Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Days of Challenge

     Today is 9/11.  In our day it is a moment seared in our memories as we recall the events of September 11, 2001.  Our priests were on retreat that week, as we are this week.  The word came and we found a tv and were glued to it, not believing what was transpiring in New York, Washington, and very near us in Shanksville.  We stopped to offer Mass with the staff of our retreat center and to pray as we had seldom prayed before.

     The attack on 9/11 was for so many of us a crisis of faith and trust in our security.  It was a time of unbelievable sorrow and pain for countless thousands and heart-wrenching pain for the rest of us.  Anger filled our hearts and our emotions were running on empty.  It was the punch in the gut that doubled us over.   What would tomorrow bring?

     For an earlier generation, December 7, 1941, was such a day.  As FDR called it, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a day that will live in infamy.  The distance from Hawaii to us mattered little as we struggled with the events of that day and our subsequent entry in to WWII.

     In both of those moments of crisis we roused the best of our spirits and courage as a nation, and we took a knee in prayer to the Lord for his love and strength, his compassion and mercy, and for help in ways that we could not even put into words.  And we survived … and we regrouped … and we rebuilt and hopefully grew stronger.   And, as is so important, we remember.  When we forget, we falter and fall.

     As a Catholic, as a priest, as a member of the Church, I see August 14th's Grand Jury Report publication as our spiritual 9/11.  Let me assure you that I am not comparing this crisis within the Church to those other two devastating moments, but there are similarities.  
     The victims who suffered abuse at the hands of abuser priests have also died - in countless ways.  They have struggled and suffered with betrayal and self worth.   Memories are hard to heal, and healing can be illusive.  Add to that the mistakes of the Church in handling many of these situations, and Faith itself is often shaken.  They need our love and support, and most especially our desire for forgiveness from them for the failures of the Church.   We are that Church.
     The Church suffers from the attacks from both within and from without - from those hostile to religious faith and the institutional Church.  The suffering from within involves shame and failure to stand vigilant in preserving the dignity of every child of God.  Not only are the actions of the Church leadership called into question (which they rightly should be) but there is a calling of their motives into question - as if this were a planned, coordinated, sinister plot to not care about the victims.  I find this to not be the case, at least in my experience.
     As I have said before, the vast majority of our priests are faith-filled, faithful, loving servants of the Lord, whose love for those entrusted to them is deep and abiding.  We suffer when the priesthood is described as being vastly predatory and we are labeled by association.  And to those who have been falsely accused in the past or whose accusations have not been substantiated, there is a feeling of abandonment.  We used to say that you were innocent until proven guilty.  That is a thing of the past.
     And as I said in my last post, the Lord requires that we pray for our persecutors, that we love our enemies, that we forgive as the Lord has forgiven us.  This is the most difficult, most challenging aspect of being loved by Christ.  He died for us, but he died for all of us - sinners and saints alike.  And he promised to be our strength as we pray for those who have sinned against us.  Only then can we begin to heal, can we begin to rebuild, can we begin to reflect the glory that is ours as Children of God - redeemed and sanctified in the Blood of the Lamb.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Call To Prayer

      Three weeks ago today the PA Grand Jury issued its report on child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in six dioceses over the last seventy years.  It was a blistering and sobering report that has been heard around the world.  These three weeks have been for me a whirlwind of emotions and sorrow, but also a time of strengthened Faith.  The darkness of this moment of facing our sin and failures as individuals and as Church will give way to the bright promise of grace and future immortality for those redeemed by Christ.

     Remembering that the Church  was instituted by Christ to bring grace, and that the Church consists of all of the Children of God, united with Christ as one body, guided by shepherds that he has chosen, some of whom have sinned grievously against his people and led by others who have made grave mistakes, we are a family in need of tremendous forgiveness and healing.  We must be in an attitude of total submission to the mercy and grace of God so that renewal and restoration may help us heal and be strong.  
    The response of our diocese has been thoughtful, reasoned and sincere.   More needs to be done ... and will be done.  But the Lord has laid it upon my heart that what we also need is a grassroots response of prayer - a "call to arms" or rather a "call to take a knee".   Every single Catholic and those of our brothers and sister from other Faiths who will join us need to beseech heaven for forgiveness and healing within the Body of Christ.   I believe that we need to pray for four things in particular: a) for the victims of abuse both within the Church and in society at large [this is a crisis much larger than the Church] ... they have suffered greatly and have had their trust betrayed; b) for the Church, the People of God, who are also suffering and are confused and struggling to understand this failure to their trust; c) for the overwhelming majority of good and faithful priests who have and continue to serve the Lord and his people with unwavering fidelity, including those whose accusations are unsubstantiated; and lastly [and this is the hard part, but necessary if we are to be faithful to Christ] we need to pray for those men who have sinned and for those who have made mistakes in dealing with them, for Christ has come to call not only the saint, but the sinner as well.

