Fr. Paul's Response
August 18, 2018—Most likely, you’ve read or heard about the report by the Pennsylvania Attorney General documenting decades of abuse of minors by priests and the covering up of that abuse by the bishops of Pennsylvania. If you haven’t read Archbishop Schnurr’s response, I recommend it. It is available on the Archdiocesan and parish websites. Allow me to add my list of emotions to ones the Archbishop mentioned. Let me preface my remarks by noting that I have the teacher’s passion for children. Because of that passion, I feel no sympathy for the perpetrators. They should have sought help before they did what they did. Instead, I feel deep sadness and regret because priests have harmed the most vulnerable persons under their care. That also angers me. This misrepresents the priesthood and the Church, and it has been done in such a way as to use the Church as a cloak, cover or even hunting blind so that these sexual predators could stalk their chosen prey. These monsters were also aware that rules within the Church made it nearly impossible for their bishop to dismiss them from the priesthood once they had been ordained. Our bishops mishandled the problem. Judging from fact that countries around the world have uncovered similar situations of abuse and covering up, the structures within the Church promoted or even demanded that that the bishops “mishandle” the problem. This adds another layer of confusion, disappointment and anger. Exactly who is to blame? How did the rules and structures within the church contribute to or even create the problem? How long has this been going on?
Just as I’ve reach the boiling point where I’m ready to demand someone’s head on a plate, I hear the voice of the Lord breaking through my cloud of self-righteous indignation, “Remove the plank from your own eye so you can see clearly the splinter in the eye of your brother.” In this situation planks and splinters become information and facts. To be honest, I know very few of the facts. I am judging situations I only know from a very great distance. Also, my source of information is the public media who is known for telling only what will get people most fired up. Taking a step back, I ask myself what I really know. I know abuse of minors is wrong. I know doing nothing about it is wrong. And I know that in each case, deciding guilt and innocence should be done on a case by case basis by those who have all the available facts at their disposal. I know I’m not in this last group.
One truly positive result of the Pennsylvania report I can point to is that over 100 new victims have come forward. Helping victims to find better ways to cope with the violations inflicted on them is the best outcome we can hope for. I do not know how much of the damage, if any, can be undone, but we owe these victims every effort to try to undo the damage. And then, we owe them every effort to help them cope as best as possible with whatever damage is left.
I mentioned before that I heard the voice of the Lord break through. I hear it again, but the second time was when a friend remarked that three people she knew of had already left the Church over this report, and her tone said that I needed to do something to stop the impending exodus. As my heart sunk the words that when with what I was feeling were, “Just what am I supposed to do?” I guess I should have been flattered that this friend thought so much of me, instead, that was a very low point. However, an exchange between Jesus and St. Peter in the Gospel of St. John has reminded me of where my attention needs to be.
“Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is difficult; who can accept it?’ As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:60, 66-71,)
This abuse scandal is a difficult thing to weather, but neither the pope nor the bishops are the key to my salvation. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God is. I remain a Catholic because Jesus is present in the Church and its Sacraments. Jesus works through the Bishops and priests of the church, the vast majority of whom are good and faithful men who are trying their level best to do the Lord’s work. And most the time they even get it right. The Lord also works through the people of the Church whose faith inspires me on an almost daily basis, and I thank God for them. However, they aren’t the problem we’re discussing. They are one of the big reasons to stick out the tough times. Because of the all the good people trying to do the Lord’s work who hugely outnumber the perverts and the criminally inept bishops, I flatly refuse to let a bunch perverts and boneheaded bishops who are being used by the devil push me away from the one place where I know I can find the Word and Sacraments that lead to everlasting life. The devil is looking for a great and crushing victory over the Church with this abuse scandal and it looks like he is poised to claim it. However, I will not become part of evil’s victory because Jesus died and rose again. Evil has no more power over Him and it has no more power over us if we believe in Him. For all those who may be on the fence, I hope you won’t become part of evil’s victory either. Let us also pray to Mary, Mother of the Church to help her children move heal and move past this darkness.– Father Paul Gebhardt
Postscript—It seems that many Catholics have already made this decision. On Sunday afternoon, August 19, 2018 on the Reuters News webpage I saw an article that said while many Catholics feel the way I feel about actions documented in the Pennsylvania Report, they aren’t abandoning their faith. I don’t know by what evil things in Pennsylvania got so out of control and I can only hope it is a worst case scenario. In any event, it’s good to know that many of us are not letting this evil win.