A local priest apologizes for all

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who is on a one-woman-columnist crusade to hold the feet of the Catholic Church hierarchy to the fire, said in a column Saturday that the “hero of the week” during a week of abuse allegation revelations and regrettable silence from Pope Benedict is Ireland’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. She said he was a hero “for simply telling the truth.”

Truth-telling indeed is a heroic act at this time for the Catholic Church, but it isn’t only Martin who is brave enough to say the Church screwed up and that, in Martin’s words, “The response was hopelessly inadequate.”

Father Bartholomew Hutcherson said much the same thing during his Holy Thursday homily last week in Tucson, but his words wouldn’t reach the Times. (He said as he was ending the homily that he figured someone would probably leave and call the bishop’s office, so his words might reach the bishop. I kept wondering, what would they report him for? Following the Ninth Commandment?)

The homily, as many Dominican homilies are, was full of many things, but the part that made people sit up and pay attention began here:

I have agonized in recent days over reports that the scandals that rocked the Church in our country in recent years are now rocking it as hard in Europe and other places. The world should be scandalized when we do not live up to our promises. The world should be scandalized when the protection of church reputation seems to be a higher concern than the protection of the weakest and most vulnerable in our midst. The church should be scandalized, you should be scandalized, I should be scandalized!

Hutcherson knows of what he speaks, as he worked in administration for his religious order – the Dominicans – for a number of years during the height of the crisis in the early ’00s. It was an assignment that was, he said, spiritually, mentally and emotionally draining. I can relate. I was a reporter for the Catholic press during that time and covering the crisis almost killed my faith. In fact, during the bishops’ meeting in 2002, I was so overwhelmed by the stories from victims (and the smattering of brave priests who got nowhere when they reported their abusive brethren) that, at one point, I handed my tape recorder to another reporter so I could assume the head-between-knees position in the hallway to keep myself from throwing up.

Hutcherson’s experience in provincial administration working on the crisis taught him something important, he said during the homily:

… much of the scandal was not a failure of sex or sexuality, it was not a failure of celibacy or chastity – so much of what we saw in this country and what is coming to light in other places was a failure of arrogance, a failure of entitlement, a failure of privilege, a failure of secrecy and a failure to model our priesthood on the self-sacrificing priesthood of Jesus. And for that, I and every priest in the world owes you an apology and penance…

He and every priest in the world. Wow. Would it be that the Holy Father could have seen the reaction of the congregation to those words. Then Pope Benedict XVI might understand that admitting that you made a mistake – admitting that your response was wrong, in light of all you now know – would do far more for his relationship with the People of God than the silent treatment is getting him. Instead, he scandalizes the entire Church with his deafening silence from on what happened in Munich when he was archbishop there.

Now, so I don’t get accused of being slanted or anti-Catholic, let me say that this ain’t all Pope Benedict’s fault and when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Benedict ran before becoming Pope, was finally put in charge of dealing with clerical sex abuse cases, the then Cardinal Ratzinger was pretty hard-nosed about dealing with “filth” – although bishops did not always follow his lead.)

That said, God only knows how long those changes would have taken had not the Boston Globe first written about the scandal 10 years ago. The Church did not voluntarily change its ways, in other words. It was pushed by the press bringing to light what the victims had been trying to get the bishops to pay attention to – and the Church condemned the press the entire time, much the same way some in the Vatican are saying people are now attacking the pope.

Jesus would have told the truth when he found out, the minute the first young person came to him and said Father so-and-so was more wolf than lamb. Jesus wouldn’t have covered his fanny using the lame excuse that he was “protecting the people from scandal” and thus kept the wagons circled around the clergy.

After his homily, Hutcherson’s Facebook page lit up with compliments and thank yous from parishioners relieved that someone in a Roman Collar spoke out for accountability and servanthood, and did not once make an excuse for the obvious failure in the area of sexual abuse by clergy. The Church hierarchy could should take note – not to reprimand Hutcherson, but to follow his example.

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