In homily, Calif. priest says he was abused, hears from dozens of victims

| Mark Pattison | September 19, 2018 | 0 Comments

To be a voice for victims of clerical sexual abuse, Father Brendan McGuire realized he had to come to terms with the abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest when he was 18. It was a secret he had held for 35 years.

He told the story of his abuse in a homily delivered at five weekend Masses Sept. 8-9 at Holy Spirit Church in San Jose, California, where he is pastor.

Father Brendan McGuire

Father Brendan McGuire, pastor of Holy Spirit Church in San Jose, Calif., told the story of his abuse in a homily delivered at five weekend Masses Sept. 8-9. Parishioners responded with “thunderous applause” at two Masses and “three standing ovations” at the others, he said. Father McGuire is pictured in an undated photo. CNS photo/courtesy Father McGuire

In a Sept. 18 interview with Catholic News Service, Father McGuire said that although he always writes his homilies for distribution via email and social media, it was the first time he read it word for word from the pulpit so he wouldn’t overlook anything he wanted to say.

Parishioners responded with “thunderous applause” at two Masses and “three standing ovations” at the others — atypical post-homiletic behavior, he said.

Since the homilies, Father McGuire said, he has heard from 45 men who told him they also had been abused. Five of the men were priests, he added, and four of those had been abused while they were seminarians.

“One man was 95 years old. He’d been holding it for 60-plus years, 70-plus years,” the priest said. “I thought 35 was a lot.”

Growing up in Bray, Ireland, near Dublin, Father McGuire said he first met his priest-abuser when he was 14, and did not recognize the four years of “grooming” by the priest for his “final play,” with the priest saying during the attack that he had waited until young McGuire had turned 18 “so it wouldn’t be child abuse.”

While the future priest successfully fought off his abuser — “I was one of the lucky ones,” he said in his homily — others were not so lucky. The priest, who was not named in the homily, had preyed on dozens in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, was imprisoned in 2004 and died in prison two years later.

Father McGuire added he was driven to write his homily after reading the first 400 pages of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report on abuse allegations in six dioceses in the state dating back to 1947. Father McGuire sighed and said, “There was a whole other level of detail that I had forgotten about. Especially grooming.” Having read that far, he noted, “I just got so angry about it all over again, how these guys were so systematic about it.”

Father McGuire told CNS he almost didn’t go through with the homily because of the celebrity it would bring.

“I didn’t want it. That’s one of the reasons I held back,” he added. “I’m a man of deep prayer, I pray for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening. … I’m a big discerner. I wrote this homily days in advance. I prayed over it for a long time. I didn’t want this to be about me. I really didn’t.”

Father McGuire wants to be more than merely an effective voice for abuse victims. He wants to see change in the church.

In his homily, he listed ways the church needs to change.

Father McGuire wants bishops to “listen attentively” to victims. “The pain never fully leaves us. That’s OK but your acknowledging it helps us heal,” he said. He also urged bishops to disclose the names of all accused priests, past and present, and to agree what he called “an attorney general-like investigation.”

“Let them verify that you are doing all you can to protect the children now,” he added. The priest also wants bishops to perform “some act of repentance, like promising to not wear the miter for a year of mourning.”

He further wants bishops to “work with the pope to reform the governance of the church so that women have a voice of authority. I do not believe this travesty of justice would have happened if we had mothers and fathers at the decision-making tables; they would not have allowed other people’s children to be put in harm’s way because they would see their own child in them.”

Father McGuire asked parishioners to press bishops for accountability and to advocate for victims and “create a place of healing” to build “a community of true belonging where all the wounded are welcomed, as Pope Francis calls it, ‘a field hospital’ here in San Jose.”

In a Sept. 13 letter to Catholics in the San Jose Diocese, Bishop Patrick McGrath said the diocese would conduct three “listening sessions” for abuse victims and their families and for Catholics “on the pathway to reform”; release in mid-October of names of all credibly accused priests who ministered in the diocese; and open an independent examination of abuse allegations by a firm headed by Kathleen McChesney, the highest-ranking woman in the FBI before leaving to become the first executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection in 2002.

