Will you leave me too?

I’m sorry. We’re sorry.The Church is sorry.

  • I’m sorry to all of the survivors of priest abuse. Friends these are the ones we must pray for right now.  These are the ones we absolutely cannot forget.
  • When I’ve read letters from Church officials that beg us to pray for our priests and bishops right now, something doesn’t sit right with me.  It seems to miss the point.  Yes bishops and priests need prayers, but is seems self-centered to focus on church officials when there are so many who have been wounded by clergy who need our prayers.  The survivors need our prayers first.
  • I’m proud of Bishop Walkowiak.  In our bulletin this weekend we have included Bishop’s letter to the faithful of Grand Rapids.  He too apologizes and calls for prayers for the survivors.
  • “My prayers today are with the survivors of sexual abuse. I am truly sorry for the pain you have endured.” And he concludes, “We pray for the survivors of [those abused by clergy], and [we pray] for their families that their wounds may be healed by our ever-loving God.” 

We’re sorry…

  • I’m sorry also to all of those who are family or friends of those who have been abused by clergy. You expected your loved ones to experience the God who loves them in Church, and instead they experienced great evil and abuse.
  • And I’m sorry to all of you here tonight.  This is the Church you love. This is your faith.  And I share with all of you the great anger over the abuse, the cover ups, and the betrayal.
  • I’m sorry that Fr. Tony and I did not address this last weekend. In all honesty I needed some time.  I was experiencing many different emotions. 
    • I was angry, “How can this happen?”  I thought, “Seriously, we allowed priests to continue in ministry when we knew the types of evil acts they were committing?”
    • I was also filled with shame.  The day that the Grand Jury report came out in Pennsylvania was the first time I did not want to wear my collar.  I was embarrassed. Here were priests, men who are supposed to be vessels of God’s love, healing, and grace, and yet, we discover that there were men who did the opposite.  Priests who wounded, hurt and led people away from God.
    • I also felt helpless.  What could I give all of you?  What can I say that would take away your anger and frustration?
  • Finally, I’m sorry that this apology won’t be good enough. Because an apology on its own can’t be good enough. 
    • Responding to the several statements from Bishops, one catholic writer recently wrote, “Unfortunately we have heard the apologies and promises before.  The time for strongly worded statements has passed.  It is time for action. And its time for urgent action!”

So what needs to happen? Well, unfortunately we have had so many examples over the past year to learn from…

    • Last fall, their was the scandal in Hollywood where there was abuse and there were cover ups.
    • Then in the winter there was Larry Nassar and his abuse of young women that was covered up at Michigan State.
    • This summer, Ohio State faced difficulties with Coach Urban Meyer regarding domestic violence regarding one of his coaches.  When did he know? Why didn’t he tell more people?  Why didn’t he help the wife of one of his coaches who lived in fear?
    • Now, today, its our Church.  The abuse of minors and seminarians by Clergy and the cover up in the hierarchy.  Why did this happen?   How could we fail our people like this?
    • Which institution caused the greatest scandal?  Well, its our Church.  The Church is supposed to be a sign of God’s light and love in the world, and so, rightly, the Church is held to a higher standard.
    • It is necessary to bring things to the light.
    • These scandals together have taught us that action is necessary and an external review is also necessary.  Not just to avoid cover ups.  But also to protect our people. 
    • Archbishop Carlson, invited Attorney General Josh Hawley of Missouri to review all handlings of clergy abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
    • I’m also proud of our diocese and Bishop Walkowiak. He explained to us in his letter that there is a review board in charge of handling all issues of clergy abuse.
    • He writes, “Our review board is comprised of two priests and seven lay members, including a retired judge, a retired FBI officer, therapists, and educators.”  He also assured us, this review board and himself, “immediately report these allegations to the proper local authorities and fully cooperate with their investigations.”
    • Whether its inviting the Attorney General, or establishing a review board controlled by laity, these two bishops have begun to act, to protect, and hopefully to end this abuse in our Church. 
    • I don’t know what other actions need to happen.  But I think what all of us can do is pray that the Holy Spirit continues to persuade our bishops to be courageous, to be transparent, and to allow for some form of external review of clergy abuse cases in order to protect our people.

But then there is an important question for all of us here to consider.   Why are you here today? After all of this, why are you still Catholic?

I was listening to an NPR show called 1A.  It was extremely difficult.  The host kept saying, “we want to hear from you Catholics around the country and tell us, why are you still Catholic? Why stay in a church where so much abuse has happened?” Throughout the show, many called, tweeted, or emailed to say they had left the Catholic Church, because they had lost all trust.

So, why stay Catholic? I think this Gospel is exactly what we needed to hear today.  Jesus looks at His Church, and he looks at all of us with a broken heart because of the sins of his ministers.  And in the wake of so many who have left, Jesus says with a heavy heart to each of us, will you leave me too?

Now obviously, when Jesus asks this question it is because of the many disciples who couldn’t accept the teaching on the Eucharist.  People weren’t leaving due to evil acts.  But the question is still relevant.  Will you leave me too?

So friends I invite you to stay. 

It would be easy for me after one year of priesthood to go.  In 2002 I was too young to understand the gravity of the scandal.  But as I grew up, and I began to understand what had happened, I felt called to be a priest to help rebuild trust between the people of God and His Church. 

What inspired me was the priest who stayed.  The good priests who stayed in their vocation.  When the world hated priesthood, they didn’t run.  The good priests stayed. 

It would be easy for us to leave right now. But I’m asking you to stay. This is the place that we experience the God who loves us, the God who heals us, the God who saves us.  And you should expect the best of your priests.  But you are not Catholic, you are not here because of me or Fr. Tony.  You are because of one man.  We are here because of one man, and that man is Jesus Christ.

So dear friends, I invite you to stay despite the failing of his ministers.

I invite you to stay and pray that Christ the divine physician will bring healing to the survivors. Especially right now in their time of need. 

Stay and pray for our leadership, that they may be compelled by the holy spirit and protect God’s people.

I invite you to stay.  Thats my plea tonight. Many of us turn to the Church when we need hope and healing in our lives.  Right now, the Church is vulnerable and needs this from you.  Stay and, with God’s grace, help the Church heal.


My hope and prayer for all of us here is that we will stay.  In a moment I will sit down and allow each of us to have a moment silence for prayer.  Jesus looks at each of us with a broken heart, for many have left due to horrible and evil actions of others, and he asks, “will you leave me to?”

My hope and prayer is that each of us will stay and answer like Peter and Joshua:  Lord to whom else shall we go? You have the words of Eternal Life.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

4 thoughts on “Will you leave me too?

  1. Aaron Sweeney

    Thank you Fr Stephen for your honesty and love. You are a good shepherd and I believe pleasing to our Lord. We love you.

    Aaron

  2. Carol

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen – well said. I’m glad to hear you say that it is the survivors that need our prayers first; it’s self-centered to focus on church officials. I agree. You are in our prayers.

  3. rose

    Thank you so much for the homily you offered last weekend. Ron & I found it very helpful in trying to sort this out, shake our heads in disbelief, focus on God’s call to us at this time.
    Pray for the victims. Prayers that the Holy Spirit will continue to inspire you at this most difficult time! As another spokesman said “LEAD, DO NOT LEAVE”

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