Bishop Lennon will announce a plan for spiritual healing of the Archdiocese of Boston to take place during Lent. I think it’s a worthy idea to acknowledge the need for greater holiness for all of us as a solution. One part of the story gives me pause, although it may be the way the reporter is interpreting the plan, rather than the plan itself.
- He plans to address the crisis at Mass on two of the most solemn days of the Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday. And he plans to ask priests to recommit themselves at the annual Chrism Mass during Holy Week to prevent abuse.
What is that the priests are being asked to do to prevent abuse? It’s not exactly as if it was the priests of the archdiocese who allowed abuse to continue. It was the bishops and their immediate circle of aides. I’m not saying that we all don’t need to be praying and seeking forgiveness for our complicity in a culture that allows such depravity to grow up in it. I’m just wondering what role priests are expected to have in preventing abuse. But Bishop Lennon may not mean exactly that, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt until I see what he means.
The reactions of the various pressure groups is priceless, since it exposes their biases and, in fact, while they mouth pieties you can see that they really don’t believe in the transforming power of prayer. Contrast their reactions with that of Fr. Matthew Lamb, an orthodox priest who teaches theology at Boston College.
- “We often hear about this crisis in the legal context, and it’s important that we not forget the spiritual,” said the Rev. Matthew L. Lamb. “The church has to find her own spiritual voice in this, not in the sense of any kind of public relations ploy, but really for the sake of those who have suffered abuse and injustice. Spiritually, it’s very important that this time of Lent be one of repentance.”
And now, let’s hear from the other side.
“There is certainly a role for the spiritual in getting out of this crisis, but it is only a limited role,” said Ann Hagan Webb, New England co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “What has happened is not spiritual; it is criminal and immoral. Prayer isn’t going to fix it. Action is going to fix it. Real changes are going to fix it.”
James E. Post, president of the lay group, Voice of the Faithful, sounded a similar note. “Prayer is necessary, but it’s not sufficient,” he said. “It has to be accompanied by truth-telling and dialogue. Part of healing has to be dialogue with the laity, and the priests, and the survivor community.”
And the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon and a leader of the Boston Priests’ Forum, noted that “a lot of parishes have done healing Masses” and that “people are concerned about who is doing the penance.”
“This effort is absolutely necessary and appropriate—there needs to be a lot of penance,” he said. “But, what is necessary, along with penance, is to rebuild trust and confidence, and that will require not only prayer but also action. We may need some new and inventive procedures.”
Ann Webb: Prayer has a limited role; what happened is not spiritual; prayer isn’t going to fix it. James Post: Prayer is necessary, but it’s not sufficient; dialogue is the answer. Fr. Bullock: We’ve done healing Masses [as if prayer, penance, and healing were items to be ticked off a checklist]; the people don’t need to be doing penance, someone else does.
Each person brings his or her own prejudices and preconceptions to the idea. The victims’ advocate wants legal action. The “reformer” layman wants a role in the power structure. The “reformer” priest says too much focus on rituals. Only the orthodox priest gets it and understands. Hmmm.