The Gospel passage for this Sunday brings us to the end of the Discourse on the Bread of Life from St. John’s Gospel. This lengthy discourse ends with what could be called the most touching scene in the entire Gospel. Jesus has just told his disciples that he is the Bread of Life. Those who eat his body and drink his blood will have eternal life. What had begun with more than 5,000 on hillside in the desert has become a poignant and tender inquiry from Jesus to the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave.”
There has been much talk of leaving the Church these past two weeks not because of Jesus’ assertion that he is the Bread of Life but because of the ongoing scandal of sexual abuse that has been reignited recently with more revelations of sexual misconduct and the attempt on the part of the bishops to hide these hideous acts. Personally, I can tell you that I am angry, saddened, and disgusted by this news. One of my confreres said recently, if you want to leave this sinful Church, I would completely understand. If in your conscience you come to the conclusion that you can no longer remain, I would understand.
At the same time, for myself, throughout this past week I found myself praying with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall I go?” I first told my mother that I wanted to be a priest when I was six years old. I entered the seminary when I was thirteen. I was invested in the Franciscan habit when I was nineteen. I was ordained when I was twenty-seven. My whole life has been a pursuit of consecrated life and of the priesthood. Though the sexual abuse crisis has shaken my faith in the priesthood, particularly in the bishops, I do not think that I could tear myself away from Jesus and the Eucharist which are so much a part of who I am as a priest.
There are many who suggest that the present scandal is caused by the imposition of celibacy on the priests of the Church. To be completely honest, while the scandal may seem on its surface to be about sex, it is really about power. Those who are guilty of these sins are guilty of intimidating children and vulnerable adults. That power finds its root in the clericalism of the Church. Pope Francis is quite clear that clericalism has to end. The only bishop to testify to the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania, Bishop Persico, has made the same claim. The separation that exists in the Church between those who are ordained and those who are not lies at the root of this evil. What many men and women crave is power over others. This is the case in the sin of domestic violence and sexual assault. It is the case in those who choose to subjugate others to poverty by amassing tremendous fortunes. It is the case in politics, in economic life, in family life, and certainly in church life.
I would ask that you consider writing a letter to Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Cardinal Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the president of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, asking that the bishops do more than simply invite lay people to be part of the investigation that will follow in the months to come. It is time that all of us, clergy and laity alike, be consulted regarding the governing policies of the Church in these United States, that we all be consulted about the men who are chosen to be bishops and priests, and that we all be included in all of the various administrative committees and offices of the Church. I am not asking for democracy when it comes to the teachings of the Church on faith and morals. I am asking that the administration of an institution which has strayed from the path of the Gospel include people of all walks of life, not the bishops alone. It is clear that those who have been exercising this power in the past have failed. If you do not believe that the bishops have failed, then read the report that came from Pennsylvania. However, I warn you; it may cause you to vomit. This is not a matter of theology. It is a matter of doing the right thing.
Jesus has the words of everlasting life. Peter understood this. The only way out of this mess is by embracing the Gospel in its entirety as Peter did and by recognizing that we all are part of the Church and should be included in its government.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator