This past week as I was reflecting on our Gospel today I kept returning to Jesus’ question to his disciples: “Do you also want to leave?” Given the news involving priests and bishops in the Catholic Church the past couple weeks, this is a question I have asked myself. I suspect many of you have also asked yourself this question.
And to be honest, I know more than a few people for whom the latest news was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They have decided that --- at least for now --- they need to take a step away from the Catholic Church. While I am grieved and deeply saddened by this, I understand and respect their decision.
For myself, though, despite the news of the past couple of weeks, despite the failures of our bishops, and despite the sinful and evil actions of many priests, I cannot leave the Catholic Church. I say this for two specific reasons.
1. I need to belong to a community. I need to be with people who believe as I do. I don’t think we can be our best selves unless we are part of a community. And I don’t believe that we are saved alone, as isolated individuals.
Rather, I believe that God draws us to himself, through the communities of which we are a part, and for me the Catholic Church --- and particularly the Basilica --- is my community. It is too much a part of me for me to let it go.
2. I need the Eucharist and the other sacraments. As I tell the children making their First Communion each year, I know I am not the best person/priest that I could be, BUT I would be far worse without the Eucharist.
The Eucharist helps me to be a better person than I would otherwise be. I need the Eucharist to live as a follower of Jesus, and I need the faith of the community to make the Eucharist real and alive in my life.
Now in deciding to stay in the Catholic Church, I also want to be absolutely clear that this does not mean that I think we can gloss over the events of the past few weeks.
It is essential that we acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by priests, by bishops and by those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for the most vulnerable among us.
With shame and repentance, we must acknowledge that the leaders of our church allowed grave damage to be done to so many young lives. We need to beg forgiveness for this. As Pope Francis said in his recent letter: “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
We also need to be clear that no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.
The pain of the victims and their families is a wound from which our church will not soon recover. It is vital that we reaffirm our commitment --- and take steps to ensure --- the protection of children and vulnerable adults. Specifically what this means is that all of us must demand honesty, accountability, transparency, and a willingness on the part of our leader to accept responsibility for their actions.
No effort must be spared to create a culture which will prevent such situations from reoccurring and to ensure that there is no possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.
I believe that if there is a lesson to be learned from the current crisis facing our church, it is that we must listen to the voice of you --- the laity --- the people in the pews. Reform, healing, renewal must come about from every single member of the church. Since the ordained haven’t or can’t provide it, you must demand it of us. You’ve been commissioned by your baptism to be salt and light, leaven and courage, agents of renewal, and witnesses to hope in our world. And at this moment, particularly, our church desperately needs to hear your voice.
As sinful and incompetent as the leaders of our church have been in responding to the issue of sexual abuse, however, this Church is still my home. And so as I close today I paraphrase Peter’s words in our Gospel today: “Master to whom shall I go? Your church is my home. I can have no other.”