Who Can Heal Them?
In light of last week’s announcement of the $19.6 million settlement of clergy sex abuse victims with the Chicago Province of the Jesuits, here are my thoughts.
The harsh winter Midwestern winds always usher in a bitterly cold Lent with its penitential fasting and prayers. Friday nights are reserved for the Way of the Cross. The stirring Stations serve as one of the most moving and humbling Church devotions as Catholics walk the death march of Christ.
Yet, this winter night would be different, shockingly so.
Holding flickering candles, the altar boys approached the Fourth Station, Jesus meets His Afflicted Mother. Unexpectedly, I noticed their innocent and guileless faces illuminated by the lit tapers. Then the parishioners intoned the scriptural words, “For great as the sea is your distress; who can heal you?” (Lam. 2, 13).
Suddenly, the presence of the altar servers magnified the gravity of the words. As the boys stood reverentially, the congregation intoned, “who can heal you?” This powerful question was like a thunderbolt from heaven. How many Catholic mothers utter these words about their young sons abused by priests? How many fathers helplessly wondered, what is happening to my son? Why is he so distressed?
As the altar boys walked on to the 5th Station, the churchgoers intoned, “I look to the right to see, but there is no one who pays me heed. I have lost all means of escape; there is no one who cares for my life. (Ps 141 2-5) Again and again, the pleading refrain of the psalmist eerily echoes the desperate and lonely cry of an abused child. For decades, these children were alone with the terror of abuse, unable to escape. Tragically, they believed that no one cared for their life.
How did I not realize that these abused children of the Church carry their own cross and walk the path along with Christ? His pain is their pain. His words are theirs. They, too, walk the Stations of the Cross.
On to the next station, the cross grows heavier.
As Jesus falls the second time, the people echo the words of Isaiah, “though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth, like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearer he was silent and uttered no cry.” (Is 53, 7) Like Christ, the innocent children were defiled by the strong and mighty. Helpless, the children fell silent, uttering no cry and forever robbed of their innocence.
The refrains of Calvary’s stations grow even more piercing and urgent when Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. The pain of the innocent lamb is now palpable. Jesus speaks the haunting words, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”(Luke 23, 27-28). Jesus, the sacrificial lamb knows and feels the pain of the mothers and their children. It is for them that he takes up his cross. He shares in the tears of the innocent and only He can wipe them away.
Stumbling up the hill, the defiled innocent cries out and the congregation responds, “Look and see whether there is any suffering, like my suffering. At this I weep, my eyes run with tears; far from me are all who could console me, far away are any who might revive me.” (Lam1,12 &16) There is no escaping these mournful cries; for these are the words of the abused child. Truly, there is no suffering, like the torture and horror of abuse of an innocent child, stripped of their innocence, and, for many, deprived of their precious faith. Tears are flowing now in the final steps up to Calvary.
At the Ninth Station, Christ falls the third time, and the faithful pray, “evildoers come at me to devour my flesh.” (Ps. 26 ) What an apt description of the sexual abuse of an innocent child! The flesh of the innocent lamb is devoured by the evildoers. How could we not see it? Why didn’t we stop it? We were not listening, watching, praying and guarding the innocent lamb. We were blind and didn’t see the evildoer. We were fearful of the evildoer. We didn’t hear the bleating of the innocent lamb.
Next, the nails pierce his hands and feet, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 21, 2-3). Surely, this is the plaintive cry of the children of God. As Jesus carried the cross of the world’s sin, the crushing weight of the abuse of children by clergy reverberates from Golgotha and beyond. The stifled cry of the innocent children tortured like Christ, silenced like Christ, and ignored by the people, cries out from the cross.
At the final station, the altar boys extinguish their candles, and we pray the searing words of the centurion uttered at the foot of the cross, “this man was innocent beyond doubt.” (Luke 22:14) The innocent lamb was slaughtered on a cross as we stood by, watched, and did nothing.
Each year’s Lenten journey embraces the path up to Golgotha where mankind slaughtered the innocent lamb. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus cautioned in his book, “Death on a Friday Afternoon, “Yes, Christianity is about resurrection joy, but do not rush to Easter. Good Friday makes inescapable the question of complicity. Only the dulling of moral imagination prevents us from seeing how we are implicated in the complex web of human evil.”
The horror of complicity.
Neuhaus reminds us of the words of the Rabbi Abraham Heschel,“some are guilty, all are responsible.”
The thought of complicity and responsibility repulses our modern secular culture. Yet, it is modernity that devalues innocence and dismisses the reality of evil. Will we follow in the footsteps of Veronica who bravely stepped forward to wipe the face of the innocent lamb? Or, will we stand in the crowd yelling, “crucify him, crucify him,” smugly standing in the comfort of the crowd?
Fr. Stephen Grunow, Assistant Director of Word on Fire offers the challenge and hope in the lessons of the Stations of the Cross:
The judgment of the Cross is an invitation to repentance. All have sinned. All have fallen short. All must repent. All, without exception, are judged. If the story of the Cross ended there, we would all simply collapse under the weight of the truth that is revealed. But the judgment of the Cross surprises us with a verdict that is as surprising as it is undeserved. We are given the gift of another chance. What we do, or fail to do, with that gift is a truth that our lives right now reveal…
The scandal is not over. The hardest part lies ahead; all of us must begin the healing and repentance for the slaughter of the lambs among us. We can no longer take cover in the crowd, or in the words of Christ, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We now know.