By Bishop James Conley
When Pope St. John Paul II visited the United States in 1995, he said something I have been reflecting upon in recent weeks.
“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us,” the pope said. “There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us.”
He continued, “And on the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.”
In these days, the Church in the United States is facing a great evil. In the past month, most Catholics have heard the allegations that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick abused and coerced children, seminarians, and priests for decades. Questions have been raised about whether other Church leaders knew about some of this abuse, and about whether they could have intervened to stop it.
Those allegations and question are painful. All of us who have heard them have had to grapple with the feelings they cause: with shame, with anger, with deep disappointment.
Of course, the facts are not all yet clear; we don’t yet know the full truth. But justice demands that we seek the facts, and that those who have done wrong be held accountable.
In the weeks and months to come, the Church’s investigations may well turn up more information, and while that might lead to clarity and understanding, it might also lead to more painful and difficult moments. Just this week in a blog post, a former priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, now laicized, leveled accusations against a deceased priest of the diocese.
I am committed to ensuring that, in the Diocese of Lincoln, we maintain the high standards of chaste behavior to which the Lord calls us; I ask any priest, religious, seminarian, or lay Catholic with any information or concerns about past or current sexual immorality in a parish, school, or apostolate of the diocese to contact the Office of Child and Youth Protection or, if suspected as criminal, to the Child & Elder Abuse Reporting Hotline, 1-800-652-1999, or any law enforcement agency.
Here is the good news: Jesus Christ faces all evil alongside us. He bears all crosses along with us. He has already conquered the enemy. And he promises us new life.
If we are in pain, Christ knows our pain. If we are angry, Christ knows our anger. If we are disappointed, Christ knows our disappointment. He is with us. And he is the way, the truth, and the life.
Human sexuality is one of most beautiful gifts that the Lord has given us. Sexuality, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul.” Sexuality, it says, “is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such.”
But sexuality “is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.” And all people are called to chastity, which the Catechism calls “a school of the gift of the person,” which “leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness.”
If we learn to be chaste, we learn to love. If we sin against chastity—if we do not ask the Lord to order our sexuality to real love—we move further from the Lord, and we become focused on our own pleasures, ever less able to love.
The Catechism puts it plainly: “either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.”
Because sexuality is such a powerful gift, I believe that the evil one—Satan—tempts us to sin against chastity, and to misuse and abuse our sexuality, because doing so can cause great harm to the Lord’s beloved children. We live in a world in which chastity is ever more difficult, and ever more challenged. We can see, all around us, the ways in which sins against chastity cause real and serious harm.
It is well known that sexual abuse and coercion are not unique to the Catholic Church. Children are most often abused by those they know well, and regrettably, this often includes their own family members. This also sometimes includes their teachers, their coaches and mentors, and, tragically, their pastors. When sexual abuse and coercion take place in the context of the family, they make it hard to trust in the goodness of God the Father; the same is true when abuse takes place in the context of the Church.
We should weep for those who struggle to trust God’s love because—in any context—they have been abused. And we should pray for them, daily.
We should also, at this difficult moment, pray for all Catholics who are angry, disappointed, or hurt. We should pray that Jesus, suffering alongside us, will reveal himself. And that he will show us the path to renewal, resurrection, and new life.
We should pray, especially, dear brothers and sisters, for the gift of chastity. We should pray that the Lord will give us a renewal of chastity, and that all who have been harmed by sins against chastity will be healed.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI wrote to victims of sexual abuse in Ireland. “Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God’s children... I pray that, by drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church—a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity—you will come to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you. I am confident that in this way you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and peace.”
I share that prayer, and that confidence.
As a bishop, I apologize to anyone who has been harmed by the failures of the Church’s own leaders to live according to the Gospel, and especially to those who have suffered the pain of abuse or coercion. It might be difficult to believe, but Jesus suffers alongside you. He bears the cross along with you. So too do the many members of the Church—priests, deacons, and bishops among them—who are striving for chastity, and for holiness.
Christ promises new life. May he renew his Church, and renew the hearts of those who are suffering.