Sometimes I don't even know where to begin. Sometimes I just have to sit with the news and try to take it all in. And sometimes what I'm taking in is so overwhelming, so paralyzing, so beyond belief that I sit in stunned silence and whisper, “Lord, have mercy.”
This past Holy Week a story broke detailing the sexual abuse of over 600 children by more than 150 Catholic clergy during a sixty-year period in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore. These are staggering numbers. In a week where we remembered the abuse and eventual death of an innocent man at the hands of the religious authorities and the state, we were also confronted with the ongoing abuse of innocent children at the hands of religious authorities and the associated cover-up.
Yesterday another report broke stating more than 450 offenders sexually abused more than 1900 children over a seventy-year period in Illinois in the Catholic Church.
In both of these, Baltimore and Illinois, the number of abusers and abused was far greater than had previously been disclosed. To quote from one report about the Baltimore findings, “Church documents reveal with disturbing clarity that the Archdiocese was more concerned with avoiding scandal and negative publicity than it was with protecting children.”
Bishop Sutton addressed the Baltimore story at Clergy Conference and again at the Diocesan Council meeting last weekend. He reminded both of those groups that the Episcopal church doesn't have clean hands, as we have had clergy who have abused children. He reminded us to pray for the victims, that they may be healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually from the abuse they suffered. He also asked us to pray for the people in the Roman Catholic Church who are also having to deal with these awful events and the lasting impact they have on people both inside and outside the Church.
I can't even begin to process the fact that well over 600 clergy sexually abused more than twenty-five HUNDRED children. TWENTY. FIVE. HUNDRED. I don't even know where to begin with that. So I sit with the news and try to take it all in. And after a bit, I remember where I can begin.
I can begin here. I can begin by reminding people that here at Saint John's we do all we can to keep our most vulnerable parishioners safe. In our bathrooms we have posters with information on how to report abuse or suspected abuse. All people in positions of authority, all employees, and all volunteers who work with vulnerable parishioners are required to take the Safe Church program. Some of those people are also subject to a background check. We do these things not because we think people are inherently abusive, we do these things to let people know we are serious about protecting our people. So I begin there.
And for those who have been abused, I pray: Lord God, you called us into being in a state of fragility and vulnerability. Look with mercy upon those children who suffered abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them, set them free of the trauma that engulfs them, bring to light and accountability those evil acts done in the dark, and may your tender mercy lead them to health and wholeness. Amen.
Lord, have mercy.