In this week’s interview, communications manager David Hazen continues his conversation with Archbishop George J. Lucas about recent reports of clerical sexual abuse and explores how we can begin to move forward through the healing and reconciliation offered by Jesus Christ.
Q: It is obvious that recent scandals in our church have demoralized, confused and wounded many of the faithful. How can we begin to move toward some kind of healing?
We certainly feel the need for healing and reconciliation right now, and I hear our people expressing that in various ways. The ugliness of the past abuse of minors and the abuse of power weighs on all of us in the church. We have to reckon with those sins in ways that we may not have previously.
However, we cannot simply dwell on sin. We have a church because Jesus wants to be present to us in our circumstances now, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, he is. He comes to us on a mission from his heavenly Father to provide healing and reconciliation to a broken world.
This is precisely the time when we should be looking for him and asking how we might come closer to him, how we might invite Jesus into the places where individual people and the whole church are feeling burdened and broken. We need to turn to the Lord in prayer and invite him to heal and reconcile us.
Q: One of the most devastating effects of these crises is the faithful’s loss of trust in their bishops. In your experience, what can help heal that relationship?
In many cases the breach of trust can begin to be healed by getting answers. Trust can be restored and healing can begin to the extent that we’ve understood what happened and how it happened. Take the example of Archbishop McCarrick, once again: How did somebody carry on a life marked by grave misdeeds over several decades and during that period be appointed bishop of three separate dioceses? That is a question that a lot of us would like to have answered. That does not mean that Jesus can’t begin to offer us the grace of healing while we await an answer, but having the answer really would help.
Another step that can assist with the healing process – especially for those who have directly suffered abuse – is for leaders in the church to demonstrate that circumstances that might have been conducive to the abuse have changed. We are in a much different place than we were 25 or 30 years ago in terms of providing safe environments. I have heard from victims of abuse that it makes a difference to them to know that things have changed.
Q: How have you seen people respond to your invitation to be part of that healing process?
I have witnessed individuals and parishes taking the initiative to approach the Lord in prayer and to beg for his mercy, for his forgiveness for past sins, for his healing and reconciliation within the church and within our own hearts.
As I mentioned previously, I am dedicating Thursdays to prayer and fasting to beg the Lord’s mercy and to beg for reconciliation. St. Francis Borgia Parish in Blair invited me to participate in an hour of prayer for that intention, which they had scheduled on a recent Thursday evening. It helped my own awareness of the power of the Lord’s mercy to be there, and I was happy to see that the parish was taking that initiative. I’ve heard of similar things in other parishes around the archdiocese.
I ran into a man the other day who said, “I’m joining you on Thursdays!” He’s not with me physically, but he’s joining me in prayer and fasting. I think the Lord is inviting us to come to him in humility and openness, to allow his power to work where our own efforts have failed.
It really opens up for us the opportunity to entrust ourselves to the Lord and to beg him to come with his power, whether that power is manifest in mercy or in cleansing and renewal. We know he has something good in mind for the church and that he wants our experience to be grace-filled.
Q: The event you recently attended at Sacred Heart Parish in Omaha also sounds like it was precisely that sort of experience – a manifestation of his power in the form of cleansing and renewal.
Yes, I was invited to Sacred Heart Parish in north Omaha because they had scheduled a time of prayer to ask for forgiveness for the sin of racism that had been part of the history of that parish. As some in our archdiocese will know, this year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of St. Benedict the Moor Parish. It has a very rich history, but it was established as a parish for African Americans in large part because black Catholics were made to feel unwelcome in other parishes in the area. The current parishioners and the pastor of Sacred Heart recognize this about their history.
Parishioners from both parishes participated in this service. When I heard the plans for it, I was really struck by the beauty of the idea, and the reality was even more moving. Current parishioners made a point of admitting to the sin of racism in the history of their community. Though the sin was committed many years ago, it was important that it be named and that the Lord be invited into that wound. The current parishioners wanted to lay claim to it as an opportunity to see that where there had been an injustice, the justice of God could be implored and through the power of Jesus’ saving sacrifice it could begin to be restored.
I think everyone who was part of that prayer that evening understands that we can’t just come together for an hour to pray, and then expect everything to be fine. But we can’t begin the process of reconciliation, whether it’s the sin of racism, the abuse of minors, or any other terrible sin in our community, we can’t begin to hope for healing and reconciliation if we continue to deny that there was ever a problem.
Q: Many dioceses across the country are being forced to reckon with past sins. In Nebraska, the attorney general has requested that each diocese turn over “investigative files” from the past 40 years. Do you see his mercy at work in this as well?
I do see this as a moment of grace. The point is not to beat ourselves up for things from the past. It could be easy enough for any of us to say, “Well, I didn’t do that. I didn’t commit that sin.” We hope most of us could say that, whether it’s about sexual abuse or racism. But the fact is that the hurt from the sin of abuse remains. There has been a serious injustice within the community of believers, and it has affected the larger community in which we live.
When we heard from the attorney general about his desire to look at our records pertaining to this issue, I said it is a moment of grace;
the truth is good for everybody. It is not that the truth just heals everything automatically, but this can be the opening for an extended time of reconciliation and of growth in the grace we need to be a more just church and a more just society.
I renew my invitation to the whole archdiocese to pray. The scandals are a hurt in our church and in our community, and we all feel it. All of us, then, can be agents of reconciliation. If we are all on our knees more, begging the Lord’s mercy and confident he will give it, we will experience a new moment of grace in a difficult period.