The darkness that covered the earth at the time of the Lord’s passing seems to have been covering the Church for the past generation or more, at least when it comes to the question of abuse. And as we open our newspapers, phones or tablets each day, it seems that this darkness only gets deeper.
Yet, it was from within a far deeper darkness that our Redeemer saved us from darkness.
The forsaken cry of the dying Christ is also something we can identify with: the victims, because of their plight, and the rest of us because of the sheer godlessness of the crimes committed by men of God who proved not to be of God.
Yet, it was in his forsakenness that the Redeemer reconciled us to God.
God’s way seems to be to rescue us from woe by entering into it and conquering it from within. He takes on our darkness to bring light out of it. He takes on our forsakenness to bring reconciled communion with him out of it.
Speaking yesterday to the clergy of Rome, the Pope invited them not to be discouraged because, he said, by means of the humiliation which the Church is now enduring, Christ himself is cleansing her. Christ himself, innocent thought he was, redeems the sinner by taking on his sin. The victims of abuse are in this sense Christ: the innocent afflicted with the sins of the guilty. United with the Crucified they are united in the Crucified’s purification of the Church. Why should the innocent suffer? That is one of the oldest puzzles and scandals of the human condition. And it has no answer that will satisfy the mind because it is absurd. The only answer that history has provided is the victory of the Crucified. None was more innocent than he, yet none suffered as he; nothing was more absurd than that Life in person would die, yet die he did … only to rise.
It is to Him that we turn, the divine victim of all the abuse of human sin to bring the victims of abuse in the Church today the healing and peace for which their deepest souls long.
As you cleanse the Church of filth, Lord, by your sacred wounds bring healing to the manifold wounds of the abused.
To their wounds of violation, bring the healing of restored integrity.
To their wounds of lost innocence, bring the healing of graced justice.
To their wounds of guilt and shame, bring the healing of profound forgiveness.
To their wounds of low self-esteem, bring the healing of God-given affirmation.
To their wounds of helplessness, bring the healing of true self-confidence.
To their wounds of fear, bring the healing of divine love and assurance.
To their wounds of isolation, bring the healing of close communion with all who love them.
To their wounds of betrayal, bring the healing of deep and abiding trust.
To their wounds of anger, bring the healing of the peace which only you can give.
Lord, we ask that you grant them full and abiding healing in each and every dimension of their humanity. Give them that radical sense of wholeness which comes alone from your great, great love.
Of course, the healing can never be complete until a victim can see as fully as possible what actually happened and why it happened. The truth alone can set free. That is why investigations must be carried out rigorously, professionally and at every level which may be called into cause: be it Church or family or anyone or anything else. They must also be carried out justly and legally, not as a witch-hunt, not motivated by agendas of any kind, for that would be to compound the issue and even the suffering of the victims.
And when the truth is known as fully as it can be known, then justice must be done and be seen to be done. Otherwise, how else is a victim to believe that society and the Church have taken him or her seriously? There can’t be special exemptions or attempts to diminish culpability or sentencing because someone knows someone else or out of deference to rank or social or ecclesiastical status. Nor must there be the opposite, of course. Someone who has abused, and concerning whom it has been properly proven that he has abused, must be punished for his abuse, but not be the scapegoat for an entire society to vent its wrath. Justice is blind, balanced and equitable. It is this justice alone which will bring healing to victims and, yes, even to perpetrators who repent of their crimes and sins.
However, as Church we cannot stop at justice. Justice is only the penultimate stage. If Christ had stopped there none of us would have any hope. The price of justice must be paid, and Christ himself paid it for us all. But the reason he paid it was so that reconciliation could take place. And this is the most difficult part of all healing, yet it is the very purpose of healing. To make whole cannot be complete just for the individual in him or herself. Wholeness must entail reconciliation between victim and perpetrator. We must want and work for the healing of the perpetrator, too, for Christ died also for him or her. Any victim has the right, but not of course the obligation, to confront his abuser so that truth and justice can be done. But confrontation cannot be the endgame for a people who stand under the Cross of Christ.
It may not be possible to reach that point of reconciliation and forgiveness in this life. But both victim and abuser can be united in praying that, in God’s good time, in God’s way, God’s will be done. And that will is for us to be a reconciled people, fully and finally healed by the blood of Christ. In the end, the abuse will have won if reconciliation does not happen.
As we pray for the victims of abuse with all our heart and soul, so we pray that the abuse itself will not have the last word in the heart and soul of either the victim or the abuser. Rather, we pray that Christ, who conquered darkness and death from the inside, will again, from inside the abuse, bring forth victory firstly for the victims but also for everyone else caught up in this miserable disaster. That victory is already contained in promise in these words of the Our Father: Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. No words more prophetic; no words more challenging; and yet no words more necessary if the healing of our victimised brothers and sisters, and of the Church, is to attain its fulfilment in the sight of God.