Indeed, this Feast falls immediately after Christmas for good reason, and isn't it even more meaningful in this time when we are spending extra time with our own families? Especially given the fact that the experience isn't usually, well...very idyllic? It is important for us to recognize that the Holy Family suffered hardships as well.
I have to ask, though: while we consider our biological families, have we given any thought to our spiritual family? More specifically, have we given any thought or prayer to our spiritual fathers, both those who bring us to Christ and bring Christ to us, and those who SHOULD be doing so but are under lock and key living a persecution many refuse to acknowledge?
Today, I bring you an important article from Charlene C. Duline, published in, of all places, the National Catholic Reporter in 2007:
Dishonored and disgraced for their crimes, fallen priests deserve our sympathy
By CHARLENE C. DULINE
Does the Catholic Church remember its fallen priests, the priests who molested children and are now serving time in prisons? Who among us has asked for blessings for them as they serve their time behind bars? The hands that once consecrated the host that became the body of Christ now reek of ammonia from cleaning toilets.
Amid the flurry of accusations, trials, more accusations, payoffs, and dioceses declaring bankruptcy, I began to wonder about the treatment of priests in prison. I wondered how their fellow inmates treated them. Were they revered as men of the cloth or debased as child molesters?
To abuse a child is a horrific act. I know because I was an abused child. Some might find it astonishing that I, the victim of such abuse many years ago, could feel sorry for these fallen priests. Despite the desire for revenge that still burns deep in my heart, something in me wanted to reach out to these men who had served God despite their failings. I wondered if our church ministered to them in any form.
Through the Internet I was able to get information on the accused priests, their sentences and where they were serving their time. I wrote to some of them. I also posted my desire to hear from them on Web sites sympathetic to the defrocked men. Some of their responses astounded me. They all asked to remain anonymous. Most of the priests I heard from indicated that they had no access to Catholic chaplains or materials, including retirement monies they thought they had a right to. It seems that the church that once embraced them and covered up their crimes has abandoned them. They have been defrocked or laicized and are now treated as pariahs. Their situation in prison is not pleasant.
One priest, now 79 years old, wrote, “Mistreatment by the young inmates is continually horrendous. Insults, curses, spitting and assaults are daily. From one attack I received 42 bruises.”
During the 11 years this priest has been in prison, several close family members, including his mother, have died. Other family members do not communicate with him because he “embarrassed the family.” He believes that he will die a lonely death in prison. He’s probably right.
Read the rest.
Whether they are guilty or innocent, whether they have been dispensed or not, they remain our spiritual fathers, a part of our family. Neither we nor they can undo what God has done. Canonical privileges can be removed, but the indelible mark upon their souls cannot be undone.
I, for one, am grateful for our spiritual fathers, and while I do not condone or support criminal activity, I also abhor how these men have been treated. Having worked with sex offenders in an adolescent treatment facility years ago, I can testify that those kids and even their own abusers have been treated far better than the Church, the Mother of Mercy, has treated her beloved but disgraced Sons. It's absolutely scandalous.
Are we a Church of mercy or are we not?
The point is not that we deny what has been done and most certainly we do not deny the reality suffered by the victims. What we are saying is that justice has its place, and without forgiveness, justice is not done in ANY corner. There is no mercy without justice, and there is no justice if it is not tempered by mercy.
Yet when we look at imprisoned priests, we see that there is no mercy for them; not from us, their family, not from anyone.
What of the Innocent Priests, Unjustly Imprisoned without their right to Due Process both through our legal system AND through the Church?
We know of those cases, such as that of Fr. Gordon MacRae, unjustly imprisoned, suffering a purgatory for sins he did not commit, offering those days for we who live in freedom, which we so often take as a "right" to live in ways that are a direct affront to God Himself.
What a disgrace!
Sadly, we don't, in our time, seem to know the first thing about family. We first deny the need for it, we do all we can politically to disrupt it (same-sex "marriage", contraception, abortion, divorce, etc.), and we do all we can to disgrace it. So it comes as no surprise that we treat our spiritual family with even less regard, especially our spiritual fathers, many of whom are rotting away, forgotten, perhaps forgiven by God but shunned by the rest of us.
Forgiveness does not mean acceptance of sin, it does not mean endorsement of illegal activity. But it DOES require charity, it DOES require remembering that we are all in need of forgiveness, that each life is willed by God, and loved by God. Those we shun are STILL loved by God, and when they are left in desolation, it is WE who sin...not they.
Today, as we celebrate the Holy Family, recall to mind not just your own family, but your spiritual family, the entire Mystical Body of Christ and most especially those who have been willfully forgotten, willfully shunned, willfully ignored.
My prayers today go out to all priests and religious, throughout the world, who are imprisoned for any reason, justly or unjustly. They, like we all, are children of God, willed by God, loved by God....and forgotten by the rest of us.
Please join your prayers with mine.
Right now, in this moment, as I write this, Fr. MacRae is offering Mass from his prison cell. If you read this, please unite yourself spiritually to Our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and remember whose hands bring Heaven and Earth together in this moment.
In this moment, the Suffering Church, the Church Militant, is united with the Church Triumphant....