We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard some of it before. There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.
They are right. We need to hear this. And not just from the grand jury. We need to hear it from the pulpit. But it is hard to hear and hard to say. It is hard to know how to say it: how to say it in a way that will not simply crush the spirits of God’s people; how to say it in a way that will not terrify children or undermine the vast numbers of faithful priests; how to say it in a way that is honest and not complicit in the euphemistic talking-around that has aided and abetted these criminal acts.
Pretty much by sheer force of will, I went to Mass yesterday on the Solemnity of the Assumption and took only slight comfort in Mary’s song of resistance: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” Yeah? When? How long, O Lord? Then the priest, in his homily, made no mention of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report, or the recent news reports about Ted McCarrick. During the prayer of the faithful he tried a stumbling petition for victims of abuse, but he was clearly embarrassed by the topic and had no idea what to say and I found myself momentarily feeling sorry for him. Clearly he found it difficult to find words that could both accurately describe these acts and were suitable for utterance from the sanctuary.
I myself am tempted to simply read from the grand jury’s report:
Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.
This is not a shock tactic. This is honesty. But I am also a parent, so I would never utter such a thing in an assembly with children in it. I do not want parents having to explain to their six-year-old what anal rape is. I do not want to become party to the violation of the innocence of children. At the same time, I want to speak honestly. But how?
Since my ordination in 2007, I have preached on the topic of sexual abuse and its cover up about a half dozen time. It is always hard. I am almost always unsatisfied by what I have said. But it has also almost always been greeted with a sense of grateful relief by parishioners. They are relieved to hear from the pulpit some acknowledgement of reality, and of their struggles to remain part of a Church that has mired itself in such unreality. I preached about this most recently last Sunday—not in the context of the forthcoming grand jury report, but of the scandal surrounding Ted McCarrick. You can read my efforts here. But even to my own ears my words sound somewhat hollow today. Yes, we find in the Church the Eucharist as a source of love and grace, but I certainly did not feel that at Mass yesterday. I mostly felt rage.