Last weekend, I celebrated a joint birthday party for my two boys, who turned three and one years old. It was a time for celebration and also a time for reflection. Particularly with my oldest, I cannot believe where the time has gone. I remember him being like his younger brother, a baby, unable to walk and talk (but certainly able to express himself, especially if hungry or tired). Now, I see him smile and talk. He uses reason and is smart enough to problem solve to a greater degree than I often give him credit. But, above all, I look at his innocent little face and see the purity of his heart through his actions, and I experience what Jesus meant when he said,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14)
The morning of his party, I asked my three-year-old who he wanted to have come to his party. He told me his granddaddy, a couple of our friends, and God. This is the kind of simple love and faith that we can find in the heart of a child. And because of this, it makes the thought of doing anything to steal that innocence or desecrate that purity of heart all the more vile and unbearable.
And yet, as we learned, not only has this happened countless times, but it has happened from leaders and consecrated members of the Church. Whether Pennsylvania or the many times and places before and since that, the thought that a priest, acting as shepherd, could injure in possibly the most spiritually damaging way the most vulnerable of his flock feels like some of the greatest evils and betrayals that I can imagine in this world.
I have not read the full report, but I have read at least one account, and I could not finish it for how sickening it was. The thought that anyone could do something like that to a little girl or boy like my son was too much for me to bear. And just acknowledging that feels like cowardice relative to what those survivors face on a daily basis.
Someone discussing the report on the radio seemed to term it appropriately when he called the priests who perpetuated these crimes and those who covered it up, “Judases.” Before betraying Jesus, Luke 22:3-4 describes Satan entering Judas. “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them.” It is this same spirit that has entered the hearts of so many to allow such heinous acts to be committed and to create a culture that perpetuated them.
Pope Francis released a letter addressing this issue, and I encourage everyone to read it, whether you are Catholic or not. He much more eloquently and intellectually addresses the failures of the Church and the deplorableness of what happened than I ever could. Calling upon Matthew 17:21, he also gives us all, not just the priests, bishops, and consecrated members of the church, but all of us a means to counter this evil in our midst. “But this kind [of demon] does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”
As Pope Francis wrote, “Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”
I have never been abused, and therefore, I cannot even imagine the pain – the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual pain – that these survivors have suffered and continue to suffer for the entirety of their lives. It is an act that has robbed people of their sense of security, which can lead to depression, anxiety and addiction. In many cases it has also robbed them of their ability to love themselves and others, and when people are robbed of their innocence they often lose their faith along with it . These wolves in sheep’s clothing have taken that most sacred, most personal element of a person’s soul and trampled it.
And that is exactly what this spirit of evil wishes for all of us. This evil wishes for our faith to be shaken and for us to turn away from God, who is the only source of true healing, comfort, and grace. As I heard someone say this week, “don’t leave Jesus because of Judas.” With that thought, I ask that you join me in responding to Pope Francis’s request and answering Jesus’s call to prayer and fasting this Wednesday, August 29. As we hunger for bread, let us remember all those victims who hunger for justice so that we may be aware of their suffering and be mindful in doing our part to never let this happen again to anyone anywhere.