Yes, I know that the classical, popular devotion, the Via Crucis—reverently accompanying Jesus on His tortured journey from unjust condemnation by Pontius Pilate, to His repose in the arms of His sorrowful mother at the foot of the cross, to His burial in a donated sepulcher—is in fourteen steps. I love that devotion, especially on Fridays and during Lent.
But, can I offer an abbreviated one, in only three steps, that has hit me during my listening and observing the deep hurt in the Body of Christ, the Church, caused by the nauseating news of clergy sexual abuse and gross negligence by bishops?
Many of my brother bishops and priests, as well as our lay faithful, have spoken and written about this horror of late, some thoughtfully, some less so. I myself have commented a bit, but, over the past two months, I’ve done more listening, remembering, and reflecting, than talking. Three episodes haunt me, and I consider them three steps on the Way of the Cross today.
Station #1...While I vividly and painfully remember the dozens and dozens of meetings I’ve had with victims and their families over the last sixteen years, one particularly haunts me still.
There I was, fifteen-years-or-so-ago, with a victim of abuse by a priest twenty years before. With him were his parents, extraordinarily sincere Catholics.
“When he told me, when he was sixteen, that Father X, the popular priest in our parish, a good friend of our family, had abused him, you know what I did?” asked the dad as he looked at me. “I slapped him!”
Dad began to cry, his whole body shivering. “I slapped my own son! I screamed at him, ‘Don’t you dare say that about a priest!’”
Can you imagine the remorse, the agony of that father? Can we even fathom the crushing sadness of the son, the helpless sorrow of the mom? Can you imagine my shame and sorrow?
Our victims and their families are suffering. They are cherished members of the Church as much as any priest, bishop, or cardinal. How we have wounded them! How much we owe them contrition and solidarity.
The first station: Victims and their families grievously hurt.
Station #2...She’s in assisted living now, almost ninety, still, thank God, in decent shape. She loves her Catholic faith. She has a son a priest, four other children living their faith, handing it on to their kids, her grandkids. She is always eager to talk about the Church to her friends, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
But not on the day last week I talked to her on the phone. “Tim,” she said to me, “I skipped lunch today. I’m ashamed to go to the dining room. I’m so embarrassed to be a Catholic. I don’t know what to say to anybody!”
She’s my mom. Only one of the millions of faithful Catholics who today are ashamed of their clergy and bishops, of their Church.
The second station: Our faithful people mourn for their Church.
Station #3...He’s one of the best priests I know, grateful for his vocation, proud to be known as a parish priest. As he prepared to take the train home after an enjoyable visit with me, he remarked, “I’m not wearing my clerical collar. I’m too ashamed. I’m afraid that people will sneer at me or shout at me.”
Or the innocent priest in the southwest, beaten in the sacristy after offering Mass, the crazed man yelling, “This is for what you priests did to young people.” They’re but two of the overwhelming majority of our priests (and bishops) who live virtuous, faithful lives, who now are tarred by the vicious perversion of a tiny minority of their brethren.
The Third Station: Our Faithful Priests mourn their vocation.
I’ve listened; I’ve seen; I’ve heard; I’ve read. So have you.
I really don’t know what to say...except, as we pray at the Stations of the Cross,
“We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee! Because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world!”
Or, with St. Peter, as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel, “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”