Sex Abuse: Facing our Failures

Facing our failures

Russell Pollitt SJ

The sexual abuse crisis that rocked the Catholic Church worldwide has been one of the most disillusioning things I have had to face as a priest. It is a source of shame, anger and frustration for many Catholics who love the church. Since the crisis erupted in the USA in 2001 the church has, for many, failed to respond adequately. Protocols were put in place in an attempt to prevent such scandalous behaviour recurring. While these have been widely welcomed, many people feel that the church has not taken responsibility for what happened. Some church leaders have been accused of covering up abuse cases and others, after allegations were made, did not deal with offenders but moved them into other positions and so the cycle of abuse was perpetuated.

This week Pope Francis took an unprecedented leap forward. He not only apologised and expressed his own “deep pain and suffering” at what happened but admitted that for too long abuse has been “hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained…” He calls this scourge a “crime and grave sin” and says that these “despicable actions” are like a “sacrilegious cult.” He pledged a zero tolerance approach to the abuse of minors by clerics and lay people in the church. These are the strongest words that have ever been used by a pope to address the devastation caused by sex abuse in the church. There was mixed reaction to the pope’s hard words. Some abuse victims labelled this a “publicity stunt” and others feel that it still does not go far enough for justice to be done.

I understand the hesitancy with which some victims of abuse have reacted; abuse is evil and has destroyed lives and families. On the other hand I was encouraged by what Pope Francis said and did this week. This was his first direct meeting with victims of abuse but he setup a Commission for the Protection of Minors in December. He appointed Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, to head the commission. Boston was at the epicentre of the crisis in the USA and O’Malley was made archbishop and led the diocese during a very difficult time. He is one of few bishops who faced the crisis head on. By appointing O’Malley, Pope Francis gives a clear message: He wants someone who experienced and knows the destruction caused by abuse to work on this for the Universal Church. O’Malley is also a bishop in a diocese and not a curia cardinal, so he sees things from the ground.

Another reason for hope is the direct and strong language the pope used. A fellow priest remarked that this is the first time a pope has not just admitted abuse took place and apologised. Pope Francis admitted that there were cover-ups (a long standing complaint of many victims, some even labelling the cover-ups a “second” abuse).

For a long time the Catholic Church will have to live with this scourge and its aftermath which has lead to inconceivable pain for victims and their families. It has also cost the church huge financial payouts, damaged the image of the priesthood and eroded our moral authority. I hope the events in Rome this week are a strong signal to us all: Strive for transparency and take responsibility – even when it’s painful.

You can follow Russell Pollitt SJ on Twitter @rpollittsj

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The Broken Body

by John Moffat SJ

‘When I was a stranger you made me welcome’.

This year at the end of Refugee week we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.  All around the Catholic world, parishes honour the real and life-giving presence of the risen and glorified body of Christ in our midst.  But the feast and the liturgies are not just a chance to bask in the warm glow of the glorious future to which we are called.  That glorious future is rooted in the realities of a beautiful, but fallen world, a world stamped by love and generosity but also by cruelty, fear and rejection.

The glorious body of Christ is the same body that was brutally nailed to the cross outside the walls of the holy city.  The words of loving self-gift spoken at the last supper are the prelude to a day of torture, rejection and death.   This is what it means for the God of love to enter fully into our world.  God enters into the heart of our darkness, becomes one, not with the rich and attractive, but with those who are objects of hatred, derision and rejection.  Only thus can all creation be restored.  The Son of God must break through our fatal, human capacities to fear, hate and wound what we do not understand with the power of an undying love.

So we cannot truly celebrate the real presence of Christ in the sacrament without committing ourselves to that other real presence of the Lord on our streets and in our prisons, those without food, clothes and shelter, the prisoners, the sick and, especially this week, the stranger in our midst.  Jesus words are as clear as his words ‘this is my body’ from the heart of the Mass:  whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.

So we cannot raise our eyes and venerate the Eucharist with integrity, unless we also open our eyes to the poor and the strangers in our midst.  We need a new vision: brothers and sisters, not foreigners; fellow human beings, sharing the good things of the earth, not economic competitors; an enrichment to our growing community, not a threat to our way of life.  We need to hear Jesus’ invitation to do things differently, to think differently, to find new, creative, more human ways to deal with the suffering humanity on our streets and in our townships.

The Eucharist also reminds us that to belong to the Body of Christ has a cost.  The pathway of love leads us to the fulfillment of the resurrection, but it leads through the cross.  Opening to the ‘outsider’ means a change of heart that can disrupt other relationships.  It can bring misunderstanding and rejection upon us too.  If we eat with public outcasts, we risk being treated like public outcasts.   But this is where the Lord went, and he asks us to follow him.   Here is the heart of our Eucharist.

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Winter Living Theology 2014

Below are some pictures taken at the Winter Living Theology lectures at Schoenstatt, Cape Town, with Prof. Al Gini. Click on image to enlarge.


Archdiocesan Health Care Association

Below are pictures taken at the Archdiocesan Catholic Health Care Association (ACHCA) meeting on 10 May 2014 at Nazareth House, Cape Town. Submitted by the association’s chaplain, Mgr Jock Baird.

Nurturing the Fruits of the Holy Spirit

by Frances Correia

Fundamental to our Christian life is the reality that God is both interested in, and actively involved in, our lives.  Jesus came to tell us about God’s dream for the world: a dream that Jesus called ‘the kingdom of God’.  Our human task is to collaborate with the Holy Spirit to bring about this kingdom of God.  Every time we pray the ‘Our Father’ we are asking God to ‘let your Kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth’.

This is not a yearning for heaven, for some other reality; it is a yearning for our lives and for our reality to be transformed.  If we really want that prayer to be true, ‘let Your kingdom come’ we are personally challenged to choose to be different.

Paul, when he writes of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, says we can know the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives when we sense an increase in 9 named areas: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).  To collaborate with the Holy Spirit means that I should choose nourish these fruits of the Holy Spirit in myself.

All of us have probably at some point or other imagined how we would react in an extraordinary situation, calling for great leadership or sacrifice.  One of the hardest lessons of the spiritual life is that every day I am in ordinary situations calling for me to act with Christ-like love.  But mostly I don’t notice the situations; mostly I am so focused on my own narrow world-view that I miss the opportunities in front of me.

Jesus’ call to help build the kingdom of God can seem a big idea: one that belongs in the arena of great statesmen, like Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.  But I think that Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit offers us a simple practical way of responding to Jesus’ invitation that we can all engage with.  We all know of opportunities when we could be generous, or self –controlled, or any other of the 9 gifts.

We are called to proactively nurture the fruits of the Spirit in our own lives.  By doing this we are responding to Jesus’ invitation to build the kingdom of God here on earth.

For me the discipline that helps most is of thinking back over each day and noticing where I see the fruits of the Holy Spirit in my life – and also where I see the opposite.  To change, to actively work for God’s kingdom, requires first that I am aware of how I am living.  Then I need a sense of gratitude for where I have responded to God’s love, and of sorrow for those moments when I failed to respond. Finally, I should desire to be different and to ask God for grace to help me to choose to be more loving, more generous, patient or faithful tomorrow.  When I do this I am aware of a sense of working with God.  It is then that I choose to allow ordinary situations to become extraordinary moments of collaborating with God’s grace in building God’s kingdom.

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