Amid the violent chaos of the impending crucifixion of Jesus were at least a few children. The eighth station shows they were in the crowd with their mothers, maybe the same ones who once asked the indignant Apostles whether Jesus could bless them. Jesus, who once said the meek were blessed, has also said the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to little ones like these.
The women and children found a gruesome scene: a swollen, beaten and bloodied Jesus carrying the heavy cross that would save them. He gave words that both showed His concern for them and the prediction of a future horror:
Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time, people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry (Luke 23:28-31)?
More than two-thousand years later, secular news reports tell us the children of Christianity have been brutalized by priests who abandoned their call to love and service, obedience and chastity. They were betrayed by bishops who did not contact the police, but kept things quiet and moved the priests on to other parishes. There are allegations these things were known at the very highest levels of the Church without adequate responses. Thus, the crimes were repeated against the little ones to which the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.
I have never experienced the kind of trauma of this terrible story. But my heart holds a very special place for the victims of this kind of abuse. I often reported on such crimes when I worked in the news media, talking to police, district attorney’s office, child protective services workers and schools. I care deeply for the protection of the innocent, which, I guess, is often a reason a person ends up in the news business. I wanted to tell victims’ stories and, in some way, help the community find healing.
To hear of the Church’s deep betrayal has made me angry. I am a mother in the sense of having two children. But I am also a spiritual mother to many. My instinct of motherhood extends to any child in danger. When I hear that a seminarian was abused, I am a mother. A seminarian is everyone’s son, just as a priest is everyone’s father. I hear the stories and I am betrayed. My children were hurt! I want to be the Momma Bear who charges in and fights for her kids, even if they are grown up kids who now have grandkids or grown up kids who are now ordained. I am angry. But I pray about my anger being righteous and not unrighteous.
Mary stood at the foot of the Cross. And the next line in John 19 does not read, “Then Mary said, ‘First we’re going to crucify you, then I’m going to beat you up and then my Son is going to strike you with lightning!’” And it does not say, “And then Mary decided to withhold her support from the Church.” And it does not say, “Mary smiled, thinking of the abusers in hell.’”
Mary, the perfect Momma, agrees as God says, “Vengeance is mine,” and also, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” Some of the actors in this terrible news story are Judases, people who chose the wrong in malice. And some are Peters, those who wanted to do right, but chose the wrong in cowardice. Mary allows God to sort them out and continues her prayerful support.
A wise and courageous priest I love in the Austin Diocese has talked a lot about the abuse crisis. He reminded his flock and me that, while action is necessary, we are not to be wrathful. There is a line between righteous and unrighteous anger that says. The issue is to first have the Lord purify us, so we don’t try to go off and purify others for Him. Prayer and fasting will help us deal with the problems in the Church and in ourselves too.
And then he recommended action in writing letters to the bishops, the pastoral centers and the office of the American nuncio. In the letters, one could speak of pain and concerns, but also of the holy sacrifices he or she is willing to make to help God act in His perfect justice and mercy.
Pope John XXIII famously said, “This is your Church, God. I’m going to bed.” And I find that to be a wise statement today. There is a Momma Bear within many of us that wants to go out and do something on our own. But the Church isn’t ours. When God calls us to speak or act, He needs to initiate that for it to be effective. This is something I pray for.
Mary is standing by the Church on her cross. She knows the Lord is going to sort out the ones who acted as Judas and the ones who acted as Peter. Vengeance is His, on earth and in Heaven. May He put an end to evil. And may He forgive the ones who knew not what they did.