From the Provost

As we face the crises of the Church, please read the statement of the Provost below and respond as the Spirit leads you to do so.

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While on annual retreat with the Fathers and Brothers of the Brooklyn Oratory this week, our conversation naturally, sadly and angrily turned to the latest abuse scandals emerging from the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

As Provost of the Brooklyn Oratory, I want to reiterate again the sentiments expressed so strongly and emotionally by the recent homilies of Fathers Anthony and Mark.  With you, our sorrow for the victims is beyond words; our anger at the clerics and religious who perpetrated these crimes cannot be quelled even by curses; our frustrations with the apparent cover-ups, denials and orchestrated evasions by some of our ecclesiastical leaders is palpable.

Repeatedly, I have read the reactions of the leaders of the Abuse Survival Groups and victims themselves to the apologies and shame expressed by our church leaders.
They say to our Church leaders: too little, too late… same old pious words… they say: “What is your plan to deal openly and honestly with what has happened?”

So as I write this, I ask myself and you, our fellow Oratorians, what can we do?

The first thing I do is remind myself what I have often preached: my faith  is Jesus Christ, the Person of the Church – the same yesterday, today and forever.  My faith in NOT and never has been in the personnel of the Church who are not Christ.  I include myself here as well!

St Philip Neri, our founder, in his humility used to pray: “Do not trust me, Lord.”  In Philip’s turbulent times – ones very similar to ours in all its vulgarities – he understood that the Church was filled with angels, saints, criminals and monsters.  After all, grace builds on nature as it is not as we would pretend it to be.

It is a given that those who act in Christ’s name ought to be good, trustworthy and inspiring.  But obviously throughout the history of Church, some, too many – have not.

Will this cause me to leave the Church because of them?  No. THEY are not the Church; They are Wounds of the Church.  The Sins of the Church. The fallen humanity of the Church. If Vatican II said anything clearly it is that ALL the baptized are the Church.

But like many of you, especially as a seminarian, I was reminded that the Church is not a democracy.  True enough.

But perhaps given the severity and range of these scandals, the best features of democracy: freedom of dissent and accountability under the law need be practiced in the Catholic Church.  Is it not emerging that the ponderous, inherited methodologies and defensive mechanisms of our hierarchs need the work of a 21st century reformation achieving what St Philip’s counter-reformation accomplished in the 16th century?

The second response we will take locally is being developed by Fathers Joel, Michael and Anthony.  Namely, at Assumption Church, we will have a day of prayer and eucharistic adoration for the victims of Church-related abuse combined with fasting as a small act of reparation for the sufferings of our brother and sister victims.  All ministries and parishioners will be invited to spend some time in prayer – turning to the Person of the Church to cleanse our Church and ourselves. More details of this will be forthcoming. In our Catholic faith, more things are still wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

Third, I urge you to read the Letter of Pope Francis sent to the nearly two billion Catholics worldwide.
It is a wise and appropriate thing to listen to the apologies of the Vicar of Christ.

After that, I suggest Catholics start contacting the leadership responsible for making change happen in these matters.  Although all Dioceses in the U.S. have put zero toleration policies and protection procedures in place, I think the leadership needs to hear directly the depth and range of anger, shame and distrust these crimes have caused.

Here is where one might start:

The United States Catholic Bishops Conference
Office of Child and Youth  Protection
3211 Fourth Street N/E
Washington, DC 20017
Bishop Timothy Doherty (Bishop of Lafayette, IN) Chair
Bishop Terry LaValley  (Bishop of Ogdensburg, NY) Regional Chair
Deacon Bernie Nojadera, Executive Director
Melanie Takinen, Assistant Director

Apostolic Nuncio to the United States from the Vatican
Archbishop Christophe Pierre
Apostolic Nunciature
3339 Massachusetts Avenue N/W
Washington, DC 20008

Papal Congregation for the Clergy
Palazzo delle Congregazione
Piazza Pio XII, 3
Rome, Italy, 3
His Eminence, Cardinal Benjamin Stella
His Excellency Archbishop Joel Mercier
F. Andrea Ripa

Fourth, the title of my message is drawn from the encounter with Jesus by a father whose son was suffering badly (Mark 9:23-25.)

The father rightly is desperate that his son be cured, healthy and returned to his family.

Jesus says to the father: “to one who believes, all things are possible.”  I have been meditating on this scene all week. I keep thinking:

When the next scandal in our church is made bare; when the next coach who abuses athletes is made known: when the next minister, rabbi, mullah is caught in abusive crimes, when the next professor, high school teacher, parent, uncle, relative is arrested for violating a child… will I, hoping for an end to these criminal injuries, like the father in Matthew’s gospel, cry out with tears in my eyes: “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief?”

And will Jesus, as in the Gospel story, ultimately drive out the evil spirits saying: “get out and come here no more.”

The Savior of the world said: “I will be with you until the end of time.”  I believe Lord, help my unbelief.

Father Dennis, c.o.