(Artwork: “Suffer the Children” by Janice Nabors Raiteri)
As I hold in my thoughts yesterday’s report of the grand jury’s investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in six Pennsylvania dioceses, I am crying out to God with a lament that feels all-consuming.
Three hundred alleged “predator priests” in the dioceses were investigated and named in the report.
More than a thousand victims, according to the report, can be identified through church records, although many officials believe the number of victims to be much higher than what can be officially determined.
I grieve with outrage over the systematic violence that this report illuminates.
My heart breaks over vulnerable souls violated by the very leaders who had been entrusted with their spiritual and physical care.
I weep over shattered lives, devastated faith, and a broken church (of all denominations, since what happens in one part of the Body of Christ happens to the entirety of the body).
I mourn over a woefully fallen institution that has too often overlooked or even protected both perpetrators and patterns of injustice. (Again, I am speaking about the church in all of its denominations, since ecclesiastical abuse is in no way limited to Catholicism.)
Where is God in this agonizing mess?
I believe that God is where God always is.
Right here, intimately and restoratively present with the victims, embracing them with the tenderness that they have been unfairly denied, all the while allowing divine tears to commingle with theirs.
Right here, allowing the divine heart to experience every portion of the agony and anguish of unthinkable abuse.
God is right here, graciously, attentively, and beautifully. Always has been. Always will be.
If we trust what the Bible tells us—that Jesus has the supernatural capacity to experience personally the pain of the atrocities perpetrated against “even the least of these”—then we are right to believe that Jesus was there during every abusive moment, cradling the victims in protective arms while screaming out at the perpetrators, “No! These are my beloved children, and I will not allow your violence toward them to be the end of their story!”
I add my voice to the repentance that all the church’s people must express in the aftermath of these revelations. I also implore all those connected to the church’s ministry to commit themselves both to “Safe Sanctuary” standards and practices and to an ever-deepening diligence when it comes to the care that we offer to all people, children and adults.
Lord, have mercy…
…But, please God, let it be the kind of mercy that unsettles us, brings us to our knees, and inspires us to become a better church, where all people of all ages are valued, cherished, and protected.
Lord, have mercy.