The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2019 – Cycle C
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
Last August I spoke for the first time on the topic of clergy sexual abuse in our Church. I was spurred by the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Today I would like to continue that conversation.
In that homily (see Ordinary 21 under homilies for August 2018) I asked two questions. The question posed by Pilate to Jesus, “What is truth?” and “Why do you stay?” The continued search for the answer to these questions is important for the healing and spiritual well – being of our Church as we move forward.
Like the tearing off of a scab from a wound, each new revelation of historical abuse is experienced with the sharpness of the original pain. That experience will happen again on 14 August 2019 when the New York State Child Victims Act (CVA) will go into effect. The Child Victims Act allows for a one year window for lawsuits to be filed for abuse which may have taken place decades ago. In effect, the statute of limitations in civil cases has been increased from the limit of age 23 to 55; in criminal cases until individuals turn 28. This will give a significant number of people who believed they could not obtain justice a second chance to hold their abusers accountable for their actions.
14 August, when the law goes into effect, happens to be the Vigil of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary whose primary image in our Catholic tradition is a woman writhing in pain about to give birth while a seven headed dragon waits to devour her child as soon as it is born. (See Revelations 12) A thought-provoking coincidence?
This new law is part of the necessary truth needed for our healing but there is also another perspective I want to share with you.
Since the Boston Globe’s 6 January 2002 front – page report about the abuse and cover – up in the Archdiocese of Boston that galvanized everyone’s attention, our Church has not stood by idly. Have you ever heard of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People? It was first adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, June 2002? Note the date. Within six months of the Boston Globe revelations, our bishops began addressing the issue of clergy sexual abuse.
The reforms outlined in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a comprehensive set of industry – standard and even ground – breaking policies and procedures to keep children safe in the church as well as keeping abusing priests out of ministry. It was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
All dioceses and religious orders, as well as the bishop’s conference have lay review boards with judges, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, human – resource professionals and law – enforcement officers reviewing all reports of improper clerical behaviour with minors and adults.
All church workers, including clergy, lay staff and volunteers, must participate in safe – environment training that highlights the signs and symptoms of abuse for keeping children safe. Our diocese uses a program entitled VIRTUS and background screening is done for all diocesan and parish staff as well as volunteers who work with children. Yearly, I’ve had to also participate in a program for the Boy Scouts of America because we are home to Troop 23. What are we doing in the Albany Diocese? All information can be found at the diocesan website under Protecting Children.
An independent auditing firm conducts yearly audits to ensure all dioceses follow the dictates of the Dallas Charter.
A zero – tolerance policy is now in effect that provides that any credible accusations of sexual abuse by clerics is reported to law enforcement, the offending cleric is withdrawn from ministry and evaluated by experts and, if accusations are found to be credible, the offending cleric never returns to ministry.
Things are very different in the United States Catholic Church since 2002. Most incidents of abuse surfacing now, and I expect that will surface with the Child Victims Act going into effect, occurred many decades ago. The crest of cases occurred mostly between 1965 and 1985. Reports of current abuse of minors by clergy are down drastically in the last decades. Awareness and vigilance are much greater today.
“What is truth?” The truth is that extensive progress has and is being made to ensure that in our Catholic Church, children and vulnerable adults are safe. The Assumption image of the woman giving birth while being threatened ends with the child being caught up safely to God and the woman flees to a place of protection in the desert which has been prepared for her by God. The imagery is one of hope in a time of crisis. Hope that all people, children and adults can someday again consider the Church as that safe haven.
Therefore today is a time of choosing, the original meaning of the Greek word, crisis.
Elisha must choose. Does he go back to his parents and farming or follow Elijah into a new prophetic life. He makes a choice. And to mark the choice, he burns his plowing equipment and slaughters his oxen. He chooses the prophet life over farming. He cannot go back.
Jesus bluntly poses a choice to us; the sacred act of burying the dead and family ties or following him. And once, the crisis, the choice is made we cannot look back.
Many of our sisters and brothers have left us because of this scandal. Can you blame them? Maybe you have thought of leaving as well. But please consider, we are not the same church of the past. We also haven’t as yet fully arrived either but there is good reason for hope: the image of a child and his mother safe and protected in the embrace of God. We are a church being called into a new future like the prophet Elisha. We cannot go back.
So again I ask, “Why do you stay?”