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Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Moral Consequences of Episcopal Sin

by Fr. Edward T. Oakes, S.J.

[Editor’s Note: The following is an adaptation of a homily delivered on Divine Mercy Sunday, 11 April 2010 at St. Alphonsus Church in Chicago.]

A preacher is often faced with the burdensome task of confronting the discrepancy between the texts from Scripture assigned for the day and the headlines that have been blaring during the past week. For example, how does one reconcile the news of God’s love with the news of the earthquake in Haiti?

Something like the same dilemma faces me today, when I must preach on this verse from today’s first reading, where we just heard: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. They used to meet in Solomon’s Portico. No one dared join them, even though they were esteemed by the people” (Acts 5: 12-13).

Such a situation hardly obtains today, where the successors of the apostles are neither feared nor esteemed. I presume you have all heard the news or read the headlines about the revelations of sexual abuse of minors by priests which have recently come to light in Ireland, Germany, and elsewhere, and which are so reminiscent of the revelations of similar crimes committed by American priests that came to light in the Long Lent of 2002.

Given how devastating must be the effect of these crimes on the victims, I cannot help but be struck—as has been the world—by the collusion of bishops in covering up these crimes, lest they cause “scandal to the Church.” Even now, explicit confessions of guilt in that sin have been remarkably muted. At least, those expressions of remorse come tinged with both embarrassment and defensiveness. All too rarely does one hear the ringing tones of, for example, Buti Tlhagale, the Archbishop of Johannesburg, South Africa, who had this to say during his homily at the Chrism Mass last week on April 6, 2010:

In our times we have betrayed the very Gospel we preach. The Good News we claim to announce sounds so hollow, so devoid of any meaning when matched with our much publicized negative moral behavior. Many who looked up to priests as their model feel betrayed, ashamed and disappointed. They feel that some priests have “slipped away from the footprints of the Apostles.” Trust has been compromised. The halo has been tilted, if not broken. What happens in Ireland or in Germany or America affects us all. It simply means that the misbehavior of priests in Africa has not been exposed to the same glare of the media as in other parts of the world. We must therefore take responsibility for the hurt, the scandals, the pain and the suffering caused by ourselves who claim to be models of good behavior. The image of the Catholic Church is virtually in ruins because of the bad behavior of its priests, wolves wearing sheep's skin, preying on unsuspecting victims, inflicting irreparable harm, and continuing to do so with impunity. We are slowly but surely bent on destroying the church of God by undermining and tearing apart the faith of lay believers. …

The upshot of this sorry state of affairs is that we weaken the authoritative voice of the church. As church leaders, we become incapable of criticizing the corrupt and immoral behavior of the members of our respective communities. We become hesitant to criticize the greed and malpractices of our civic authorities. We are paralyzed and automatically become reluctant to guide young people in the many moral dilemmas they face.

Under such circumstances, when allegations after allegations are made, when scandal after scandal is brought forth, as clergy, we probably feel much closer to Judas Iscariot and his thirty pieces of silver. “Alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed” (Mk. 14.21). Or perhaps like Simon Peter, we are deeply buried in denial; we curse and swear when we hear the words: “You are one of them.” We answer: “I do not know the man you speak of.” Each time we toss our vows in the air, each time we break our fidelity, we betray Christ himself.  Read the whole article.

AtonementOnline

About Me

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Fr. Phillips is the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, the first Anglican Use parish, established on August 15, 1983. Not that there is any confusion, but he is on the left, shown in his younger, less gray-headed days.