Can God bring good out of the evil of abuse?
I have no doubt that many who have been victims of abuse may feel that not even God can do that. And the fact that many feel that way, especially the victims, tells us just how destructive abuse, especially clerical sexual abuse, is. For, not only does it destroy innocence, not only does it implode a person’s sense of dignity, not only does it ruin lives, not only does it inflict painful memories that are difficult if not impossible to exorcise, not only does it provoke scandal, disbelief and even unbelief: in so many cases, it also removes hope, even hope that God can do something about it, even hope in God.
So, to repeat, can God bring good out of the evil of abuse?
The Cross tells us yes, and it is a resounding yes. For there is no abuse greater than the Cross of Christ, there is no scandal greater than the Cross of Christ and therefore Christ’s victory on the Cross is the victory over any abuse and over any scandal. Any victim of abuse of any kind finds a place on the Cross. Jesus was pierced through as the consummate victim, the perfectly innocent victim, of the entire, collective abuse of human beings by one another and, indeed, of the even more horrific abuse of God by the human race.
When a victim of abuse feels that his or her pain and shame are beyond words, the language of the Cross expresses them, not in words, not even in feelings, but in the deafening silence of the slain Lamb of God. For the abuse perpetrated on the meek and humble heart of Christ gathers together and surpasses infinitely all man’s inhumanity to man and to God. Yet, from within the abyss of that abuse, there arises in response, slowly but surely, the tidal wave of divine love which overflows and penetrates every last corner of every last pain and sin. And, behold, it cleanses, it heals, it renews, it reinvigorates, it restores and it raises to the heights those who thought that their destiny was the depth of darkness and despair.
So, yes, the Lord, the Christ, can bring, does bring and will bring good out of the evil of abuse in the Church and anywhere else. He invites us to believe that, to be sure of that, to be convinced of that in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. The star of Christian hope shines most brightly where the shadow of the Cross appears darkest. Christ is the depositary of all pain and sin of whatever kind, such that no-one can say, “my pain is greater than Christ’s” or “my sin is beyond the redemption of Christ” or “my anguish and despair are beyond the cry of Christ, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” or “my brokenness is beyond the healing of Christ.” All victims of whatever abuse can and must lay down their crown of thorns at the foot of the Cross. Christ, the King of Calvary, the Victim of all victims can alone de-victimise us and give us a crown of love and glory in return. In the face of His pain, our own pains must yield. For it is precisely as Vic-tim that he is Vic-tor and therefore transfigures our own identity as victims into the dignity of co-victors with and in Him.
None of what I have said means that we don’t need all of the processes and protocols and norms and guidelines that have been so painstakingly put in place to minister to its victims and to prevent abuse. But all such things will fall short if they do not lead us to the Cross, for only in the Cross can we find the wisdom and the faith and the courage and the godly love to deal with abuse from within the mind and heart of Christ. The true healing of victims and of perpetrators, and indeed their reconciliation, as impossible as that may seem, will not be attained except at the foot of the Cross. Only the Cross makes us definitively safe; only the Cross can guard us completely. The Cross is what makes safe-guarding in the Church a ministry and an experience of the agape of Christ. Everyone involved in safeguarding should be saturated in the theology, the spirituality and the living mystery of the Cross. The Cross baptises safeguarding.
In you, o crucified Lord, I take refuge, whether I am a victim or a perpetrator: let me not be ashamed for ever of the evil done to me or of the evil I have done. In your justice, set me free from the pain and wretchedness inflicted on me or inflicted by me. Into your crucified hands, o Jesus, I commend my spirit. It is you who will redeem me from my victimhood or from my crimes.
The whole of Psalm 30 from which I have just quoted and have paraphrased, can be recited with powerful meaning by both the victim and the perpetrator of abuse, and that is because it is really Christ who recites it and in him all evil suffered and all evil committed collide and crush the only One without sin, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
As St. James tells us in the first reading we heard, it is in looking at the Word of God that we find the mirror to tell us what we look like, both in terms of our current disfigurement and in terms of how God wants to transfigure us into images of his Son. In that Word, as in the depths of his meek, humble and Sacred Heart, we must all meet, we will all meet and we will all be reconciled and healed. As his creative Word brought order out of chaos at the creation, so his redemptive Word will restore order to the chaos and havoc wrought by abuse.
Let our prayer today for everyone involved in this peculiarly painful and sinful sign of our times open up our hearts and, yes, our wounds to the Crucified Christ. In drawing us all to himself, he will reconcile us all in himself. That is the eternal good that he, and he alone, can and will draw forth from the unspeakable calamity of abuse in the Catholic Church. In Him is our hope of final and total healing. If we do not hope in Him with utter certainty of deliverance, we will have let the abuse win. But if we do, then as the prophet Jeremiah promises, the day will come when men’s sins, including abuse itself, will not only be forgiven but will never again be brought to mind.
Ave, Crux, spes unica! Hail, thou Cross, our only hope!