“We cannot defend priest-perpetrators and those bishops and others who enable or protect them,” Bishop McGrath said. “The only way that we can address the failed leadership of so many in the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world is for the Diocese of San Jose to do what we know is right and just.”

“We’ve done more than any California diocese. We’ve gone from nothing to full disclosure to full investigation in a matter of couple of weeks. I’d say that’s traction,” said Father McGuire, who worked in Silicon Valley before being ordained to the priesthood in 2000.

“I cooperate with God’s grace. Fundamentally, that’s what I want the church to do,” he added. “If the darkness has a hold on me, it doesn’t feel good. There’s a parallel to that with the church. Let us speak the truth.”


Here is the text of Father Brendan McGuire’s homily, “Ephphatha! Be Opened,” which was delivered at five Masses Sept. 8-9 at Holy Spirit Church in San Jose, California.

The last few weeks within our Catholic Church have been very difficult:

The Pennsylvania attorney general’s report,

former Cardinal McCarrick’s abuse and resignation,

the letter of accusation of the pope by Archbishop Vigano,

and our own local scandal with Presentation High School.

It has surely been a brutal few weeks for all of us.

As you know, I have been greatly distressed by these things

and thank you to so many who reached out to me.

I am going to speak very directly today about sensitive matters

and you may need to help your children with understanding them.

I apologize for that, but we Catholics need honesty at this moment.

Since I first preached about this three weeks ago,

many victims have come to see me sharing their pain

and asking me to advocate for them and be their voice.

It has been a painful few weeks for me.

It became clear to me that if I was to be their voice,

I needed to find my own voice first.

You see, I am not only speaking to you for the victims

I am speaking to you as a victim.

I, myself, was sexually abused by a priest 35 years ago and

up until two weeks ago, I have never shared it with a soul,

not even with my own family.

The shame was simply too much.

It happened when I was 18 years old

and the priest had spent four years grooming me for his final play.

I first met him when I was in Boston with my parents at age 14.

He spent the next four years writing to me regularly

and even visiting me in Ireland.

While I should have recognized the smaller inappropriate actions

throughout those four years, I never did.

I was a young boy who believed I had a vocation to the priesthood

and I trusted a priest to guide me in that vocation.

He waited until I turned 18 to make his move

so I could not call it child abuse.

He said this as he attacked me.

While ultimately, he was unsuccessful in his attempted rape of me,

it left psychological scars and even more so spiritual scars.

The priest was a notorious abuser from New Hampshire and Boston

who admitted to raping dozens of boys and young men.

In 2004, he confessed in court and was sentenced to 44 years in prison.

He died in prison in 2006.

With his death I thought, as many victims do,

that my own suffering had ended.

I was wrong.

Reading the Pennsylvania attorney general’s report

traumatized me all over again.

As I read about the systematic grooming and labeling of their victims

I was transported back to my 18-year-old self

and I cried and cried for the wounds of my younger self.

I realized that I could no longer remain silent

because the church has not learnt from the past.

My efforts to change the church from within have been limited at best.

So I did what I have always done, go to the Lord for guidance.

At first the Lord encouraged to allow the anger to be my fuel

and sorrow to be my face;

make no sudden decisions to change

and then to stay focused on Jesus Christ at all times.

Then he said, “Listen to my word.”

“Listen to my word.”

In today’s Scripture, Jesus says, “Ephphatha. Be opened.

And immediately the deaf man’s ears were opened

and his speech impediment was removed.”

That was God’s word to me.

It is time for the church to fully open their ears!

And it is time for me to find my voice and tell my story;

to allow my own speech impediment to be removed.

So, what now? What do I say?

To any victims out there,

whether it be at the hands of a priest or someone else,

I say to you, “Try to find your voice.”

The truth will set you free.

After 35 years of darkness let me tell you

the light is so much better than the darkness.

After telling my story to my family and friends,

my true healing has begun.

The anger is giving way to sorrow and

now sorrow is giving way to peace in my soul.