     Since we saw "our cross" on a Tuesday, Might I suggest making Tuesdays a day of pray and fasting for healing and forgiveness.  Go to Mass that day, if possible, or spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer.  Pray the Rosary for these specific intentions, or the Divine Mercy Chaplet or the Liturgy of the Hours.  Fast.  Intentionally endeavor to meet the needs of the poor and lonely.  

     How long should we respond in this way?  It will take more than the commitment of a week or two ... it may take a lifetime for hurt to give way to forgiveness and healing find completion.  But we need to begin NOW!

     And as we say as we address Mary in her prayer: "... pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."  Amen 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The need for prayer

     The day following the release of the PA Grand Jury Report on child abuse by priests and the Church's failures, while we were all still speechless and shocked, a wonderful group of the faithful gathered on August 15th with Bishop Malesic on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin to celebrate their Faith, to honor the Mother of God on the day of her entry into heaven, and to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist as we sang the praises of the Father of all.  Mary, under the title of the Assumption, is the patroness of our diocese.   That night, as we gathered, darkness descended upon us.  The fright of that darkness was dispelled that night by the light of our Faith, the light of the many candles carried in procession, and the strength of trust and redemption as we placed ourselves within the healing power of God and the gentle love of his mother, Mary.  It was a much needed moment of hope for the future.   I have included a number of pictures of the evening taken by the diocesan photographers who sought to capture the beauty of that evening.  And I thank God for the families who witnessed to their undying love of this gift of the Family of God.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Break in the Clouds

     This past weekend I was called upon to "help out" at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg.  I celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Saturday afternoon and was moved in the frailty of the human condition by the humble trust that people express in the mercy of God that comes through that sacrament.  As the guy behind the curtain or in the opposite chair I am always keenly aware of my own frailty and sinfulness and the grace of the Sacrament that uses an unworthy vessel to bring the forgiveness of the Lord and of his Church to the repentant sinner.  As usual, I was truly graced this past Saturday afternoon.
     Later in the afternoon I led the people in prayer as we celebrated the Eucharist.  In my homily I spoke of the storm clouds surrounding the Church, especially in the last week and a half following the PA Grand Jury Report publication.  I shared that this was probably the darkest hour of my priesthood and some of the most challenging days in the life of the Church in my lifetime.  The Scriptures reminded us of the inspired words of Peter when Jesus asked the Twelve if they, like so many other followers who could not face the hard times, would depart from him.  Peter said: "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."  And in the Hebrew Scriptures of the day, the words of the leaders of the people of God: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."   The evil one, like a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devourer.  He is having a field day with the Church in her sinfulness and in the push on the part of some to bring her down.  But we are built upon the Rock of Peter and we have been established by Christ.
     I had a dozen or so people make a point of thanking me for encouraging words in the midst of this conflict.  Our Bishop shared a homily the previous Sunday which began the process of healing and strengthening so needed in the Church of our day.

     But on Sunday morning at the 9:00am Mass, I had the joy of celebrating a baptism with the community.  When the family came into Church with their child, grandma reminded me that many years ago in this same church I had baptized the baby's mom, Allison.  She and her husband, along with a large number of family and friends, joined with me and the three to four hundred in attendance in welcoming Elliot Edward Lutz as a Child of God into the Church community.   The community continues to gather as family to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries and to welcome a new member of a new generation who will continue the living out of the Faith, even in a flawed Church.  For me, as I returned home that morning, it was like a break in the storm clouds and a glimpse of hope that we continue our mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Sign of Hope IV

     As I bring this short series of posts to a close, I would like to focus a little on the outstanding work that the diocese and our parishes do in ministering to the people of this area.

     Faith is a gift given to us by God.  Our mission is to share that faith.  We do so in living out and proclaiming the message of the Gospel and by worshiping the Lord and being a strong community of believers.  We do so by sharing our time, talent and treasure with communities both local and international.  We help meet the spiritual and material needs of the poor throughout the world.

     Service organizations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society with their volunteers and stores, the Knights of Columbus, the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, the Scouting programs, parish food pantries and food banks are just a few.  We visit the sick, the homebound and those in prison.  

    And our Catholic Charities reaches to all four counties of the Diocese in providing counseling and assistance on numerous levels. Charities answers nearly 20,000 call yearly; has distributed $1.27 million in direct material assistance to folks in the last 19 years through their annual fundraiser - the Salt & Light Dinner; helped 66 families last year with furnace and hot water heaters after weather disasters to the amount of $200,000.  Charities helps 1,000 families a year with utility bills and distributed $400,000 from the Poverty Relief Fund since 2009.  This is just from Catholic Charities ... parishes and parish groups do much more in their local communities.

