May cross of past year bring us humility, holiness

NienstedtBlA good deal of media attention was given last week to the deposition I made on April 2 and which was publicly released on Tuesday, April 22. For four hours, seven minutes and 15 seconds, I was questioned on a whole host of matters relating to clerical misbehavior from 1970 to the present.

In a normal deposition, questioning is limited to the particular case being prepared for litigation. The case in question for me on April 22 involved an accusation of grave misconduct against a former priest, Thomas Adamson, made by a “John Doe #1,” abuse that allegedly occurred in 1976 or 1977. The questioning included any clerical misbehavior from 1970 to the present. This involved a substantial time frame during which I was not involved in this local archdiocese in any way, let alone as the archbishop, an office I have held since 2008.

While any deposition by its very nature is a grueling experience, I wish to state clearly and directly that I attempted during my questioning to answer all the questions put to me honestly and to the best of my recollection.

The demands placed upon the time and attention of an archbishop are multiple and serious. They are also time-consuming. Oftentimes, delegation is necessary to accomplish all that is required, and we have a dedicated staff to deal with the various matters at hand. Nevertheless, as archbishop, it is my responsibility to ensure that duties are fulfilled and oversight properly executed.

For any mistakes made by me or by my team since 2008, I take this opportunity to state once again my deep regret as well as my firm commitment to the safety of children. I intend to take the steps necessary to ensure that the trust lost by so many is restored and strengthened. I also again promise to work diligently to ensure that our beloved priests are supported and that their reputations and rights are upheld. The vast majority of clergy serving within this local Church are men of integrity and fidelity, striving in the midst of oftentimes difficult circumstances to serve the people of God with honor and holiness.

At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly in Dallas in 2002, I came to see the extent to which this crisis over clerical sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults had shattered the credibility of Church leadership. I knew it was time that as bishops, we had to act for a future that involves better protection of our children and youth. Like many of my confreres, I came home to initiate a whole series of action steps to ensure that changes were made. I still believe we made significant strides in this regard. Unfortunately, they were not enough. What I have learned since Sept. 28, 2013, has given me a new perspective of all that yet needs to be done.

The prevalence of pedophilia in our nation is staggering. In every fourth or fifth house in the Western world, some kind of sexual abuse is happening. It is a massive problem in our culture, not just in the churches. To quote Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI:

“. . . pedophilia is not a celibate disease, not a gay disease, not a married disease, not a man’s disease, nor a woman’s disease. It’s a disease, pure and simple, and, like alcoholism, it cuts across all boundaries, affecting alike clergy and lay, men and women, gay and straight, married and celibate. Like alcohol, it plays no favorites. It’s a sickness and not a question of somebody who is celibate not having proper willpower or somebody who doesn’t have sex acting out because of that deprivation.”

The classification of this disease is relatively new, first being described in the early 1980s. Many behavioral scientists think the main cause of the attraction to prepubescent children is not sex itself, but rather a trauma that the perpetrator experienced in his/her own childhood, who had his/her childhood stolen away. The effects on the victim are utterly devastating. It is the worst kind of “soul-violence.” The psychological scars run deep and are often permanent.

So the situation that we currently face calls for compassion, respect, patience and understanding — first for the victim, but oftentimes for the perpetrator as well. We also have to be committed to healing and reconciliation. As a Church, we are all about proclaiming forgiveness and mercy. We have to be ready to say we are sorry for the offense and to ask forgiveness of the offended.

The moment within which we are living calls for purification, pruning and humility. A spiritual director once told me, “You can’t be humble until you’ve been humbled.” I believe he was right. The cross of this past year has brought humiliation to our local Church. May it also bring humility and holiness.

In referencing the cross, I must say that this past Holy Week offered new insights for me from that perspective. Jesus accepted the hatred, rejection and condemnation he was shown and he took it upon himself. But he gave it back as love, thus transforming it into a powerful force. Somehow, following his example, we all have to learn how to do the same.

Perhaps my deposition of April 2 did not provide the right context to say all of this. After all, it’s not the nature or purpose of that exercise. But I hope these reflections help to fill in the gaps and to let you know that there is more to the story than you may find in the media.

God love you!

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Category: Only Jesus

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