As this month of November begins, cardinals, archbishops and bishops from around the United States are preparing to travel to Baltimore for our plenary business meeting. This meeting will more than likely be one of the most historic moments in the life of the church in this country. I ask for your prayers.
The renewed headlines of clergy sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, combined with the new and disturbing reality of cover-up of these crimes by some bishops has angered, disappointed and disillusioned many, if not most of the members of this church. We are struggling and disturbed on many levels.
In the past four months, I have personally met with individuals and groups and heard from many others through personal mail, email and through comments on our archdiocesan website. Please know that I carry these concerns and perspectives with me to Baltimore. Your input has been a source of insight for me regarding the impact of this present moment and serves as a source of strength in my resolve to “bear [my] share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” (2 Timothy 1:8)
It is important to say once again: Our primary concern must be for the victims of abuse. They and their families must know of our sincere sorrow for what they have experienced and of our earnest commitment to help them find justice and healing. The second priority is a steadfast resolve to demonstrate that we as leaders of the church are properly responding to individuals who have experienced sexual abuse, reporting these incidents to law enforcement, following our policies and taking necessary steps to remove individuals from ministry when reports are substantiated.
I am fully aware of many peoples’ fear that church leadership is unable or unwilling to acknowledge the seriousness and scope of this problem — a fear that nothing will change. Likewise, there is a fear that church leadership is not going to guide and take the church along the path of Christ. I also know there is frustration that it is taking so long to see any concrete action to address and resolve this crisis.
While fear is a natural initial response to this crisis, this journey must ultimately lead to Jesus Christ, who renews all things.
On a very human level, this abuse and cover-up crisis is like a fire burning through the church. Victims’ lives have been devastated, the faith of good people has been shaken and the moral credibility of the bishops is severely weakened. Sometimes, the best way to fight fire is with fire. The stage is now set for the fire of the Holy Spirit to bring the Light of Christ to the darkness of sinful patterns of behavior that are now being revealed and removed from our midst. This fire of the Holy Spirit is a powerful agent of renewal — and the church, by God’s grace, will ultimately be renewed through the prayers, decisions and actions we must now take.
Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of your church! (See Psalm 104:30)
As I prepare for this U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore, I share with you my focus. I will do my part to keep the care of victims at the forefront of our deliberation and action. I will continue to advocate for zero tolerance for anyone within the church who abuses minors or vulnerable adults — and advocate that the same must now hold true for all cardinals, archbishops and bishops. In conjunction with a focus on abuse, there is a need for bishops to hold ourselves accountable for good governance — indeed in these times, stellar governance in how we handle accusations of abuse. There is no room in the church for abuse, and we can no longer tolerate cover-up of criminal behavior. Finally, while much has been done in the past 16 years to address sexual abuse within the church, more needs to be done, especially finding ways to engage more qualified lay people to assist in this important area of church life and decision making.
It is important for this readership to know that I regularly seek and rely on counsel from various lay women and men in my decision making. Within the chancery staff are lay people who I consult in the matters related to sexual abuse and misconduct. Beyond staff, our Archdiocesan Review Board is compiled of tremendously well-qualified lay men and women whose primary task is to make recommendations to me regarding all accusations of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.
While I cannot predict the outcome of this important gathering in Baltimore, I trust and believe that the Holy Spirit is at work. I take great comfort in knowing that when we in unison convert our tremendous energies of fear, anger and disappointment into prayer — a flood of God’s grace will flow upon us. This flood of God’s grace, goodness and blessing will extinguish this fire that presently scorches and scares us, leaving in its wake a renewed, strengthened and holier church.
Christ indeed renews all things.