Making sense of the church crisis

I don’t want to read about it.

But I know I have to. (And not just because I work in Catholic media.)

Even before the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, the sex-abuse scandal in the Church was back on my radar screen. That’s because Cardinal McCarrick served in two New Jersey diocese. He presided at my husband’s Confirmation.

Before the grand jury report was released, my pastor dedicated his bulletin column to this difficult topic. He shared his disgust and how the first sex-abuse scandal had affected his priesthood. He called for our parish to participate in a 54-day Rosary novena, beginning August 15.

I’ve been reading about it, and trying to pray, and trying to figure out what it will mean for a Church that’s largely empty already — largely due to the first round of scandals in 2002.

Since 2006 I have been VIRTUS-certified so that I could volunteer and substitute-teach in a Catholic school. I have had to attend the class (which, having also been through the Boy Scouts’ Youth Protection Training, was less informative than the class the BSA offered). I’ve had to go to the really sketchy places in semi-abandoned industrial parks every 3 years to get my fingerprints done. (How sketchy, you ask? How about so creepy-people-in-the-elevator-sketchy, you think it’ll be safer to take the stairs on the way out — because at least you can run if you’re on the stairs? Yeah, that sketchy.) And to be honest, I haven’t had the best attitude about all of that, because I feel like I was being treated like a criminal because some other people were criminals.

I tried to turn that attitude around by praying for the victims and, yes, even for the criminals (they need prayers too) but I still feel that the rest of us were punished for the actions of a few.

But if that’s as much as this has touched me, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I cannot imagine the torment the victims and their families have experienced.

I feel like something is broken in the Church and it’s not something I have the power to fix.

I’m very unsatisfied by the statement of the New Jersey bishops, as well as the bishop of my own diocese. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that we need more than platitudes and talk of best.

We need shepherds, not CEOs.

Especially right now.

On Thursday, when I went to Adoration and took my rosary out of the little pouch, it was broken. That nearly undid me. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but that broken rosary (which was all in one piece the week before when I’d prayed it at Adoration) was a symbol, for me, of the brokenness we are experiencing now. So I sat there using my fingernails to try to repair the links, since I don’t generally bring pliers to the Adoration Chapel. I had to make it whole before I could begin to pray.

I will not stop going to Mass. I think we need to pray harder than ever right now. We need all the grace we can get. The criminals are not the Church. The bishops are not the Church. The Pope is not the Church. They are all part of it, but they are not all of it, and there is too much that is good in it to toss out the whole thing because of the bad stuff.

Helpful Resources

(to be updated)

The National Catholic Register ran an interview with seminary professor Janet Smith this week. It’s worth the read, especially if you are wondering what you, one lay person in a broken Church, can do right now.

What can the laity do right now?

We should certainly pray and fast and try to keep our faith strong and that of others.

We also need to help other Catholics see how seriously bad the presence of homosexual networks in the Church is. We should write letters to our bishop. We should 1) commend our bishop for the good works he has done 2) demand a clean-up of whatever homosexual network exists in the diocese. Carefully give evidence if we have some prefaced by “I have heard; I don’t know if it is true but I have heard it enough to think queries if not an investigation should be made.” Demand that if there are credible accusations against priests and more evidence is needed, that private investigators need to be hired 3) tell him that if cleaning up the homosexual network means that there will be such a priest shortage that parishes will close and services will be curtailed, say that we will stand by him and support his actions 4) that a lay board be set up to which priests and others can make charges of sexual harassment by the bishop himself and priests and the particularly priests can report any mistreatment from the bishop without fear of reprisals; 5) send the bishop copies of the best articles published expressing lay outrage; 6) promise to pray and fast for him 7) send copies of your letter to DiNardo and the nuncio; 8) get signatures of others who may not be inclined to write; 9) ask for a reply. Be polite but firm. And write again every month until something is done. If we don’t get a satisfactory reply, we need to consider writing to the public newspaper.

Father Willy Raymond, C.S.C., President of Holy Cross Family Ministries (and one of my employers) offered a short prayer for the innocent victims.

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

A Franciscan Farewell

San Damiano Cross [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
At the beginning of the year we received a letter from our pastor and one from our bishop. The Conventual Franciscan friars, who have served our parish since 1936, are turning the administration of the parish over to the diocese. There just aren’t enough friars to go around anymore, though we have been blessed to have two serving in our parish.

Having always worshipped in parishes staffed by religious priests (in all cases but one, Franciscan friars) rather than diocesan priests, I’m used to priests coming and going every few years.

But last night, at the last Sunday (OK, Saturday night) Mass our pastor would be celebrating with us, I did something I’ve never done before: I wept over the departure of these priests.

Let me be right up front and say that this is not because I don’t trust our bishop to send us a good diocesan priest to serve our parish, because I do. In fact, the priest who is coming here is someone whose homilies I’ve been following online for about a decade now.

But this departure represents something different.

First of all, it’s the loss of the Franciscan friars’ presence in our parish. That’s what drew us to this parish in the first place, in late 1991 when we were “church shopping” (yes, I admit it) after moving to this area. The friars made us feel at home. Franciscan hospitality is unlike any other.

But the two priests who have served here this year, who in some ways could not be any more different from each other, have touched my heart and it will be hard to see them go.

Father Brennan-Joseph, the pastor, inspires. A gifted speaker, he uses humor, personal examples and a fire born of true devotion to bring home the points he makes in his homilies. In addition, he is generous with gratitude and compliments for those who help at Mass in any way.

Father Matthew instructs and challenges. His knowledge of Franciscan history has been a true gift to the Secular Franciscans. He has urged us to keep the Franciscan spirit alive in this parish. And he tells it like it is, which (he admits) puts some people off, but which I find refreshing and necessary. Father Matthew also frequently speaks about prayer during his homilies, and you don’t hear many priests doing that.

Both priests live their calling. They pray with us and for us and they let us know this. They stay after daily Mass on novena days (Monday, the Blessed Mother; Tuesday, St. Anthony; Wednesday, St. Joseph; and Fridays in June, the Sacred Heart). They pray in the Adoration Chapel, with regular hours and drop-in visits. It is a true witness to parishioners to see their priests praying in the Adoration Chapel. They believe; they are devoted; it shows. And it edifies us.

When these two friars arrived in our parish, they knew they’d be here temporarily. But they didn’t just “phone it in,” do Masses, weddings, sick visits and funerals and call it a day. They gave everything they had. They became part of the community. They resurrected a dying altar-server ministry, started a Frassati Society for young adults, and showed up at each and every parish function, staying until the last piece of cake was served.

I am grateful for their service to this parish, for the example they set, for the inspiration and challenges they have given us. May God bless them in their ministry to their future parishes (one in New York state, one in England). And may God help our parish in this time of transition. May we show true Franciscan hospitality to our new pastor.