The truth has set me free.

I know it seems impossible, but ask the Lord

to gently give you the strength to find your voice,

whether it is about abuse or other serious wrongs done to you.

As Maya Angelou says,

“There is no greater agony than

bearing an untold story inside you…

The price is high but the reward is great.”

To the family and friends of the victims:

if we come forward,

please just listen to our pain without judgment.

We do not expect you to solve the past hurt or

take away the suffering.

We just want to be heard;

telling the story strangely heals us.

We want you to still love us for who we are.

We are wounded but we still need your love,

probably more now than ever.

We are not broken goods.

We have wounds but we are not the wounds themselves.

Please just listen to us and hold us as we tell you our pain.

To those in authority in our church,

as Jesus says in the gospel today,

“Ephphatha! Be opened.”

Please listen attentively to the victims.

Hear our pain and suffering;

the pain never fully leaves us.

That’s OK but your acknowledging it helps us heal.

Bishops, please personally listen to our stories.

There are so many worse off than me.

I was one of the lucky ones!

Bishops, please tell us the whole truth of the past now.

Please don’t make victims go to court or sue

to have the truth be told.

Don’t wait for every state attorney general

to force you to disclose everything about abuse in the diocese.

Please list every credibly accused priest on your website

with the details of what they are accused of, when and where.

If you already believe it is credible then tell us.

Then others can see and they can come out of their isolation and darkness.

Please do not put fear of scandal and a culture of clericalism

ahead of the protection of children and vulnerable adults.

Please voluntarily agree to an “attorney general-like investigation”

and hand over all the files to an outside qualified layperson.

Let them go through the files and fully disclose everything.

Let them verify that you are doing all you can to protect the children now.

My brother priests, please say you are sorry

for the sins of your brother priests.

We know it was not you but you represent still them.

Bishops, please say you are sorry for your brother bishops

and make some amends for the sins of the past.

Please do some act of repentance;

like promising to not wear the miter for a year of mourning;

visit and work with abused women;

something to show you care about the suffering.

We believe it was not you who moved

these sick priests from parish to parish

but the sins of your brother bishops still weigh on us.

Share that weight, please, if only for a year of repentance.

Bishops, please work with the pope to reform the governance of the church

so that women have a voice of authority.

I do not believe this travesty of justice would have happened

if we had mothers and fathers at the decision-making tables;

they would not have allowed other people’s children to be put in harm’s way

because they would see their own child in them.

To all parishioners please remember the victims.

Advocate for them that they may receive justice.

Please ask our bishops to be forthright

in telling the full truth of the past.

Please support our bishops to act now

as it will be very hard to hear for all of us.

May we create in our own parish a place for healing;

a community of true belonging where all the wounded are welcomed:

as Pope Francis calls it, “a field hospital” here in San Jose.

My story is complicated.

I understand that.

I became a priest, a pastor and a vicar general.

It was a difficult journey to trust the Lord again

but he showed me the way.

After the original offense 35 years ago,

the Lord still asked me to be (a) priest

and I can tell you I had some choice words for him:

“Seriously, Lord, you have some nerve

still asking me to join the priesthood

after what has happened at the hands of one of your clergy.

NO way! Go away.”

I told the Lord to go away many times!

But as you can see the Lord won that battle

and I am glad I lost.

I love my priesthood and love my ministry,

here in the parish and at the diocese

and I fully intend to stay in ministry as a priest.

I believe I have made a difference

in many people’s lives for the better.

I believe the Lord has put me here for this very moment.

Throughout all of the pain,

the Lord has never left me alone.

He has continued to love me, heal me and

still calls me to serve him.

I am only here today because the Lord keeps me in his heart

and has surrounded me with loving family and friends.

I am who I am because of the Lord’s abundant grace.

That despite the suffering and pain,

the Lord is still here no matter what.

He never left me then and he will not leave me now.

I believe that is true for each of you and the church itself.

He has never left us and he will never leave us alone.

May we find our voices and advocate for the victims and change

and may the church leaders open their ears.

Ephphatha! Be opened.

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