I write with strong negative emotions. The recent Pennsylvania grand jury report depicts a 70-year narrative that cries out to heaven. Outrage, sadness, disappointment, disgust, anger, frustration, etc. are part of what I feel. My first reaction was simple: “What …!?!”
Many in, and outside the Church, have spoken. I won’t quote them, but simply mention a few words and phrases that to me are on target: tragedy, sick, criminal, mishandling, clericalism, repentance, accountability, firm purpose of amendment, cover-up, institutional self-preservation, betrayal.
These recent revelations of the abuse of children by clergy and its mishandling by bishops rend asunder in very particular ways the hearts of our Catholic Charities family. The work of Catholic Charities is situated in the Catholic community of faith. We draw our inspiration and strength from the same fonts of wisdom, legacy and institutions as all the ministries of the Church. Catholic Charities mission to serve people of all religions is rooted in the fundamental Catholic belief that every person is created in the image of God. When clergy devastate lives by betraying core values; when leaders, bishops, abdicate their responsibilities without abdicating their positions, and when there is scant and delayed accountability; our hearts are ripped apart, our reason is appalled. We rightly feel anger, sadness, hurt, and much more.
Because this evil betrayal has ruined the lives of thousands of vulnerable children, we at Catholic Charities are especially wounded and incensed. Every single day and night, Catholic Charities services protect and nurture poor, vulnerable, threatened, neglected and abused children. When we learn of neglect and abuse by family, staff or others, we report, respond, and deal with these, promptly. Without deceiving ourselves that we are without faults, we still can express our frustration and outrage that leaders and institutions of our Church, the community of faith from which we draw our inspiration and strength, have acted in such unacceptable ways.
I am not an expert on all the Church has done over the past 15 years to address this. However, from what I do know, I applaud the important steps taken in the right direction. I pray that we do not become complacent, that these reforms are ongoing, and, as necessary, improved. While these cannot undo or expunge the past, I fervently hope that they prevent the future abuse of children.
I can speak with more confidence about the critical role Catholic Charities needs to play in this time of crisis for our Catholic community of faith – hurt, threatened, and shamed by the acts of its leaders. While most parts of this tragedy are beyond the control of Catholic Charities, this does not excuse our silence, nor permit paralysis and complacency. In our hurt and anger, we do not give up on the Catholic community of faith. It is critical to Catholic Charities’ identity.
In a unique way Catholic Charities has been entrusted with that most precious part of the Gospel, and therefore, the Church’s mission: valuing and cherishing God’s image in every person, especially the poor and vulnerable. We embrace this even more sturdily and double down on treating the poor and vulnerable – children, adults, families, seniors, immigrants, those with disabilities, etc., etc…. with dignity and compassion. We have to feed those who are hungry; protect neglected and abused children; support kids with emotional problems and learning disabilities so they can succeed in school and life. We need to build housing – decent and affordable, for struggling working families and seniors. We must welcome the immigrant and stranger, etc… We can all complete the “to-do” list and if we need a prompt, check the 5th (Beatitudes+) and 25th (Last Judgment) chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel. We dare not allow this tragedy and its repercussions to overwhelm and dampen our response to the ongoing and overriding demand of Jesus that we see him most clearly in our sisters and brothers in greatest need.
As we proudly embrace this mission, we also need to be humble and diligent enough to examine the “planks in our own eyes” to ensure we operate our services with the highest levels of professionalism and compassion for the sake of the people whose lives we touch and who depend upon us. We must continue to ensure accountability that the resources entrusted to us are used efficiently, effectively, and for the purposes for which they were given.
And let’s not forget to add a prayer, or two, or more. We certainly need God’s help.
Thank you for your goodness, support, and faithfulness. You are needed now more than ever – for the sake of our neighbors in need.
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan
Below is an extraction for Monsignor Kevin Sullivan’s JustLove show. In this segment, he has a conversation about the sex abuse scandal: