“For in the readings, as explained by the Homily, God speaks to his people, opening up for them the mysteries of redemption and salvation, and offering spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present through his word in the midst of the faithful.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], #55).
On Wednesday of the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time (Year B), the Lord spoke in this way to the Church through the prophet Ezekiel (EZ 34:1-11):
The word of the Lord came to me:
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,
in these words prophesy to them to the shepherds:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who have been pasturing themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool,
and slaughtered the fatlings,
but the sheep you have not pastured.
You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick
nor bind up the injured.
You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost,
but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd,
and became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered
and wandered over all the mountains and high hills;
my sheep were scattered over the whole earth,
with no one to look after them or to search for them.
Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As I live, says the Lord GOD,
because my sheep have been given over to pillage,
and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast,
for lack of a shepherd;
because my shepherds did not look after my sheep,
but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep;
because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I swear I am coming against these shepherds.
I will claim my sheep from them
and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep
so that they may no longer pasture themselves.
I will save my sheep, that they may no longer be food for their mouths.
For thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
With the recent news of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, both in the multiple charges of the sexual abuse of minors and adults by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick (who is now on Administrative Leave, cannot function publicly and is awaiting Canonical (Church) Trial) and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in six Pennsylvania dioceses over the past 70 years, it is easy to hear the Word of the Lord speaking in judgment against the shepherds of the Church, both priests and bishops, for their failure to care for God’s people: for exploiting (abusing) some members; not protecting the community but, rather, caring for themselves (including their power, status and comfort), in short, not looking after the Lord’s people as a shepherd is charged to do.
Who could possibly doubt the accuracy of this interpretation?
Who could possibly object with this judgment?
Many have agreed – and cried out – of the need to “come against these shepherds … put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves.” Recent events have clearly shown that while the Church has “put a stop” to deacons, priests, employees, teachers, coaches (etc.) when there is a credible accusation of the abuse of a minor so they can “no longer pasture themselves” by abusing others, it has done little to hold chief shepherds (i.e. bishops) accountable for their failures to “look after my (the Lord’s!) sheep” entrusted to their care, to “put a stop to their shepherding my sheep.”
In his Letter to the People of God, [Pope Francis Letter] Pope Francis wrote, “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
“I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command. This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse. … It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.”
Pope Francis is rightly calling on each Catholic to penance, especially in prayer and fasting. Because each follower of Christ becomes a member of the Body of Christ in Baptism and so members of one another (cf. 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27), we need to pray together and pray with and for each other, not only in praise, thanksgiving and intercession, but also in sorrow, repentance and penitence. So each of us needs to pray for victims/survivors and those who suffer with them, but also for perpetrators and the shepherds who failed in their responsibilities.
But Pope Francis also calls us to “beg forgiveness for our own sins.” Our first response might well be: “who, me? I’ve never sexually abused anyone! I hate abuse! I hate that the Church hasn’t fixed this yet! I am outraged and offended at bishops who covered this up, let it go on and never reported crimes to the police, ignored victims, reassigned priest-predators, got promoted and abused their power! It’s the institution that’s responsible, not me!” Amen. Me, too.
True – as far as it goes. Our culture understands “being responsible” in a very individualistic, personal way; I am personally responsible for what I say or I do. If I didn’t say it or do it, the culture teaches us, then I’m not responsible; “that’s not on me!”
Similarly, the focus tends to be about the acts – what is actually said or actually done. We’re much better thinking about acts of commission (what is said or done) than on acts of omission (what was not said or what was not done).
- In the news reports about Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians, there are statements made that his reputation was “widely known” early on (before he became a bishop), yet by the time the first former seminarian came forward to make a formal complaint, McCarrick was already the Archbishop of Newark, NJ. Obviously, more than a few people had information, but apparently no one – over decades — either spoke out or acted.
- The #MeToo Movement has brought forward hundreds (probably now thousands) of women sharing their stories of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in many businesses and professions. As survivors tell their stories, more survivors come forward. The harassment and abuse have being going on for decades. Where were all the co-workers who knew what was going on (or at least that something wasn’t right) and said or did nothing?
- As a society, we teach children – rightly – about “stranger danger” and teach them to be aware and cautious around strangers, especially those who seem to be trying to entice them. Yet the reality is that fully 75% of ALL sexual abuse of children happens in family situations. And two-thirds of all sexual abuse crimes are never reported. In many cases, children are too afraid or they do not think anyone will believe them or people close to them tell them not to say anything. Children who are disabled suffer sexual abuse at three times the rate of their non-disabled peers. As a society, we don’t discuss this publicly, much less try to take effective action. As a society, we have been silent and failed to act.
Pope Francis is right: we need each of us and all of us to “beg forgiveness for our own sins.” We need to pray and do penance. We need to be converted.