The following is a homily by Msgr. James A. Carter, vicar general, developed in collaboration with Msgr. E. Christopher Lathem, delivered at Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant on the second Sunday of Easter, April 7.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throwaway stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throwaway;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for way, and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes III, 1-8)
There is no season, never a time for abuse.
I have delayed in addressing the issue of sexual abuse by priests in the church. I am hurt, as we all are, and embarrassed by the revelations of the past few months. I suppose I was waiting for an appropriate time to address the issue, one that somehow could be used in conjunction with the Scripture readings of the day. But there is no appropriate time for such a discussion just as there is no time for abuse.
I must begin by saying I feel so compromised on this topic. I feel — like, caught in the middle. The priests who have been guilty of such horrendous acts of child sexual abuse have betrayed their priesthood, the lives with whom they’ve been entrusted and the Church of Jesus Christ. And yet, they are my brother priests who are ill and deserve help, prayers and the compassion of Christ.
There was a book written about the priesthood entitled Human But Holy. Pedophile priests have allowed their humanity to undermine, to erode their call to holiness. I pray that they ask for forgiveness. They must be held accountable and brought to justice.
These remarks don’t even begin to address the hurts, the injury and the devastation these priests may have caused in the lives of their victims. There is, however, a time for healing. The time is now. Perhaps for some it’s too little, too late. Hopefully, the damage done to most can be addressed, lessened, soothed and repaired. I realize that it cannot be eradicated. But we certainly will make every effort in the Diocese of Charleston to ensure the safety of children and the healing of victims and their families.
As a vicar general for the Diocese of Charleston, there are several observations and assurances I wish to present to the people of our diocese.
1) The sexual abuse of anyone is a sin; sexual abuse of a child is also a crime. For a child to be abused by a trusted adult, like a priest, not only brings harm to the child but shame on the whole church.
2) In our diocese, as in most throughout the country, there is what is called a zero tolerance policy for such matters. In other words, if a priest, a Catholic school teacher, a Scout master, a coach or nursery helper — anyone working for the church toward whom a credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor is made — that person is removed, the victim is offered assistance, civil authorities are informed and if the allegation is substantiated the person is forbidden, barred, from serving in ministry again.
It is true in the past the church has handled clerical misconduct with minors as it has other moral failings. It has sought to rehabilitate a person through a sacrament of penance and reconciliation and spiritual direction. Sometimes, unfortunately, reassignment has been allowed. Like other institutions with care over children we now know that reassignment is never appropriate.
Many of the allegations of abuse that are featured in the media these days are old cases, alleged to have happened as distant as 40 years ago. That doesn’t excuse them, it just means we should be aware that things are handled in a different way today, much as alcoholism, spousal abuse and mental illness are handled differently than in the past.
3) In place now for a number of years is a rather stringent process that makes every attempt to screen out applicants for the priesthood who have any indication towards abusive behavior.
4) Psychologists tell us that sexual abuse of minors is a problem in our society as a whole, mostly occurring in our homes. There are some who have confused the issue of pedophilia and celibacy, alleging that the solution to the problem would be a married clergy. In fact, there is no relationship here. Abuse breeds abuse. Those who are afflicted with the disease of pedophilia have come from heterosexual homes.
The marriage of a pedophile in no way insures the cessation of the problem. It would only create new problems. In addition, most pedophiles are heterosexual. Presently, there is no known cure for pedophilia. How big a problem it is in the Catholic priesthood, no one seems to know. If you use the statistics available of known cases it appears that there is a slightly smaller percentage in the priesthood than in the general population. Justified anger over some awful cases must never be allowed to become ill-focused against a vast majority of innocent clergy.
Throughout the long history of the church there have been many scandals. Now as always we Catholics hold firmly to the promise of Jesus to be with us. And if church history teaches us anything it makes clear that the Lord often reforms us and shepherds us best through the most troubled of times, producing a stronger more faithful church for the future. My guess is that that’s what is happening now. In the final analysis, in the words of our diocesan documentary, we will be like “Fire Tried Gold.”
And finally we should remember that our faith reaches beyond the sensations of sight, touch and human frailties. We are assured of this by Jesus in today’s Gospel, “Thomas, have you come to believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.”
Msgr. James A. Carter is pastor of Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant and a vicar general of the Diocese of Charleston.