Tuesday, April 17, 2012

12-04-15: Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday

Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35 / Psalm 118 / 1 John 5:1-6 / John 20:19-31

Some say the Acts of the Apostles reflects an idealized rather than an actual view of the early Christian community. The skeptical sight today’s first reading which says that no one claimed any possessions and all held everything in common. That’s a pretty tall order for any group to accomplish – just look at the mess that Communism engendered in the twentieth century. But the clincher, as to the use of hyperbole in describing the early church community, lies foremost in the rather nonchalant statement at the beginning of the reading: “the community of believers,’” it asserts, “was on one heart and mind.” Thinking of the church today, no less imbued with the Spirit now as it was then, you’d be hard pressed to see us as of one mind on anything.

There is one notable and undoubtedly true exception to this thesis and that’s what’s stated in today’s gospel. After the crucifixion, the gospel tells us, the apostles were locked away in a room “for fear of the Jews.” Scholars disagree what John’s gospel attributes to the cause of that fear. Were the apostles fearful they would be persecuted by the Jewish authorities as Jesus was; or were they fearful they would be accused by the Jewish authorities of having stolen Jesus’ body? Whatever the reason: they were certainly of one mind and heart in that fear.

Bishops, the Catholic Church maintains, are the successors of the apostles. This distinction, a guaranteed-given by the grace of ordination, is meant to assure the continuation of church and sacraments, and suggests as well that the bishops share in witnessing to the truth about Christ and his presence among us. Unfortunately, the grace of episcopal ordination doesn’t safeguard from that all-too-human affliction of fear. In this, modern day bishops are just as weak as their apostolic forbears. A case in point: the trial of Msgr. William Lynn of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Msgr. Lynn is now on trial for endangering the welfare of children - all in connection with the priest sex abuse scandals. No one is accusing Msgr. Lynn of abusing children himself, though he is accused of being no less responsible, since he was the head of clergy personnel when a number of cases of abuse were reported and accused priests, rather than being removed, were transferred to other parishes. If convicted, Msgr. Lynn would be the first priest to be held responsible for covering-up the sexual abuse of children by “protecting” the abusers.

On the face of it some might breathe a sigh of relief, saying to themselves: Well, finally someone is being held accountable. But, as every priest I suspect knows deep down, Msgr. Lynn is the quintessential scapegoat in this ugly drama. Because, as every priest also knows (and anyone else who has seen firsthand the bureaucratic workings of the church), it is the bishop of the diocese who bears the responsibility for the placement and removal of his priests. In this case the responsibility rested with the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Bevilaqua, who died a few days before the trial began. The prosecution felt so robbed by this twist of fate that they ordered an autopsy against the wishes of both the archdiocese and the cardinal’s family – implying there might have been foul play (echoes of the Borgias right here in Philadelphia).

There can be little doubt that the prosecution does not also know that Msgr. Lynn, as wrong as he might have been in hindsight to dutifully fulfill his obligations to episcopal authority, was not the person ultimately responsible for these bad, but all-too-common decisions, on how to handle abusive priests. Lynn is the district attorney’s clerical scapegoat. But, much worse it seems to me, Msgr. Lynn is the bishops’ scapegoat as well.

For fear of the authorities, not one American bishop has spoken up explaining how decisions are made on a diocesan level and how those decisions are executed within the clerical bureaucracy of the local chancery. Not one bishop has publicly expressed support or even concern for Msgr. Lynn. Not true, some say: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has offered their legal counsel to Lynn, probably free of charge. This, despite the repeated warnings of the judge, that this in itself is a clear conflict of interest and would not serve Msgr. Lynn well at all. Alas, Msgr. Lynn has not taken the judge’s advice and has refused separate counsel - reason unknown. Perhaps he has grown used to being used, and abused, by the workings of the American episcopate – of one heart and mind, locked in their fear of those secular authorities.

No comments:

Post a Comment