I love the statement in today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them.” The “many signs and wonders” attributed to the Apostles, which are detailed in today’s reading and throughout the Acts of the Apostles, remind us that the Lord is always at work in His Church through the ministry of its member, as a means to uplift and strengthen His Church.
I especially love the beautiful statement that the Apostles were ‘esteemed’ by the people – that they were greatly admired and respected. This admiration and respect does and should follow to the successors of the apostles: the bishops. We are very fortunate to have many good and holy bishops who are called to uplift and strengthen the members of the church entrusted to them. We are blessed in our diocese to have a wonderful bishop, Frederick Campbell, and bishop emeritus, James Griffin. We are also blessed to have strong bishops across the country who have shown great leadership, for example, in the hard fight in the health care reform bill for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.
This is at the same time, however, that terrible revelations of sexual abuse in Ireland and Germany have again rocked the Catholic Church and the office of bishop. Catholic priest James Martin, in a recent article, summarizes well how these horrible crimes could have happened and how the bishops have dealt with the issue so poorly, or not at all. For the most part, Father Martin lists in his article the findings of the National Review Board, which studied this issue in the United States back in 2003. He stresses (and I agree) that whatever is offered as reasons for the abuse and it’s cover-up, they are not excuses – there are no excuses for these crimes.
Father Martin offers two causes for why the Church had so many abusive priests. The first reason is improper screening for candidates to the priesthood, and the second reason is poor formation or training of clergy. Much has changed in terms of screening and formation since many of the priests accused of past abuses were ordained. I can attest to this in my own screening and formation to the diaconate (and I am certain the same for Deacon Irion in his formation to the priesthood).
Father Martin goes on to list the board's analysis of the second question: Why did the church’s leaders respond to the problem so poorly for so many years? The list includes:
1. That bishops were among those still in the dark about this dark side of human behavior, and simply were at a loss to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.
2. That many bishops sought to protect the faithful from "scandal" by concealing evidence of abusive priests, which ironically created a greater scandal.
3. The threat of litigation caused many bishop to adopt an adversarial stance, in order to protect the many good and important institutions of the church, such as parishes, schools, hospitals, and other social services programs.
4. Some bishops failed to comprehend the magnitude of the harm suffered by victims.
5. Many bishops relied too heavily on the flawed advice of psychiatrists, psychologists and lawyers when making decisions.
6. Many bishops avoided confronting abusive priests.
7. Many bishops placed the interests of priests above those of victims. AND
8. Canon law made removal of priests from ministry very difficult (and certainly not quick).
I share this with you for two reasons. First, because it is my hope that we, clergy and laity together, can learn from these mistakes and ensure that this never happens again. I am confident that through the leadership of our bishops in the United States, we can protect the dignity and safety of all members of the Body of Christ, the Church. This is the responsibility of each one of us.
Second, like the Apostles and disciples huddled together in that locked room, we can find peace in the face of crisis. Remember there was a crisis on the day of the Resurrection – the Apostles and disciples were scared and confused, their leader was just crucified and died on a cross, and they worried that they were next – that’s why they locked themselves in the room.
Just as Jesus came and stood in the midst of his disciples, he comes to us and says to us: “Peace be with you.” In our brokenness, pain, fear and hurt, it is Jesus’ who comes to us through the locked rooms we place ourselves in. He offers us his forgiveness and invites us to reconcile with him and each other. It is Jesus who is the source of peace in our hearts. And it is Jesus who gives us his Holy Spirit to help us live in His peace.
In our brokenness, pain, fear and hurt, it is Jesus who is patient with us, just as he was with Thomas. When there is crisis in our family, our Church, or our community and our faith falters or grows weak, Jesus does not abandon us, but continuously calls us to a renewed faith and holiness. We celebrate this gift in a special way this Second Sunday of Easter, also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. It is with this gift of God’s love that we can sing with confidence, as we did in today’s Psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.”
The Gospel writer John, writes his gospel so that we “may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief [we] may have life in his name.” This Easter season, may each of us come to a deeper belief in Jesus Christ. May we, like Thomas proclaim: “My Lord and my God!” as we experience Christ personally in the Sacraments and in each other. In faith, may we share in the peace Jesus offers us now and eternally.