How do we celebrate the Assumption of Mary in this summer of sex abuse scandals?

One effect of worshipping according to a liturgical calendar is that each commemoration comes amid a constellation of others, so that we always begin a celebration, preach a new homily, aware of where we have been and where we are going.

Pope John Paul II knew just that when he assigned to Maximilian Kolbe the memorial date of Aug. 14, one day before the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The priest martyr not only died on the eve of her feast, his ministry had been centered upon devotion to Mary.

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The story of his death could not be more inspiring. A prisoner in Auschwitz because of his Christian publishing activity, he watched as 10 men were randomly chosen to be starved to death because 10 others had escaped. When one of them cried out, “My wife! My Children!” Father Maximilian volunteered to take his place.

What are we to make of Maximilian and Mary this summer? Of his martyrdom and her assumption?

Another effect of a liturgical calendar is that each year we travel through the same constellation of celebrations while the world around us encounters new crises and new challenges. This summer the heroism and charity of the priest Maximilian Kolbe is juxtaposed to the release of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s report on the investigation of clerical abuse in six of the state’s eight dioceses. It implicates at least 300 clerics in decades of criminal activity involving the abuse of minors.

This is also the summer that revealed the long history of abuse hidden within the ministry of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Indeed, in this liturgical year, one would be hard pressed to find a continent untouched by clerical scandal. So what are we to make of Maximilian and Mary this summer? Of his martyrdom and her assumption?

We could say that the church, like the world itself, has always been a battleground between the forces of good and evil. That is a common Christian truism, one rooted in the Gospel parable of the wheat and the weeds.

We could admit, again, that our clerical leadership is not immune to sin, and that we should never be surprised by the sway of evil in its ranks. We have known that since the first Christians accepted martyrdom, even as some of the church’s first leaders caved. And who can count the number of clerics Dante placed in hell?

Pity and punish the powerful but take no delight in their fall.

Eucharistic prayers have always included prayers for popes and bishops and, in the case of the latter, by rather brusquely using their baptismal name rather than the more typical surname we employ when speaking of their official ministry. It is an ancient admission that a leader is never free from temptation and sin and that the very choice to serve Christ invites danger and thus requires protective prayer.

Are church clerics and leaders guilty, must be they be stopped, and should they be punished? Yes, Yes, Yes. As is so often the case in the Christian life, individually and collectively, we suffer because of our own sins. Worse still, we cause the innocent to suffer.

Yet no Christian should find delight in the moral failure of others. One does not advance even a noble cause by reveling in the moral failures of its would-be opponents. Remember, they can always do the same. Did a young Theodore McCarrick and countless others like him set out to perpetrate great evil? They must be punished because they have, but they should also be pitied because, even like those on death row, they are themselves the victims of evil. Hatred of perpetrators does nothing to restore what their victims have lost. Hatred has no part in Christ.

[Explore America's in-depth coverage of Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church.]

So this summer we come again to the Virgin of Nazareth. And we say that here, in the most powerless portion of the church, in the suffering half of the sexes, in this singular little one, the salvation of Christ did not meet with any opposition. And so she never knew the pain of sin and death, which is always self-inflicted.

That is the way it is this year. Pity and punish the powerful but take no delight in their fall. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:25). Society rightly screams at the church. Within her ranks, we must struggle against the sad and terrible spread of sin, even as we ponder the silent salvation Christ still works in our midst. And, most of all, we must strive to learn because learning is a grace.

Readings: Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 Luke 1:39-56

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Barry Fitzpatrick
1 year ago

Learning is indeed a grace, and you have helped me to do just that by reflecting on your article. Thank you, Father, for the reminder that it is the act we decry not the human behind it. Taking "delight" in their fall diminishes us and, as you point out, offers no help to the victim. I stopped to give a homeless man a dollar on the road today, and he told me he was turning himself in for rehab in the morning, and with tears in his weary eyes he said we're all addicts along this street here. I teared up pulling away from the light. That grace has helped me learn, or better has begun to help me. The lesson is still to be figured out. Thanks again, Father.

rose-ellen caminer
1 year ago

Amen to what you wrote. My sin in this whole scandal is I must say, that at this point I am more offended at people who are still obsessed with getting justice about sexual abuse crimes that took place decades ago. Has not one of these victims the capacity to forgive ? Decades ago someone brushed up against you or fondled you and it's the worst trauma of your life! I don't buy it; its petty and an over the top reaction. I speak as someone who WAS abused sexually by a stranger at the age of seven. Yes it was traumatic, and I recall every moment of it,Yes for years I was traumatized, feeling like I was somehow complicit [why did I say yes about going with him to his car when I could have said no, in the park where there were other children] and feeling dirty, But to say the trauma has lasted all my life is not true. As I reached puberty and then adulthood I was able to understand it for what it was; he was a sexual perv. I was a victim. he was being sexual; I now understood that. It was just sex.It was wrong but to tell you the truth the wounds of words spoken is more painful to recall then the fact that a pedophile got off touching me !I feel sorry for him and understand it was his uncontrolled sex drive , perverted as it was. In the context of the church, it is scandalous but as was said already you cannot undo the past. Correct the culture of abuse and coverup, and get to the bottom of whether this evil in the church is a deviation from other organizations where there are power imbalances of adults with children, or between adults, but is it really necessary to keep making NEW accusations about sexual crimes that occurred long ago? Against people who are either dead or old? Let bygones be bygones and be attentive to today and going forward, by fixing the structural culture that made this evil pervade the church. How many more people in no positions to do any more harm need to be named and shamed?? This is just jumping on a vindictive band wagon, when you are going back decades. [IMO]
And if the abuse took place between adults then it really is for the victim to report the crime. You cannot expect a third party who has not witnessed the abuse to report the crime. Any one can say anything about anyone and abolishing statutes of limitations would be a hysterical overcorrection[IMO].[uh oh, should I really be saying this?]

