Accused: A response to the Catholic Priests in Pennsylvania

I spend a lot of time trying to respond to the needs of people in my ministry practice.  It matters to me that spiritual matters are attended to and folks know that grace is real.   It matters to me that love has a source bigger than all of us.   Serving as a pastor and chaplain can do that to a person.

It is really an honor and blessing to be in front of the vulnerable in their need and the sacred trust that develops over time between pastor or priest, and the people of God in our path (or we in their path.)  One of my favorite things to hear is, "Pastor, guess what happened at church today (and someone is grinning ear to ear!)".  Or, when leading worship at the front of the room I experience the joy of hearing a congregation with one voice in prayer or song.  Or, in a hospital room as someone is reflecting on life as the diagnosis is on the way, the words flow as healing and spiritual connections rise up when I am serving as chaplain.   These are sacred moments that we honor as professional clergy, in our respective traditions.   

The Catholic church is ruining things for all who speak of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, because it sounds like a lie when using the church to have access to children for the purpose of rape.   If that were not enough,  the institution covers it up and the sins deepen.  Rapists are not prosecuted and trials are not held in public courts as laws have been shredded by these hideous actions.  Time limits for rapists to be brought to justice by trial in the courts, have to removed. 

To be clear, the saving grace of Christ in our tradition is not a lie, the people who mock it with this tragic and illegal behavior, are the liars.   

Trust cannot be formed in the soul of the innocent if you are , as Juliane was told, "without question that priests are superior to other adults, even superior to her own parents-because"they are God in the flesh."  So when one of these flesh gods put his fingers [inside of her body], who was she going to tell?Juliane was 14 when she was assaulted; now she's almost 70." Read the full Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report (redacted), here.

This rape of children is not a question of men needing to be married to have a sexual relationship, though that might be part of the issue; the rape of children is not about sex. Rape of children is about "power and control and not motivated by sexual gratification" (Groth, A., Burgess, W., & Holmstrom, L. Rape: Power, anger, and sexuality. American Journal of Psychiatry, 134(11), 1239-43.  It is important to be clear on this point.

How did these men get through the ordination process in the first place?  I can tell you as an ordained clergywoman in a mainline, global denomination that this process is not perfect but certainly rigorous.  And the lies they must have told along the way I can only imagine to be profound. 

Hearing the PA Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, speak of bringing charges against the Catholic church and the individual priests who raped girls and boys over a period of decades makes me physically ill.  I am The Rev. Dr. Robin Blair, Executive Director of Common Good Radio Networks, ordained clergy in the United Methodist Church, Pastor at Forest Home chapel UMC and Harmony UMC in central NYS.   I am the spiritual leader of these congregations.  I also serve as a hospital chaplain in my community.  To cause intentional harm to anyone is beyond my comprehension as one committed to glorify God in all things, as ordained people, by definition, are committed to.   I rub elbows with Catholic priests at clergy gatherings in communities on a regular basis. I know many priests who love God and love God’s people, however, this epidemic abuse and deception before us once again is beyond the pale.

The depth of confusion and betrayal that allows rape of children to continue to take place in the institution and authority of the Catholic church, assaulting children, families, and congregations that are so powerfully betrayed, is a wound that elicits the scripture, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  And wept and wept and wept. Our collective tears of sorrow and compassion mingle with Christ’s; we prayerfully lift healing for all those affected by the physical, emotional and spiritual violence that has assaulted the children.

 The Catholic Church must be made accountable for this evil. It is a wonder that anyone would ever go to church again.

In the course of my ministry practice, I have listened to and wept with so many survivors of rape, childhood rape mainly, that I cannot number these precious souls.   I believe the Lord covers survivors of trauma with mercy and sends people who will stand with the survivors of rape.  Counselors, pyscho-therapists, spiritual directors, physicians, and pastors have all heard these stories of profound abuse and harm, and we do our best to help in a broken-hearted world. 

We are here for you, survivors, brave souls who found the courage to come forward.  We who know the mercy and grace of God will pray with you; we will listen and not run away. We will go to court with you, invite you to dinner, and listen over and over as you weep out the pain of the betrayal and how it shaped your living as you something more than confusion.   We will affirm the building blocks of trust that you can discover.  Please know there is more than rape in this world and when you are ready, trust is possible.  

At Common Good Radio we stand for justice in our artistic efforts and because we align with spiritual life, some efforts through the institution of the church,  we will continue to find a way that we can take steps to help. We will be listening and in prayer for just what those steps will be. 

Our mission is to help children and families contribute to the common good through the gifts and graces with which they have been blessed by providing music, story, voice, and hope on our webstream “radio station” and podcasts.   We lift the voices of children and youth so they can ask their questions and be heard.  We aim to help them be involved in shaping a life of meaning to include the tools of digital media.  We hold dear as a core value the blessing of children and family as a spiritual gift and the centerpiece of love in a person’s life.  The betrayal and violation that is the sexual rape, and the subsequent emotional, physical and spiritual harm of children, is a war that evil cannot win against the power of love.  We hear you, survivors, and we lift love.  As Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, “goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate.” 

And perhaps that is our simple response to the youngest among us who will hear these news reports: Goodness is stronger than evil, you are safe in our family, God loves you.  Your children might hear these stories and they will have questions.  In your faith community, scouts and civic organizations, make sure there are specific guidelines that provide for the safety of the children.  In the UMC, we follow a set of guidelines called, "Safe Sanctuaries", with simple procedures like doors with windows and two adults in classes. 

Let us not marginalize the wounded in this war against evil, but open loving arms for healing and grace.   Let us no longer protect rapists or pretend that rape has not happened.  Take the evil-doers away and let no one no be harmed by them.  Help your children feel that sense of safety you offer, help other children know it is  possible to feel safe, too.  I don't give up on the church and I pray you won't either; but it is clear, we have a lot of work to do to be the love we seek.

Let us stand and act for justice and sing of healing and hope, praise be to God.


Children and church? A place for teaching trust, not betrayal.

We give God the glory, may the people say, Amen.