Monday, August 26, 2002

I think my thoughts below on what the Church owes to victims require some amplification.

Our first response to the news of abuse must be compassion for the victims. I don't think anyone disputes that, and that's the call made to all of us, and one we cannot refuse. The problem comes when this call to compassion is interpreted to mean that nothing is more important than making things right for the victims.

That sounds really good, and many bishops have communicated statements like those above. It's the type of thing we want to hear. But it's simply wrong. For a couple reasons.

First, we cannot "make it right" through our own actions. We can pray for the Holy Spirit to bring about a Paschal Resurrection from this, and try to be agents of that Resurrection. But it is impossible for us to undo the damage that has been done.

Second, our mission, as Jesus has passed on to us, is to make disciples of all the nations. Clearly, if we are committing child abuse, that is going to hurt our ability to proclaim the Gospel. But we must never forget that proclaiming the Gospel is our primary goal.

For example, imagine if a victims' group suggested that the Church do away with all youth ministry in order to prevent future abuse. Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion and Reconciliation would be pushed back to young adulthood (I'll leave alone theological arguments for movig them, and assume they're being moved simply to avoid abuse). Children would not be expected to participate in Mass, and indeed be discouraged from doing so.

Implementing something like this would be a terrible idea, even if it would likely prevent future abuse. It would be a betrayal of everything we know about proclaiming the Gospel, and we would lose countless souls by failing to minister to them.

I know, nobody's proposing a solution like the one above. My point is that we have to remember who we are, and what our mission is.

The problem is that when people's role is to preserve the goodness of the Church, there is often a strong temptation to interpret preservation of the Church to preservation of one's own position in the Church. This is why we ought to be constantly praying for our Church's leaders.

I understand it sounds crass to say that the victims of abuse are not our first priority as a Church. But to say otherwise would be a lie, and lead us to forget the mission the Church has been called to.
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