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Our Response to Scandal

Here is the full text of Father Hage’s statement in response to the current scandal in the Church:

To My Beloved Parishioners,

            Before I say anything, I would like to acknowledge that one statement or homily will not adequately address the situation before us.  A statement like this can only ever be a first step in instigating a prolonged ongoing conversation within our Church and beyond.  As a recently ordained Catholic priest and now newly named pastor, I was left shocked, confused, frustrated, bewildered, heartbroken, and deeply saddened by the systematic cover-up of clergy sexual abuse by the bishops of the dioceses in Western Pennsylvania.  As a young priest, I am speechless at the fact that this culture of silence, secrecy, and cover-up still exists in our Church.  I thought the scandals that rocked the Church in 2002 would have taught all of our bishops a painful and most necessary lesson as to the need for transparency and justice in these cases of abuse.  The fact that the some of our church leadership still has not been purified of this culture of secrecy has left me feeling a deep and abiding sorrow for the Church that I love. 

            I would like to offer a point for reflection that has helped me cope with the broken trust that has occurred between church leadership and the lay faithful.  Just the week before this scandal broke, I celebrated my installation as pastor of these beautiful parishes.  During the homily at my installation, I began to preach about the spirituality of the Cross that should guide and shape our future.  I invited us all not to be afraid of the Cross, but to draw near to it and even embrace it.  I promised hope, healing, and new life for all those who would be willing to join me at the foot of the Cross in the coming years.  I concluded by stating that we should trust that the Cross is the Tree of Life.  I preached all of this not knowing what would happen the following week.

            After the recent news of this scandal, I believe we find ourselves at the foot of the Cross in a dramatic way.  As we gaze upon the Body of Christ hanging on the Cross, bruised, broken, and bleeding, we realize that God conquered evil not through a show of strength, but through humiliating weakness and even seeming defeat.  The Body of Christ, the Church, seems to be so weak, so irreparable, so broken, and even defeated that we can be tempted to lose hope and even despair of the Church’s mission, of Christ’s mission.  Some have said that they are disappointed that the Church has now lost any and all credibility after a scandal like this.  My response is that maybe this is not a bad thing.  The Church needs to be purified of any notion that we need to preach the Gospel from a place of strength.  I believe what Jesus shows us from the Cross is that the Church, his Body, can only effectively preach the Gospel from a place of weakness and vulnerability.  For Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness.

            I believe the desire of some of our church leadership to maintain the Church’s supposed position of strength is what got us into trouble in the first place.  You see, those bishops involved in the cover-up did so out of a fatal misunderstanding that the Church is an institution that needs to be defended.  The Church is not an institution, and we do not need to defend her as such.  The Church is made up of living stones, and each living stone has a name and a face and a story.  We can never lose sight of this, especially when handling cases of clergy sexual abuse.  When the Church is viewed as an institution as such, then the names and faces of the living stones of the Church can easily blend together and lose the individual dignity that is their due.  I want to emphasize that each victim of clergy sexual abuse are still living stones in our Church, and they should never be silenced.  Their stories need to be heard, and justice should be done.  They are the Church just as much as anyone else.  I want to be very clear, victims of clergy sexual abuse are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

            So what is our response?  Do not be afraid to draw near to the foot of the Cross and to allow the sorrow of Christ’s passion to penetrate our hearts.  Do not be afraid to draw near to those affected by sexual abuse and to enter into the depths of their sorrow and pain.  If you willingly enter into this sorrow out of love and compassion, in humility and kindness, in patience and gentleness, then I am confident that this sorrow will become redemptive for the entire Church and even the world.  The only way we, as a Church, can be healed of this culture of silence, secrecy, and cover-up is to listen prayerfully and attentively to her living stones, and to look into the faces of these beloved children of God and come to know their names.  We must also remember that the crime of the sexual abuse of minors is not only limited to the Church, but is pervasive in the public sector as well.  There are people all around us who have been victimized by sexual abuse.  We must open our eyes to this reality.  I would also encourage you not fall into the temptation to defend the Church as an institution.  Defend the Church in her members by standing with those who are most vulnerable and most wounded, especially with those who were abused.  

            I believe this terrible sorrow we all feel is the same sorrow that Mary, our Blessed Mother, felt as she stood at the foot of the Cross.  She patiently bore this sorrow as a penance for the sins against her son, and hence her sorrow became a co-redemptive prayer for the Church.  She was not sure how God was going to see her son through this great scandal of the crucifixion, but she remained faithful to her post and never left His side.  My friends, I am not going anywhere.  I will not leave my post.  Do not be afraid.  Stay with me at the foot of the Cross, enter into this great sorrow with me, and let’s see how the Lord in all his glory and might will bring His Church, once again, through a scandal that threatens to end her mission into a more powerful force for His Gospel to be proclaimed to the world.  Remember, He rose on the third day.  

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

Father Jason C. Hage