father's home.
What we can do is evident, keep an open-mind and pray for not only the leaders and priests of the church, and the abused and their families, but for all congregations who are appalled and confused by what they've seen and heard. Mostly we need to pray that we refrain from judgement lest we be judged as well.