By Father Thomas Esposito
Special to The Texas Catholic
“Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am coming against these shepherds. I will take my sheep out of their hand and put a stop to their shepherding my flock, so that these shepherds will no longer pasture them. I will deliver my flock from their mouths so it will not become their food” (Ezekiel 34:10).
The Body of Christ has been pierced and ravaged in the helpless bodies of countless boys and girls devoured, both physically and spiritually, by predatory pastors; we who claim new life in Christ must suffer the consequences of that scandal and shoulder the burden of their sorrow. The purging of filth in the Church’s hierarchy will require courageous bishops and priests to confess their complicity, whether in action or in silence. The proper dredging up of scandal’s lewd sewage will also demand that lay men and women channel their righteous rage against those who perpetrated these crimes, protected the monsters who committed them, and willfully desecrated their priestly charism. The prophets whom God chose to act as His mouthpiece in ancient Israel, after all, were usually not priests.
But note carefully the mission entrusted to Jeremiah by the Lord, specifically the listing of his prophetic duties: “Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). The prophetic witness has always been, and must be today, a coordinated effort of condemnation and restoration of what was good regarding a right relationship with God. We must remember that the rebuilding of that sacred relationship is the definitive commission given to the prophet.
If any light is to emerge out of the depths of this scandal, it must originate with men and women, priests and lay people, who have experienced the genuine power of the Gospel, joyfully and fearlessly lived, to illuminate darkened intellects and eradicate toxic cultures within the Church. That is the prophetic work to which God calls us at this particular time. The sins of our fathers are a suffocating avalanche of sorrow and anger at present. In response, we must summon all bishops and priests to justice if they are guilty, and to bravery if they have the ability to lend their knowledge to the purification of a particular scandal. But we must also encourage our priests and bishops, the faithful stewards who bear the immense burden of guilt by association, to believe and remember that many people will experience the real presence of Christ by their efforts to present Him not simply in the sacraments, but in their fidelity to their priestly vocation. All of us must consider ourselves to be good thieves, defending the innocent in our midst while acknowledging our own individual roles in the mystery of iniquity, which is not limited to this present disgrace (Luke 23:39-44; 2 Thessalonians 2:7).
I was a college freshman in that dreadful year of 2002 when I learned that a dear priest friend and mentor from home had been arrested for possession of child pornography. After the initial waves of shock and anger subsided, I perceived within myself a steadily emboldening desire to set right what he and so many other priests had shamefully twisted by their disgusting deeds.
I had been blessed to experience the best of the Church’s life throughout my childhood, and I greatly desired to channel my anger in such a way as to share what I knew to be the life-giving grace of Christ in the Scriptures and sacraments with those who might understandably be tempted to abandon the Church’s ship.
Even prophets, of course, are sinners, and I am in constant need of the loving forgiveness of Christ. Yet as a priest, I wish simply to be a prophet of medicinal mercy during this epidemic of my Church’s own creation, and I trust that the prophetic fury enkindled in so many Catholics will be concentrated by the Holy Spirit in an agonizing but graced process of healing the broken Body of Christ.
Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.