“Be angry, and yet do not sin”

Our Church is rocked by another round of scandal and conspiracy to conceal the vilest of crimes once again. At the highest levels. Ezekiel and Augustine provided us with inspiring words for the laity to stand up and demand reformation not just for these heinous acts but an entrenched culture of neglectful pastoring of the Faithful by far too many priests and bishops.

Sometimes when things look bleak, God shows us that He truly is manifest in the world and is there to help comfort and inspire us in times of crisis.  Last week was one of those times when He showed us this truth.

The daily Mass reading for August 22nd was Ezekiel 34:1-11. This reading appears in the midst of this latest round of heart-rending accounts of sexual abuse and conspiracies to conceal these heinous crimes as well as concerted efforts to harbor and shelter the offenders. This is a scandal that has shaken the faith of many and will sorely test our Church. And this scandal is the manifestation of acts of neglect and hubris by many of those we have trusted to lead us and minister to our spiritual health.  And it is all laid bare in eleven verses.

This scandal is already bringing frustration for what many perceive as lax stewardship of the Church that has been entrusted to men who are supposed to serve and succor us. And many of them are indeed good priests and bishops. But far too many are being shown to have been ‘bad shepherds’.  And many of us have been troubled for some time by vague and indistinct unease but have held our tongues and been obedient sons and daughters. 

But through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this reading was placed to give comfort and hope for the Faithful. And serve notice to the faithless shepherds who have abused the trust of their flock – as well as the trust and innocence of countless victims of heinous sexual abuse.

You can click on the link above to read Ezekiel in it’s entirety, but the Citizen is going to start breaking it down. 

“Woe to the shepherds of Israel that fed themselves; should not the flocks be fed by the shepherds?

And 

“You ate the milk and you clothed yourselves with the wool, and you killed that which was fat: but my flock you did not feed.”

Throughout most of my life as a practical Catholic, I have heard bishops referred to as ‘Princes of the Church’. In fact, I met one who used that appellation often and with pride. Pastors of prosperous…and sometimes not so prosperous…parishes eschew rectories and purchase fine homes. With parish monies. I know of one lovely rectory that is largely unoccupied with priests of nearby parishes who live in a rather nice home in a posh part of town.  This attitude of entitlement leads many priests to think that they are above the flock they swore their lives to minister. 

…And my sheep were scattered, because there was no shepherd: and they became the prey of all the beasts of the field, and were scattered. My sheep have wandered in every mountain, and in every high hill: and my flocks were scattered upon the face of the earth, and there was none that sought them, there was none, I say, that sought them. “

This is the price WE are paying for this secular manner of priesthood we see manifest in many parishes throughout the US.  We have pastors who tell jokes about fishing trips and vacations and baseball games instead of breaking open the word of God. We have priests who steer away from the uncomfortable topics – the sacramental nature of marriage, abortion, the obligations we have as laity to pray, attend Mass, confess, and pray some more. To lead proper and chaste lives. To be models for others.  Many priests and bishops are failing to urge us to live up to this model that Christ has modeled for us all because THEY believe that they are free to pick and choose their ‘crusades’. 

And they are not.  

Priests who are glib and slick and deliver those polished socially conscious homilies that are long on safe or topical themes that can remotely connect to the readings are not feeding their flock. In fact, the Citizen will argue that some pastors will steer clear of the ‘painful’ topics because they fear they will offend some social justice warriors in the pews and lose some dollars out of the collection plate.

Seriously. A couple of years ago, the Citizen heard a marvelous homily about gay marriage and how Catholics cannot support this. He even mentioned that civil unions, as instruments of the state, are different. But we as Catholics cannot support marriage within our Church or actively support that practice. He delivered his sermon with compassion, tact, and liberal use of the Catechism. 

Some folks in the pews stormed out – ostentatiously of course. The next week, this man had to stand behind the ambo and apologize. Apologize for telling the truth. Apologize for trying to ‘seek after My flock’. Why? Because the pastor made him. 

This happens in churches every Sunday.  Why are our pews empty in so many parishes? “…and my sheep were scattered because there was no shepherd.”  Ezekiel warned us – all those years ago – that priests have a duty to heal the sick in spirit. To bind up the broken. Many are failing to seek out those they have lost or have lost faith.

When laity have approached some of these priests, they are spoken down to and “…ruled over with rigour, and with a high hand.”

Does this ring familiar? When you read or hear from Kupich, do these observations strike a chord? They should.