     The Church is more than her failures, more than that described in the Grand Jury Report in all of its revulsion, more than what is found in the justifiable anger and hurt coming from the victims of abuse, more than the sense of betrayal and confusion found in so many of the faithful.  The Church is founded by Jesus Christ who pledged that he will remain with us always, gracing us with healing and love in the darkest moments and strengthening us with hope and love so that we may renew, rebuild and refresh the Church on our journey to holiness.  It is this vision of Church that is our Sign of Hope.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Our day of darkness

     Since the last post, the Grand Jury Report on the sexual abuse of children in Pennsylvania over the last seventy years was released.  It is a time of darkness for the Church, a day of sorrow, scandal and disgust.  For those who are the victims of abuse through these priests, it hopefully is a time of vindication and a moment of healing grace.  The Diocese of Greensburg had twenty priests listed as abusers.  Reading what they did, in some cases a few times to multiple sins and crimes, was devastating and disgusting.  I am embarrassed for the Church and filled with concern for my brothers who through the grace of God have remained faithful to our call.  But most of all, my heart goes out to those who were harmed by these priests.

     As I mentioned in the beginning of this series of posts "A Sign of Hope", this is the scandal of the Cross that Jesus was preparing him followers for when he took them to the mountain top and was transfigured before them, giving them a glimpse of his glory which would see them through their dark hour.   The report of "Higher Standards" of our diocese that I am sharing allows us to see the Church of the Grand Jury Report as not being today's Catholic Church.  We have made strides over the last thirty years that help us to better protect God's children and be vigilant in our effort to correct the failures of the past.

     All of our priests, employees and volunteers who work with children in the Diocese for the past fifteen years, more than 15,000, must go through these procedures.  They must have background checks: a PA Criminal Background check ... a PA Child Abuse History clearance ... a FBI Fingerprint check ... they must read and sign the Pastoral Code of Conduct for the Diocese of Greensburg ... they attend the PA Mandated Reporter Training Course ... they must take part in VIRTUS (the National Catholic online training program to combat child abuse).  A Bishop's Delegate is available to hear and accept reports of abuse and Childline is also available for reporting.  Their numbers and the encouragement to report abuse are regularly publicized in the diocesan paper and in all of the parish bulletins.

     We do more than any other organization for Child Abuse Survivors by offering counseling no matter when, where or by whom it occurred.

     Can this make up for the crimes of the past?  Obviously not.  Is this enough for the moment?  No, but it is a beginning that has been in place for years and continues to be evaluated and updated.  Will this solve the problem?  Probably not completely, but we hope and pray so.  The last reported incident occurred  twenty-five years ago.  May there never be another in the future of this Diocese.

     As Bishop Malesic says in his introduction to the Diocesan Report on Higher Standards: "We believe that we will get through this time of suffering if we remain in Jesus and allow him to remain in us.  Apart from Him, we can do nothing.  With Him, even the impossible becomes doable."

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Sign of Hope III

      Looking at the Church of Greensburg today as we await the Statewide Grand Jury Report on the abuse of children by a number of priests over the last seventy years, I would like to focus in this post on the Mission of Faith Formation and Catholic School Education.   Given the tremendous crimes and sins experienced by young victims of which we are all sorry and ashamed, it bears noting that the mission of the Church to care for our young people continues with renewed efforts at protection and strengthening the quality of education and growth.

     In the Diocese of Greensburg today we find 2,300 students in 11 elementary schools and 2 junior-senior high schools.  The parents of these children have committed to the high standards and the quality of education in our schools and despite high tuition costs have placed their trust in our schools.  The academic excellence found there is combined with the teachings of the Catholic Church and the teaching of moral values.  Our schools provide a safe environment and benefit from tremendous faculties that share knowledge as well as the value of service to others.

     And when I speak of academic excellence, consider these stats: our 2018 graduates from high school were offered $10,117,919 in scholarships and grants ... and in a college-in-high school program those graduates earned 886 college credits while in high school.

     Add to all of this the thousands of youngsters in our parish Religious Education Programs who have the faith shared with them by catechists and aides who, like our school teachers, have their background clearances and who have been thoroughly trained in the protection of God's children.  
     Our children are our most important concern.  The failures of the past, whatever the number (let me say that one is too many) will find no acceptance in the Church today.  Our efforts and policies for the past thirty years are striving to root out this terrible evil and provide a safe environment for all of God's children.