I had a tough time getting to sleep the other night. I had just heard that the Archbishop had taken the step to ask two of the most prominent figures in our Los Angeles church to step aside because of whatever involvement they had in the priest sex-abuse scandals. I stayed up reading some of the documents, having a hard time believing what I was seeing. I mean, we had just met with Archbishop Gomez the night before as a community to just talk about it all. We knew the documents were coming, we knew they were horrible, and we knew something like this was probably going to happen (even though he didn’t tell us). But still, to see two of our bishops take such a fall, and I’m in no place to judge whether they were put in that position or put themselves there, but it was not easy for me to take, or our whole community for that matter.
I’ve heard stories about how there were some priests who considered leaving the priesthood once the scandals first broke about ten years ago because of the embarrassment, the shame, the anger. And now we can see the records of the evil things that happened and we’re living it all again. I was just reading letters written by a parent of an abused child who was pleading with the pastor of the priest to do something. I read another letter where it seemed that one authority told another that the priest must not go to a therapist should his problems come into the light. Certainly, it can all be taken out of context and made worse than it already is by the media. But still, I write of these terrible things because they are real, they really happened, and they need to be seen, they need to be made known, and they need to be named as sins and brought into the light. Just like the hideousness of the Crucifixion, we cannot turn our eyes away because it may be the only way we can honestly be healed. But it’s ugly, it’s frustrating, and it’s not the Church I so dearly love and so dearly desire to give my life over to.
Or is it?
Think about it for a second. This is the Church we love. This Church that is in so much turmoil and almost self-hate right now is the Church I love. It is the Church that is made up of human beings, sinners, people who fail, fall, and sometimes fight. And it’s not like this is just going away. This is where we step in and love the Church when she needs the most charity and understanding than maybe she has ever needed in any of our lives. She is misunderstood: the world will not accept that priests are not just the employees of bishops who can be fired and moved around like toy soldiers (and we in the Church apparently forget that sometimes too). Actually, priests and bishops are so intimately connected to each other that we are brothers, fathers, and sons in Christ, and the world cannot accept, and will not accept that we have to look out for each other in that way. Where we may have failed, though, is that we have forgotten that we must challenge each other as well, not just protect each other. You do not love me right if you do not challenge me to be holy, to love better, and to learn to be loved. We Church “leaders” have failed each other in so many ways.
But I am not writing this to tell you only of our failures. It is not my place to even judge myself and the bishops, priests, and seminarians I am growing to love as brothers. I am writing to tell you that there is so much hope flowing out of this place that we almost welcome this tumult, this disaster, this embarrassment and frustration. There is so much fire of the Holy Spirit and these grounds are so much holier because of it, that we know now more than ever why we are here at the seminary and why you are all still a living part of our Mother the Church: this is the Church we have been given to care for and to be cared for by. We are limping along, but she is strong; we have a lot of work to do, but she gives us the strength to do it; we grow impatient and angry with the evil around us, but she is built on the cornerstone of Christ’s burning love as a house built on solid ground.
So don’t worry about us at the seminary. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon. We love you all too much to give up now. We know what kind of Church we’re inheriting, and I will tell you the truth: if the men around me persevere toward priesthood with this understanding, they have the fire to keep Her torch lit and you will not be let down by them. No we’re not perfect here, but I see it in the guys around me: we may not be a great number of men, but we are a few men who are so in love with Christ that you will be set on fire too. This is the time when the quality of our character will shine. And yours too: the world needs to see Christ shine through us.
So please, I beg of you during this time, tell your priests that you love them. They need to hear it. And when we tell them and show them that we need them and that we love them, they’ll make it pretty clear that they, too, love us too much to give up on us now.