Today is the day on which we look forward in anticipation to the new year, and ask the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide our work of learning and discovery. In today’s homily I will speak about that. Yet those of us who are Catholic cannot ignore that a pall has been cast over this day by the recently released Pennsylvania report on clergy sexual abuse, and I want to say a few words now about that.
The stories in that report and in other reports are appalling in themselves, but are made much more so because the offenders were priests, called to be examples and pastors to those they exploited. Such stories are painful to all, but they are particularly searing to me and the other priests with me today, whose commitment can seem so tarnished, so soaked in filth, by those who so badly abused it.
They are appalling because Catholic schools, parishes and other institutions have earned a reputation as places that care for the vulnerable and nurture the young, yet these are stories of members of Catholic institutions perversely exploiting the vulnerable and corrupting the young.
They are appalling because some bishops, shepherds called to protect the flock, seemed often to have opened the gates to let the wolves prey on the sheep, and seem sometimes to have done more to protect the wolves than the sheep.
For all these reasons, I and many feel deep sadness and shame.
As Pope Francis wrote on Monday, “Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit . . . Today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history.” I know Bishop Rhoades is committed to this path in this diocese, and Notre Dame is as well. We will do all we can to create a safe, nurturing environment everywhere.
“Where sin abounds,” writes St. Paul, “there grace abounds all the more.” Let us pray that, though shaken by these stories of sin and exploitation, we may find the grace to help heal wounds and protect the vulnerable and young.
I ask you to join me in offering this Mass for victims of abuse in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and asking God’s help to prevent it in the future.
Let us ask for God’s mercy, and for the Holy Spirit to come among us.