25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – September 22, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Amos 8:4-8; Psalm 113:1-2, 4-8; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13
This Gospel we have today ends with several dictums that we are very familiar with. “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones” (Luke 16:10). And, “No servant can serve two masters” (Luke 16:13). We know that these are calls for trustworthiness, for personal integrity, for purity of heart and intention. I think most of us have had the experience, unfortunately, of having trust in another person and then having that trust causally or accidentally or even maliciously thrown aside. As kids we tell our brother or sister a secret, but they go off and tattle to our parents. You’re in high school and tell your friend who you have a crush on, and they go spread it around. As an adult, you give your child a few rules and expectations, and they do something dumb that destroys the trust you had in them. We can think of many examples.
But in every case, when trust is broken or destroyed, the process to healing is difficult and long and unclear. There is this quote from a philosopher which says, “Not that you lied to me but that I no longer believe you has shaken me” (c.f., Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, IV, Aphorism #183). In other words, “I’m not upset because you lied to me, I’m upset because from now on I can’t believe you.” We are often able to forgive an action. But what never comes easy is restoring the trust and relationship that existed before.
As many of you know, the Diocese of Wichita just released the list of priests from the Diocese of Wichita who have substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors. This list is available on the diocesan website as well as in the latest edition of the Catholic Advance. This list contains the names of nine priests from the Diocese of Wichita, as well as six priests from other dioceses who are listed elsewhere but served in this Diocese at some point. After the revelations last year in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, Bishop Kemme decided to voluntarily open our files to undergo a comprehensive and independent audit. Over the past several months, Mr. Stephen Robison, a non-Catholic lawyer here in town with many years of criminal and civil investigation, carefully reviewed over 1,300 files. Bishop Kemme will give these names and other information regarding these substantiated claims to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, who is currently conducting a statewide investigation of Catholic priests. The majority of the reported incidents of abuse occurred between 1950 and 1980, and the clergy on the list have either long been removed from ministry and are currently very old, or they are deceased. Also, important to remember is that there is no priest currently serving in the Diocese of Wichita who has been credibly accused of this.
Before anything else, to the victims of these horrible crimes, I want to express the deepest apology. This was wrong. This should not have happened. And on behalf of these priests, as their brother priest, I want to say “sorry.” As priests we should be better. Above all else, the release of these names is to help victims and survivors begin to heal. And I know that this isn’t much, but it is a beginning.
To all of you, the faithful who come here week after week, who place such faith and trust in your priests, I apologize as well. You deserve better. I know how difficult it is to be a Catholic these days, to be associated with all of this. I know how much trust has been broken. And so I do hope that you can find the place in your heart to forgive these priests, to forgive these broken and sinful men. But again, I know that forgiveness is only one part, and that rebuilding trust is another. The decision to release these names was a step in the direction of regaining this trust and confidence. So many other steps have been made: the policies and procedures in place in the Diocese, the VIRTUS training we all go through, background checks for all bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, and anyone else who works with youth. Having entered seminary in the wake of all of this, I can tell you just how thorough rigorous the screening process is. The Bishops and leadership of the Church are committed to do their very best to take all the steps necessary to prevent this from happening again.
In the wake of all of this, I think the feeling of helplessness is common, the feeling of, “What are we supposed to do?” And many answers could be given, but I think that two are most important: prayer and hope. As St. Paul wrote in our second reading, “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority” and for everyone (1 Tim 2:1). Prayer and fasting, sometimes this is all we can do. Praying for the healing of the victims and survivors, prayers for these priests, prayers for ourselves. Some things can only be overcome by prayer and fasting (c.f., Mark 9:29). Paul also says, “God…wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.…Christ Jesus…gave himself as ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:4, 6). Even for the people that are the most difficult to forgive, for these priests who are among the worst of sinners—even these God wishes to save, even for these Jesus Christ gave his life. Pray and have hope.
There is a poem by an Italian author, Carlo Carretto. And in it, he expresses well the sentiment that I think a lot of us have at this moment. The frustration with the Church, a sense of wanting to abandon it all, to just say, “To heck with it!” But Carlo gives us a meditation about this. He writes:
How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you!
How you have made me suffer much and yet owe much to you.
I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.
You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
Never in this world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, and yet never in this world have I touched anything more pure, more generous, and more beautiful.
Many times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet how often I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!
No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even though not completely you.
Then, too – where would I go? To build another church?
But I cannot build another without the same defects, for they are my own defeats I bear within me.
And again, if I build one, it will be my Church, and no longer Christ’s.
No, I am old enough to know that I am no better than others.
I shall not leave this Church, founded on so frail a rock, because I should be founding another one on an even frailer rock: myself.
And then, what do rocks matter?
What matters is Christ’ promise, what matters is the cement that binds the rocks into one: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit alone can build the Church with stones as ill‐hewn as we.
It was Dorthy Day who said, “In all history, popes and bishops and abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy. I never expected leadership from them. It is the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going. What I do expect is the bread of life and down through the ages there is that continuity.” And that is what we have, that is something we can always be certain of. The saints, living and deceased—the saints will be the ones who continue to lead and guide us. And there will always be the Bread of Life, the true and gentle Shepherd: Jesus Christ.