I want to say a few words about the recent news about the Catholic Church out of Pennsylvania and other places. We are once again in the position of reading about, hearing about, and trying to absorb information about the actions of priests and bishops that have shaken the trust of the people of God. People are angry, people are shaken, people are leaving, people have questions. I have been hearing a lot from people over the past week, both here in the parish and in other places. What to say in light of these revelations about the Church? Where to begin? I heard from one person after mass last weekend who said to me that his brother had been affected by what happened in Pennsylvania, and asked that we continue to pray for people like him and others. We will do that. I want to say also that here at St. Francis, we are committed to the safety of our children, youth, and vulnerable adults and that this parish has always been at the forefront of developing practices that ensure people’s protection. We follow diocesan guidelines; we believe that parents are our partners and encourage parental involvement in our programs; we believe in the education of this community through preventive measures and educational programs. Here at St. Francis, we have a strong safe environment program.
What have I been hearing throughout the week? This news out of Pennsylvania hangs thick in the air among Catholics and all people. How can I continue in this church? Why should I continue in this church? How do we know what kind of trust we can place in this church? I received an email from one person who wrote, the words, whatever words from the hierarchy, are not effective anymore. I’m out.
I called our staff together on Wednesday and asked the question, how is this affecting you? We had an hour-long discussion – people are angry, frustrated.What is this church that we love on one hand, and have serious questions about on the other hand? I spoke with my youngest brother who lives in Rhode Island and who has four daughters, twins who are 15, and an 8 and 10-year old. We have a crime family mentality, he said, with bishops operating outside of the law. The twins are set to be confirmed this fall. What will that be like?
The news out of Pennsylvania, the news about Cardinal McCarrick, all of it has settled over this beautiful church like a dark cloud. On Wednesday we had a mass here with the entire school, the first school mass of the year, and afterwards a woman said to me, this was just beautiful, a full church, so much life and energy, I was so glad to be here. I thanked her and at the same time that Wednesday mass was a mixed experience for me. Beautiful, yes. Alive, yes. But mixed in the sense of, what is this Catholic Church that I signed up for when I was ordained in 2001? What is this institution? What is this Catholic hierarchy and what do they talk about in their meetings? What kind of accountability is there?
It leaves me caught. It leaves me angry. It leaves me searching for words. It leaves me searching for a way in, for some way to hold up a candle to this large institution and change it, to open it up to women and others on the margins, to open it up to a way of thinking and planning and dreaming that includes new and different voices, to take what’s best from our past, to let go of what’s no longer working or speaking to us in a changing world, to forge something different. I look out over this beautiful church, this church filled with light, this church which was intentionally designed to deemphasize hierarchy so that it’s not simply the people of God gazing straight ahead at Father, it’s not just Father who says do this or do that, but it’s a vision of church in which the people of God themselves have a prominent place, have a voice, can see each other as the baptized who have a role beyond passive recipients.
At a finance meeting on Monday night, one person spoke and said that this place has always seen the role of the laity as primary, has always sought out active lay involvement in planning and decision-making. I know that I could not do this job without the help of a talented and dedicated staff and lay volunteers. But that’s just here. It’s not everywhere. And it leaves me with the question, what’s mine to do, what’s ours to do, in light of all this news?
A little more than 800 years ago, in a small church just outside the walls of Assisi that was beginning to show signs of wear and age, a young Francis used to go and pray there, and one day he heard a voice from the cross speak to him and say, “Francis, go and rebuild my church, which as you can see is falling into ruin.” Francis took those words seriously, and began to gather stones to physically rebuild that small church. You can visit that church even today. Francis also came to see that those words meant not just to rebuild physically, but that the Church itself needed rebuilding, renewing, something. To “renew” or “rebuild” is in our Franciscan blood. What does it look like? It’s not easy to say, we don’t have all the answers.
I spoke these words at all the masses this past weekend, and I’m now sending them to our bulletin editor on a Monday morning before our parish hosts two prayer services/listening sessions on Tuesday, August 28. We gather on that day as church to pray, reflect, and listen. Thank you for being here…