I. I was on retreat last week at St. Mary’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Morristown, New Jersey—safely tucked away when the clergy sex abuse scandal in this country became an even sorrier spectacle with the Pennsylvania revelations, the discoveries concerning Cardinal McCarrick, and the highest level of Church authorities accused by other Church authorities of massive cover-ups. I regretted not being with you last weekend when this sad news broke. So today, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the situation.
II. A brother priest of mine, who describes himself as deeply saddened and dismayed, writes,
I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the depth of the crisis facing the Church in the United States—a crisis borne of abuse of power, clericalism, careerism, an absence of accountability, and immorality.
Deeply saddened and dismayed, yes, but also mad. I want someone to say, “I screwed up. I’m taking responsibility for what I did and didn’t do. It’s my fault and I’m sorry.” I’m also waiting for someone to say, “Here’s a proposal for a path forward.”
III. Here’s one way that we can offer a proposal for a path forward. We are planning a gathering for what we are calling a “Wisdom Circle” on Saturday, September 22, from 9:00—11:00 AM here at Ascension. It will provide a safe space, a sanctuary for us to share and discuss our thoughts and feelings surrounding the current crisis. We’ll forward our comments and conversation to Archbishop Hebda and other Church leaders. Although we might wish to take Jesus’ harsh words to the hypocritical leaders in today’s gospel and hurl them at a hypocritical priest or bishop, or some other scribe or Pharisee, that isn’t enough. At the same time that we voice our concerns, we have to claim the responsibility and wisdom to propose a way forward through this crisis: a way forward for Church leaders, but also a way forward for us.
IV. And this is the source of our wisdom: the Spirit who speaks through you by virtue of your baptism. All religious practice and practices must be subordinated to knowing Christ Jesus and embodying him in the world. We cannot allow religion to get in the way of God. No person, no thing, no rule—yours, mine, or theirs—nothing can replace Jesus Christ as the object of our faith and the source of our worship. When religion gets in the way of God, when it is shaped and misshaped to cater to personal preferences and positions, religion becomes idolatry. “Pure religion,” St. James says today, is care for the widow and orphan, the poor and vulnerable—and for those of us here at Ascension, I would add the care and protection for the immigrant. “True worship” empowers us for compassion and service and truth. Again, St. James:
“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you that has the power to save your souls…and be doers of this word.”
Be doers of that word that has been planted in you.