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Siling Labuyo: Sins of our fathers

Two thousand and eighteen is supposed to be the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons as envisioned by the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines. It is supposed to be a year to celebrate the contributions of the clergy in advancing our faith, helping us mature in Christ. But, this has been a year of scandalous proportions involving priest’s sexual abuse of minors not only in the United States, but now unfolding in Germany and other countries. In Bicol, a priest in Rinconada has been accused of murdering a young woman who fathered his child and dumped her body alongside a busy road. This is on top of other priests accused of carrying sexual relationships with young girls serving in the church. The usual Church response to such allegations is to transfer the subject priest elsewhere with some of them ending up in the Americas or other foreign countries. The grand jury sexual abuse report in Pennsylvania detailed involvement of over 300 “predator priests” covering over 1,000 child victims – boys and girls. Worse, it involved bishops and cardinals who themselves were involved in the alleged sexual abuse or have covered them up. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals for decades have mostly been protected – and some were even promoted or reassigned to another jurisdiction. The graphic details contained in the report are so revolting that offends many Catholics – some of whom have left the church. This scandal has also engulfed the Vatican and prompted criticisms of Pope Francis’ perceived inaction. The unfolding sexual abuse scandal in Germany will further erode people’s confidence in the Church. As Catholics, should we then abandon our Church because of these betrayals? I say no and stay but we must speak up about the sins of these fathers. We also have to keep things in perspective. When we look back in history, there are plenty of reasons for Catholics to lose faith – think of the holocaust, world wars, and even Christ’s crucifixion when he was betrayed by one of his disciples. Jesus himself have asked when faced with his impending doom, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” What this means is that the sins of these fathers are their sins and not of the Church. They are humans just like everyone else but understandably, part of the pain and revulsion is the fact that we have treated them just like our own fathers and have entrusted our children under their care. In some cases particularly for the more senior in rank clergies, we have elevated them in pedestals like gods. But, we must listen to Jesus’ last words on the Cross – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the best way I can frame these transgressions. The Catholic Church is holy but not everyone in it are holy. These priests forgot that they’re mere water boys of Jesus Christ. Sure, they are alter Christus (another Christ) but the essential job description is to really run errands for Jesus by carrying out the Holy Orders of the Church. There have been brave members of the clergy who spoke up about the complicity of bishops and cardinals in the cases in Pennsylvania and the Vatican when clergy abuse reports were made back in the early days of the millennium during Benedict XVI’s papacy. Perhaps part of the reason why he retired in 2013 was this albatross weighing heavily on his shoulders. In 2009, during the 150th death anniversary of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, Pope Benedict proclaimed the “Year for Priests” to recognize the priestly ministry and the importance of “a spiritually intense new life and a new lifestyle which was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and which the apostles made their own.” But as we know now, the rapacity of these abuses showed the callousness of the priests involved who themselves did not deepen their priestly commitment to interior renewal for the sake of a more “forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.” They instead succumbed to the devil’s wishes as Pope Francis put it, in perpetuating their alleged crimes. This century’s old dichotomy of an ongoing war between the Catholic Church and the fallen angel, Satan epitomizes the centrality and relevance of what is going on today according to Pope Francis, as the fight between good versus evil is taking its toll in the Catholic Church. The Holy Father has then invited all the faithful of the global community, to pray the Holy Rosary every day, during the entire Marian month of October; and to join in communion and in penitence in asking the Holy Mother of God and Saint Michael Archangel to protect the Church from the devil, “who always seeks to separate us from God and from each other.” With all due respect to the Holy Father, yes these prayers will help many Catholics unburden themselves of these scandals but a more robust cleansing of the Church is badly needed even if it means castrating the Church hierarchy in the process. Atoning for these sins is a critical element and acknowledgement of these dastardly crimes committed against innocent young boys and girls whose lives have been forever tarnished – or gone. Only then that we can truly celebrate the good things that Jesus’ water boys has done over the years. As Catholics, we must always remember that when we attend Mass, we always assume that the priest celebrating it is in a state of grace. And regardless of whether he is in that state or not, we listen to the consecration of His blood and body during the Holy Communion to feel his presence in the Altar. Whether we like it or not, the priest is truly the Lord’s exalted errand boy, carrying the water of the Sacraments to His people. But it is up to us, the faithful, to receive Jesus fruitfully and with devotion. But outside the Mass, the priest is just like us, with feelings, biases, and material needs. Understanding that will help us understand their weaknesses and pray for their holiness. So, the question now withstanding is, how can one continue to serve such community so unfaithful to God? Again, think of Jesus when His chosen descendant to His throne, Peter, who denied knowing him three times at a time when Jesus needed him the most as a character witness. Despite Peter’s cowardly act, Jesus showed him a rock to build His church on and he lived on to become the first pope of the Catholic Church. Peter is now legendary for guarding the pearly gates along with the rooster who signaled his denial. This is not to downplay the seriousness of the scandals because they are very serious ones, but rather, this is an attempt to convince others to stay in the Catholic Church and fight a good fight. Fidelity to the Church is wholeheartedly following the Gospels of the Lord and knowing when to act when the Church is under attack. Lucifer continues to exist within our midst, let us join St. Michael the Archangel in exposing the disobedience of our fathers in priestly uniforms instead of abandoning ship.

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