Erin B
1 year ago

I admire your strength that your trauma has not controlled your entire life. Some of us are not so lucky. Do not belittle the experiences of these individuals. This is about the need for healing. Some of these individuals are coming forward now because they finally have the words and courage to describe what happened to them. Some are only just now remembering. Please just stop.

rose-ellen caminer
1 year ago

Ms."B"; Even though my words may be confrontational to you, asking me to restrain my expression is not reasonable. You or others may learn from the things I say how to better cope with your own past traumatic situation. [BTW; the once voracious defenders of free speech, today just love to shut people up]!

A Fielder
1 year ago

"My sin in this whole scandal is I must say, that at this point I am more offended at people who are still obsessed with getting justice..."

Rose-Ellen, thanks for this honest confession, it is truly sad when doing justice appears as a vice to be extinguished.

rose-ellen caminer
1 year ago

Quoting me with incomplete quotes is dishonest A Fiedler. Are you a fake news journalist using sound bites and quotes out of context?What is justice? Statutes of limitations have pragmatic justifications, from which moral justifications also follow. That is why they exist in US jurisprudence. And that is what I meant with what you left out..."decades ago".

A Fielder
1 year ago

I agree that criminal, retributive justice is not the only kind, or even the most important. The law will not save us, that is for sure. But the clock should never run out on restorative justice. If the PA grant jury report will actually help anyone heal, is yet to be seen. We can only hope. Sadly, in many cases justice only comes when the state becomes involved; it is very sad that so many people have had to wait decades for the truth to surface. Better late than never, I guess. But just because the truth has been hidden for so long, does not make it less true. I will share that I believe the bishops do deserve more credit for the Dallas Charter then they are getting from some people who post on this site; the PA report shows that abuses are much less common since 2002.

A Fielder
1 year ago

"asking me to restrain my expression is not reasonable."

rose-ellen caminer
1 year ago

OK fair enough; restorative justice .So when we're having this restorative justice that goes back 70 years, can we also include all the parents of kids who told them they were being abused by a priest and who refused to believe them. They too were in denial because the reputation of a "beloved" priest or the church as a whole had primacy in their minds over the complaint of a child , even their own child! That mind set of protecting the reputation of the church, or of the respected adult priest , was the same as that of the covering up bishops.This abuse of children took many forms and was very much part of the society at large; many parents believed it was right to hit children; many parents were ignorant of emotional abuse and the harm of physical abuse which they engaged in or condoned, during this 70 period where sexual abuse by clergy also took place. There was much ignorance , much denial regarding all manner of what constitutes harm to children at this time. This sexual abuse could not have gone on for so long , among so many children, by so many priests, covered up by so many bishops without some comparable failure of the laity as children ,have parents who could have prosecuted at any time.

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
1 year ago

I spoke to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 about the impact of sexual abuse on the victims. McCarrick was among the bishops meeting with victims the day before I spoke and I was there. Hoe did he not fall on the floor and beg for forgiveness? Too little has changed. The Catholic Church is sexually corrupt at its core and has been at least since the Middle Ages. Every bishop, every priest who heard rumors or knew about a priest having an affair with an adult woman, arranging an abortion for a paramour, having and abandoning a child and the child's mother who he impregnated, having a sexual relationship with another priest or a lay man, or soul murdering a young person through sexual abuse and said nothing is complicit in this filth -- as is every layperson who makes excuses or blames the victim -- as so many have done. The bishops with RARE exceptions, like Cupich and Tobin, are empty cassocks within which is secreted and covered up sexual filth. They are not men of God; they are men of Evil. And, no, the good they have done does not somehow outweigh the soul murder of thousands, the suicides of so many victims, the lifelong pain/shame/broken dreams of tens of thousands. Shame on all of them!

A Fielder
1 year ago

“God has scattered the proud in their heart’s conceit, God will cast down the mighty from their throne... “ (Luke 1:51-52). Maybe Mary is the one in heaven helping God to proclaim God’s greatness. The mighty One is doing great things for us right now!

charles jordan
1 year ago

Regarding: "Eucharistic prayers have always included prayers for popes and bishops and, in the case of the latter, by rather brusquely using their baptismal name rather than the more typical surname we employ when speaking of their official ministry. It is an ancient admission that a leader is never free from temptation and sin and that the very choice to serve Christ invites danger and thus requires protective prayer."
- It is also an affirmation of the fact that a bishop is married to his local church; thus, "Archbishop [Baptismal name] of the Church at [City, Region, Territory].
- That a bishop is a spouse of the Church he leads makes the scandal of episcopal secrecy which is subsequent to the rape of children and molestation of young people especialy horrendous. That episcopal secrecy is in every way spousal abuse. It abuses the Church who is his bride. It also abuses the domestic churches which are the households of faith which those harmed children and young people subsequently have learned are no longer the safe harbour and the nurturing environment that they, as children, require to become whole and complete adults; their parents could not protect them.

Phillip Stone
1 year ago

I suppose I am mistaken, but as I read it the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary seems to have escaped your notice or been forgotten, The baby Jesus did NOT "no crying He made" and Mary did NOT escape the agony, pain, sorrow and dread left to her as a legacy by Eve.

She knew, foresaw, repeatedly warned about this coming tribulation and fall from grace - and gave us the remedy
prayer and penance, prayer and penance!
All of us who did not pray, and fast, and give alms and make sacrifices are at fault, to blame.

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