Let’s take another another look at “the weak you have not strengthened, and that which sick you have not healed, that which was broken you have not bound up, and that which was driven away you have not brought again, neither have you sought that which was lost…”  This is God warning of us the sex scandal – we are living this prophesy right now. 

And we are angry. We trusted the hierarchy nearly twenty years and they failed us. Miserably.  Pope Francis attacked the victims in Chile, backing his friends – until he was backed into a corner. Now the McCarrick scandal is unrolling a tangled skein of perversion, abuse, and deceit. The pride of the ‘Imperial Priesthood” has made bishops, pastors, and priests feel that they are a law unto themselves. The wealth and resources WE have bestowed upon our parishes and dioceses have been used to shuffle malefactors and hide their crimes. Many of our shepherds have sinned directly or been material accompliances in foul perversions and violations of  trust.

And those few who have stood up have been cast out, vilified, marginalized – and in some cases – laicised. 

But fear not, gentle reader. Ezekiel ands on a positive note.

“Behold, I myself come upon the shepherds, I will require my flock at their hand, and I will cause them to cease from feeding the flock any more, neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more: and I will deliver my flock from their mouth, and it shall no more be meat for them.”

One of my favorite saints is Augustine. He delivered a prophetic sermon about laity and priests. Like Ezekiel, Augustine speaks directly to us when he asserted the following:

You see, brethren? Do you see how dangerous it is to keep quiet? If you remain silent, you die; and rightly. You die for your impiety and sin – it is your negligence that kills you. He who has said, As I live, says the Lord might have found a living shepherd – but since the shepherd was negligent, not warning those he had been given authority over, those whose sentry he was, he will die justly and the sentry will be justly condemned. But if – the Lord continues – you say “you are to die” with one I have threatened with the sword, and he does not avoid the sword and it comes and kills him, he will die in his sin but you will have set your soul free. That is why we must not keep silent – and you, even if we did keep silent, must listen to the words of the true Shepherd in Holy Scripture.”

What can we do? We can speak up. We can write letters to support those bishops and priests who are stepping forward, seeking to gather in the wayward and lost sheep. We can also write to these bad shepherds, flooding their chanceries with a torrent of demands for accountability. We can demand that the USCCB form a lay commission with wide powers to investigate these heinous acts and lay them all out in the sunlight for all to see. 

St. Augustine advises us when he said “When you avoid what the bad shepherds do, they are not in charge of you any more: when you follow what they say, it is my words you are following and it is I who am tending you.”

Can’t we just pray and be silent? Not according to Augustine…..

If I say to a wicked man, “Wicked wretch, you are to die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and repent, and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin but you yourself will have saved your life.
You see, brethren? Do you see how dangerous it is to keep quiet? If you remain silent, you die; and rightly. You die for your impiety and sin – it is your negligence that kills you.

And remember, at every Mass we say the Confiteor…does this sound familiar? 

…I have sinned in thought, word, and deed; in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…

Brothers and sisters, at every Mass, we humbly beg the Lord to forgive us not only for what we do but what we fail to do. And is not speaking out for the victims of abuse an obligation? If the heirarchy is not defending these poor souls, can we turn our backs on them after saying these words during the Holy Mass? No, we have to act. Even if it is uncomfortable. Even if it means speaking against priests, pastors, and bishops we have known for years. 

Personally, I trust the words of a Saint and one of the greatest of the Doctors of the Church over guys like Kupich and Francis and – sadly – any number of priests and bishops among us.  And let me be clear –  I love the Church but the men in power are not the Church.  They are the servants of Christ and charged with tending the flock. Priests and Bishops are called to wash the feet of the laity on Holy Thursday not as an empty symbolic spectacle but as a very real reminder to these men of their place and their responsibilities to us.

This bout of sex scandals, coverups, denials, and strife among the hierarchy of the Church is hopefully that final outrage that will inspire the Faithful to find and support the Good Shepherds (and they are out there, brothers and sisters) and hold the wicked and unfaithful and those who have mistaken their vocation for a lifetime sinecure.  

Heed the words of Ezekiel and Augustine, men touched by the Holy Spirit.  There are those – ordained and laity alike – who will reproach those who speak out.  But come back and read what men inspired by God wrote for us. For us who live in this time of turmoil and heartache. Take heart, speak out. Be angry with righteous anger.

And pray. Always pray. Unceasingly pray.

May God bless you all.  And pray for me.

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