“When the Victims Speak, God Speaks to Us”

At the liturgy of lamentation and penance in Vienna mentioned above, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn made the following remarks.


“When the Victims Speak, God Speaks to Us”

In this hour, preachy words are beside the point. They could be not only uncomfortable, but even injurious. Keeping silent would be appropriate. Not that silence which happens all too often: the silence of covering up, of silencing another, the silence of not being able to speak up. It would have to be the silence of the friends of Job, who simply fell silent and sat in silence before the suffering of their friend.

Thanks, that you have broken the silence. Thanks, that victims have begun to trust themselves enough to speak. Oftentimes it takes a long time to break out of the spiral of silence. Much has broken open. There is less looking the other way. But much remains to be done.

I confess that I often have the feeling of injustice these days. Why is it mostly the Church which is pilloried? Isn’t there abuse elsewhere? Is anyone looking into that? Is it being dealt with? And then I am easily tempted to say: Well, the media just plain don’t like the Church! Maybe there’s even a conspiracy against the Church?

But then I feel in my heart – no, that’s not it. Even if that were the case, the mirror which is held up to us reflects something which makes abuse in the Church especially serious: it defiles the holy name of God. It closes off, often for an entire lifetime, access to the God who is with us and makes us free. Abuse which is sexual or physically violent or both, when it is committed by a church representative, by a priest or a professed religious, can become a “poisoning of God.” The people who are supposed to bring the nearness and the name of God become destroyers of the relationship to God. It is this which makes abuse in the Church even worse. Thus, the words of “holy anger” which Jesus uttered are so terrifyingly serious: “To the person who causes scandal to one of these little ones, it would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea.”

Scandal to the “little ones,” the dependent ones, the defenseless, children and youth: this meets God’s anger and woe.

In the Book of Exodus the topic is an encounter with God. It is not an encounter with an anonymous power, with some kind or other of energy, but rather with an I: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I am the God of your father.” He is the God who calls Moses by name, who calls us, who calls each one by name: He knows him. He knows me. He calls him. He calls me. He is my God and the God of each one of you.

And he shows who he is. He is not the God who looks the other way and does not listen: “I have seen the pain of my people in Egypt and I have heard their loud lament. I know their suffering.” A God who looks in and listens closely, and who does not remain unmoved by suffering.

How horrible it is when access to this God is closed off by people of the Church. When the name of this living God is poisoned. And then individuals must experience: your pain is ignored, your suffering is not seen, your loud lament is not heard!

Moses would not have been able to encounter this God if he had looked the other way during his time in Egypt when one of his fellow people, a Hebrew, was mistreated by a slave driver. For this Moses had paid the price of not looking the other way.

“And now, go,” the challenge of God to Moses, “lead my people out of the house of slavery! Lead them into freedom, into the land flowing with milk and honey.” Moses can only perform this service when he “knows their suffering,” when he acts like God who said of himself: “I have come down to rescue you from the hand of the Egyptians.” From up on his high horse, Moses cannot bring down to his people the liberation of God.

Is it not the tragedy of what we now experience, that a Gospel of liberation has become the Bad News of abuse? From this the Church must repent, all of us. As long as the Church does not look in and listen closely, the Church will only obstruct the liberating, redeeming God. Not only will the Church not proclaim the Good News of liberation from the house of slavery, it will make the slavery even worse.

This is a painful experience for the Church. But what is this pain in comparison to the pain of the victims whom we have not seen or listened to!  When the victims now speak, then God speaks to us, to his Church, in order to shake it up and purify it; then, through the victims, that God speaks to us who said to Moses: “I have diligently taken heed of you and have seen what they have done to you.”

www.kath-kirche.at/content/site/minidossiers/article/53660.html, tr. AWR.

One comment

  1. Kudos to Cardinal Schoenborn for rising above defensiveness and naming the deep theological and pastoral issues that this crisis is undoubtedly calling us to engage.

    Good preaching brings us to a place where in the cacophony of pain and anger we can still hear God’s Word. This is what is going to bring us peace in the end. Not cash settlements, not Virtus training, not psychological studies, though all these things will help. God’s word. I am glad so many were there to hear it. And thanks, Anthony, for translating it and sharing it with us.

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