Time to reweave our torn fabric

By | March 31, 2010

The image of that brass wire fabric has come to mind a lot as the church goes through another wave of revelations of child abuse and cover-ups, around the globe, touching even the Holy Father.

The church itself is not flawed, because Christ is with his church and the Spirit breathes life into that church. That will never change.

But the warp and weft of the church upon which the fabric of people of God is formed does have flaws. This in not unusual; the church is not perfect as long as it is “a pilgrim church on earth,” and “carries the mark of the world which will pass” as Vatican II said (Lumen Gentium, 48). However, the flaws of clergy abuse have left some very sharp and twisted wires in the fabric, and that is tearing into many people.

As Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said on Palm Sunday: “Anytime this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.”

So how does the church, in imitation of the Good Shepherd, repair the fabric? What wires need reweaving to make a healing pattern?

Certainly, part of the repair is under way. Since 2002, when the U.S. bishops released their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” matters have improved in the United States. As the 2009 annual report on audits done in almost all U.S. dioceses found (see page 15), reports of child sexual abuses have declined. As reports from Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands remind us, damage is extensive worldwide. Lives have been ruined, credibility has been damaged, questions remain.

Constant vigilance must be maintained. Listening to the hurts of others must continue. Forgiveness must be sought. New ways must be explored.

Pope Benedict himself, as Cardinal Ratzinger, explored new ways to deal with child abuse. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he oversaw important changes in church law that included Internet offenses against children, allowed case by case waiving of the statute of limitations and established a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders.

We must continue to explore every means of healing so that the beautiful cloth that is the life and faith of all Christ’s people continues to flow easily off the loom of the church.

As Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Primate of Ireland, said April 21: “The church is called to renew itself in turning back more closely to her founder Jesus Christ. All of us need to learn more deeply how to think like Christ, how to teach like Christ and care as Christ did. We need to realize that the cold harshness of fundamentalism has nothing to do with the demanding starkness of personal and institutional integrity.”

“We must face the truth of the past; repent it; make good the damage done,” he added. “And yet we must move forward day by day along the painful path of renewal, knowing that it is only when our human misery encounters face-to-face the liberating mercy of God that our church will be truly restored and enriched.”

This week we revisit the pain of Calvary and face death in the tomb. The church, facing the fallout of abuse scandals, is in the midst of a long Holy Week. As we work our way through Holy Week, we must remember that, in the end, we cannot save ourselves. On our own, we cannot undo the mess of threads that have become twisted and torn. Only God, who raised Jesus from death, can do that.

We must humble ourselves before him and pray, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us in the task of reweaving the threads, to reveal the path of healing and to clothe us in new life.

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