Preparing for Dallas

Bishop Robert J. Baker looks ahead in preparation for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas.

by Bishop Robert J. Baker

I invite all parishes, organizations, and religious communities in the Diocese of Charleston to join in a Day of Prayer the first Friday of June, June 7, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, asking the intercession of the Lord on the efforts by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in their efforts to produce a national policy that will comprehensively, compassionately, and effectively address the issue of sexual abuse of minors by clerics. The U.S. Bishops meet June 13-15 to discuss policy that will bring healing and hope, as well as trust, back to our Church. While we are all aware that such an accomplishment will not happen overnight, I am confident we will see positive direction for the future emerging from this important meeting. The bishops have already received a draft of proposals for action from our Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, and I am happy to say the proposals are a solid basis for the major discussions that will take place. I am hopeful that we will have a constructive, unified approach that will address most of the problems of the past.

This has been a grueling time for all of us.

I share the perspective of Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, who wrote recently in the Diocese of Evansville newspaper, The Message, “The Risen Lord is my hope. The priests of our diocese, despite their failures and mine, are my hope. The faith of our people is my hope. And beyond, paraphrasing St. Paul, nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

Bishop Gettelfinger describes well what many of us bishops feel at this time: “In spite of my deep and abiding hope,” he says, “I am greatly saddened. There is no way I can presume to fathom the hurt and pain suffered by victims of sexual abuse by priests. As bishop and priest, I, too, become a victim of sexual abuse of minors by priests. This becomes a reality when I recognize that:

“I am helpless to remove the pain of the abuse.

“I am unable to remove the scars from victims of past abuse.

“I am powerless to resolve the righteous anger of victims.”

And I would add. “I am saddened to see the ministry of clerics or lay people who have failed through a confirmed or proven abusive act of a distant past come to an end, because I know there have been years of devoted, self-sacrificing ministry to thousands on their part.” But, I know as well that a Church leadership dedicated to promoting moral values and protecting the spiritual and psychological well-being of its youth has to practice moral values and lead chaste lives if it is to lead our youth in that direction. The Lord held out his strongest criticism for adults who fail in this regard (Matt 18:6).

Even here, where there has been failure and hurt and victimization, we must bring hope; yes, even to the offender. As a Church, as a diocese, we must devise ways to bring healing to the victim and healing to the one who has brought harm. That is the Christian way.

The invitation of Jesus is to go beyond justice to mercy. Recall his attitude to the woman caught in adultery and to the people about to stone her (John 8:3-11). Jesus did not ignore or conceal the wrongdoing before him. Unlike the Scribes and Pharisees, however, he chose not to condemn the woman to death. He challenged her to sin no more: and as the Son of God, he was able to extend to this repentant woman the mercy of God.

Her accusers stopped pointing the accusatory finger once they were apprised of the moral state they themselves were in.

How fortunate for all of us, “God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us (Eph 2:4)!”

Hope comes through acknowledgment of wrongdoing, correction of the fault, the sincere seeking of forgiveness, the granting of forgiveness, and then a life-long healing process for the victim and the victimizer.

May the Lord help us as we apply this healing process, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the tragic situation of offenses against our youth by a small percentage of adults in ministry.

Again, Bishop Gettelfinger: “We are not powerless. We must seize this opportunity to change those things that need changing… Undaunted, we, like the frightened disciples of Jesus before Pentecost, should welcome the gifts of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us. The spirit of courage has special meaning for us today.”

May the Dallas meeting of bishops bring a new Pentecost to our American Catholic Church!