Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Betrayal of Innocence
Word has come this week of the suspension of another colleague for sexual misconduct with minors. It is a terrible blow. I have known the priest for many years and considered him a respected colleague. He has accepted the decision of the bishop to suspend his orders for 20 years which will effectively remove him from the priesthood for the rest of his life. And I agree most heartily with the actions of the bishop. But I am still left grieving for the young people who were molested, for the priest who has fallen so far from the grace of God and for the Church who has been besmirched by his actions.
The adolescences that were betrayed, I hope, are being tended to by professionals who can help them regain an unsullied image of themselves. There will be no way for them to regain their innocence about life, themselves or the Church. They will forever question themselves about their own involvement because that is the nature of sexual abuse. That betrayal of innocence will mark them the whole of their lives. And that is why this sin is so abhorred by all.
I do not understand the need for adults to find sexual gratification from young people. I can understand the temptation to find sexual gratification from others. I can understand the extreme loneliness that often comes in the way of life that is called the priesthood. I also can understand the loss of control that leads one into temptation. But I do not understand the desire to destroy the innocence of young people or children nor the naiveté that perpetrators often delude themselves with when they ignore it. But understanding the motivations or the temptations are not necessary. I just know of the evil of it. And the anger that image surfaces is a temptation toward sin in and of itself.
What do I do with the feelings I have for the colleague who has violated those boundaries? Do I hate him or her? No! I am unwilling to be facile about ‘loving the sinner and hate the sin.’ I must be willing to stand in that very uncomfortable place between the sinner and the sin and invite the sinner to return to faith. That is what is called of the Christian.
It would be easier to just hate the sinner and remove him/her from my acquaintance. But as a Christian I am called to accept the judgment of God, that all are deserving of Divine mercy. And perhaps that is what is so difficult about this particular issue in the Church. For us to know the mercy of God means that we must be willing to forgive. There is part of me that would like to stay angry at my colleague; there is so much energy in righteous indignation. But that would pull me into his sinfulness. I cannot go there for the sake of my own soul.
Over the past 15 years or so, we as Church have had to address this problem of the misconduct of clergy in a much more up-front way than it was dealt with in the past. We cannot shove things under the rug as did the Roman Catholics in Boston. We must be willing to look dispassionately at the failure of fellow clergy. We must be willing to offer the mercy of God and not shun those who fail, but we may not ignore it. We must be willing to stand in that space of discomfort between the sinner and the sin, between the image and the reality of a Church that is heavenly inspired but lived-out in the muck of temptation and sin.
We, as Church, can no longer live in a naïveté that the organization is holy without our vigilance. We cannot know our churches as being safe if we are not diligent in making them so. We cannot expect our clergy to be impervious to sin in positions where there is little collegial support, no ecclesial support and damned little support of our parishioners. We must be willing to understand “there but for the grace of God, go I.” We all are capable of such sin save for the grace of God. And consequently the Church may not maintain a veneer of innocence. We are all sinners in need of redemption.
And so I stand today, chastened by my friend’s sin, yet with my hand open to him inviting him/her to the mercy of God. I stand loving my Church knowing that she will never be the same, and yet knowing that she is the fount of blessing for me as always.