February 16-17, 2019
As a priest of the Catholic Church I speak. As pastor of this great parish of St. Philomena I speak. On behalf of the Church I wish to apologize to anyone and everyone that has been hurt due to priestly irresponsibility, arrogance, malpractice or selfishness.
A sad List of men was made public this week, men who were ordained priests of God but who all share the awful distinction of having been credibly accused of varying levels of sexual abuse of minors over the past 80 years. The List contains the names of 63 priests, more than half of whom – 33 – are deceased.
This gallery of rogues is a gallery of men. Men are sinners; men are weak.
I think all the men on the List began their priestly lives intending to serve Jesus and his Church with loving, faithful care of people. They wanted to do their best. They failed. Sin entered the Church through every man’s Achilles heel – sexuality.
They harmed people, I suppose in varying degrees. They brought pain and misery to their victims. They brought shame on themselves and humiliation, embarrassment and sorrow on the glorious, holy vocation of the priesthood.
Their sins left only pain in their wake, long-term pain for all. The accusations go back 80 years. One of the priests was born in 1899, a long time ago.
To bring a bit of perspective, I can tell you that our Archdiocese of Newark has been served by several thousand priests since 1940. According to Vatican statistics, which are accurate, in 1968 alone, a total of 1,386 priests served in the Archdiocese, including those in Religious Orders such as Franciscans, Benedictines, Dominicans, and so on. Now of course, we have about half that number. But over the decades and generations, our great Archdiocese has had many priests. Sixty-three priests have been credibly accused of actions that crossed many lines and entered the realm of criminal activity.
Our beloved parish has been touched by this scourge. Three of my predecessors as pastor of St. Philomena, are on the list. So is a fourth who served here as a curate and is largely forgotten.
Times have changed. Modern science and psychology have taught us much. In the past it was conventional wisdom with someone who acts out like this, to send them away for therapy for a period of time. Places exist for such in-patient counseling for clergy… I know of some in Michigan, New Mexico and Maryland. Afterward, “experts” would declare such a priest suitable to be placed elsewhere, and so many were.
I make no excuses for anyone else’s sin. I condemn the harm done to the innocent. I also hear the words of Jesus over a woman caught in adultery and, aware of my own weaknesses I hesitate to throw stones.
I do hate their sins but they are my brother priests, and dozens of them are dead. They cannot explain, nor apologize, nor defend themselves. And those who are still living have paid a heavy price for their sins. They have lost their priesthood, their purpose and meaning in life. They have all been removed from public ministry. It is important to know that.
The Church begs forgiveness of all who were injured, and frankly, of all of us who have been scandalized by our own weaknesses, who have to endure all this darkness that shrouds the glory of our Faith! Now there are mechanisms in place… criminal search and background checks for all clergy, all employees, all volunteers. We are much more careful about who we let into our seminaries and who we ordain.
The bad publicity heaped on the Church and provided by the Church seems to give a “reason” to avoid the practice of the Faith. That would be a terrible mistake. What is needed is just the opposite – heroic faith!
the kind of loving faith and action so evident here;
the faith that seeks the Sacraments and knows that we need them.
I stress that children and adolescents are at home here. They are safe, protected and loved. They must experience that, feel it and know it.
I want no one of any age ever to be hurt by anyone representing Jesus or his Church. At the Last Supper Jesus quoted the proverb from OT: “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.” Satan has attacked the Church through her shepherds, and this has hurt the Body of Christ. It must never happen again.
And so, one may ask, Can I love my Church still? Can I trust my Church again?
If a family goes through a crisis, love remains, trust is re-established, peace returns. This is a hard time for our family but we will make it through, better and holier, cleansed of some issues and always seeking to be better. Our Church will earn our love again.
Somehow, a bright light from God will purify the Church. Our prayers for victims, our apologies to them, are real. But so is God’s mercy, which is stronger than the Church, and is our only hope.
Monsignor Robert J. Fuhrman