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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holy Family

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family, and we hear about finding Christ in the temple, we hear that He went home and was obedient to his parents, Mary and Joseph. It is the beginning of the hidden life of the Holy Family, and during the homily we usually we hear about the importance of family in our society.

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:

Throwaway priests

Dishonored and disgraced for their crimes, fallen priests deserve our sympathy


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....


Anonymous said...

He who is without sin let him cast the first stone. It is easy for me to become judge mental and cast the stone at those that have harmed an innocent child or helpless animal. Finding mercy and forgiveness in not something I can do in the natural. In the spirit I can. Over the past 30 years in the counseling field I have worked with a number of clients that were guilty of child abuse. Most of them were also victimized as children themselves. Your article points out the unfortunate reality that we the Church stone our wounded. I have three children - which one do I love the least? Which one would I not die for? The answer is I love each of them equally and would not hesitate to die for anyone of them. As an earthly father I desire peace, love, and joy for my children. How much more does our heavenly Father desire these things for ALL of His children? Even the child molesting priest. Thanks for reminding us of His Grace and Mercy.


Melody K said...

Just a few random thoughts on this subject: I agree with you about the need for mercy and forgiveness.
Unless it is a life sentence, and most are not, provision needs to be made for when the person gets out of prison. In the case of a priest who is retirement age, the home for retired priest in the diocese in which he served should be made available to him. If he is not old enough for retirement, the diocese or his religious order should help him find employment and provide counseling and support services. If people object to this they should consider the alternative, which is for him to be on welfare or homeless; and this is not Christian or in society's best interest.
I am not saying that a priest who has molested should ever again be in a position to harm children. Part of the present unreasoning anger is due to the "blame the victim" or "silence the victim" policies of the past, and the feeling that the bishops excluded the laity from their pastoral concern.

Pablo said...

Prisons are in need of Priests to say daily Mass.

It is possible to have permission from prison authorities to set up a Catholic Altar.

Would you like to start a Ministry?
One across America?

May God our Lord in His infinite and supreme goodness be pleased to give us His abundant grace, that we may know His most holy will, and entirely fulfill it.


Adoro said...

Pablo: Click on the link for Fr. MacRae's blog and check out his recent posts on the Mass, what he's suffered, INCLUDING at the hands of Catholic chaplains in the prison, and check out his own story.

Also check out

Austringer said...

A thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Adoro.

I would agree with Melody that at least some of the reason for why the Church "stones its wounded", as Mark put it earlier, is the frustration amongst the laity at the complicity of some of the bishops and Church hierarchy. To these stones are added the stones of those in the hierarchy who were responsible and complicit in the coverup: they just want to put their own role as far away from themselves as possible -- by "burying" the guilty priest, they attempt to bury their own guilt.

Adoro said...

Austringer ~ I don't really care about the "why". The fact is that we knew about this problem a long time ago, and instead of DOING something about it, we're "why-ing" it to death. In the meantime, while we pontificate about why it happened, we're not praying, we're not doing anything to address the issue, and these men are continuing to rot away, physically and spiritually.

Maybe we CAN'T do anything physically, but what's to stop us from forgiving, and praying hard for all involved, to include those imprisoned, those who are victims, and those Bishops who did all the wrong things and are responsible for a great deal of harm? After all...those Bishops are in line to have their skulls pave the road to Hell...they're maybe even more responsible than the offenders themselves.

I don't really care about the REASONS for the problem..>I only want to to make it stop.

Austringer said...

Hi Adoro,

I agree with you entirely that, ultimately, the "whys" aren't important -- the Church (and I mean both laity and the hierarchy)need to remember these forgotten priests, innocent and guilty alike, in our prayers and personal mortifications if we aren't able to do anything physically. I wasn't offering the "whys" as an excuse so much as an explanation. Obviously, this situation (I can think of many others, unfortunately!)points out a lack of understanding about our role in the Church Militant -- it is our JOB to pray and sacrifice for these priests as well as for the many other needs of the Church and of our fellow man.

Pablo said...

Dear Mrs. Adoro,

Standard operating proceedures are not working well.

It is possible to form a group and do some good on a more personal level.

I wonder if anyone would like to take some more agressive measures?


Adoro said...

Pablo ~ That's why I directed you to Priests in Crisis, which also links to other organizations. What you are suggesting EXISTS at and through those sites.

If you think something is lacking, could it be that perhaps YOU are being called to do something in your area?

For now, my job is to write and to call attention and to pray.

In the future, who knows? But I know what I am called to do right here and now in this moment.

Perhaps you are hearing a different call that applies to some kind of action you are supposed to take.

Warren said...

"the priests who molested children and are now serving time in prisons?"

Well, I have even more sympathy for those falsely accused, if any, who were accused because of made-up memories, some thirty years after the fact. The statutes of limitations ought to have applied in these cases.

I have sympathy for the real victims, but sometimes when there is a media frenzy around a subject, justice must be seen to be done, rather than actually done, and people cry loudly for justice, and get more injustice to boot.


nazareth priest said...

Sr. Lucia of Fatima has said that the demons go after consecrated religious and priests because they have such influence over the faithful.
While I (and everyone) cannot somehow excuse the behavior of those who have violated the innocence of anyone, child or adult, we have to pray for them.
The devil is a roaring lion looking out to devour whomever he can.
Holy Mary, St. Joseph, St. Michael pray for us!
And pray for priests, that they be shielded from the tempter!
And for those poor priests who have suffered injustice because of the sins of others, have mercy and help them!