Run Toward Holiness
"In 1976, a Guinean priest named Robert Sarah was made rector of John XXIII Minor Seminary in Conakry, Guinea. The previous leadership of the seminary had been lax, and so when Sarah instituted stricter rules the young men of the seminary rebelled in dramatic fashion, setting fire to its chapel. Fr. Sarah demanded the guilty parties come forward, but no one was willing to confess to the arson or reveal the perpetrators. Sarah (now Cardinal Sarah) said in his book-length biographical interview, God Or Nothing, 'if this abominable act had targeted my own room I could have forgiven it. But the chapel was the house of the Lord.' Sarah expelled the whole class and shut down the seminary for a year. Government officials demanded he reverse his decision, but Sarah held out. 'How could we allow future priests, men of God, to indulge in acts of sacrilege?' Sarah reopened the seminary the next year and accepted a smaller student body, with every seminarian vouched for with a certificate of good conduct.
The measures Sarah took were drastic, but they speak to how seriously he took the vocation of priesthood and the priest’s duties to God and man. This summer, thanks to the Pennsylvania grand jury report and other revelations, we’ve learned more and more about the evil actions perpetrated against the faithful by abusive priests and craven, enabling bishops. The sexual abuse of children and seminarians, and the cover-ups associated with them, are an act of arson against Christ’s Church. It is not only an awful crime in earthly terms, but also sacrilege against God and his command that priests be shepherds to his people. Catholics in the pews are filled with grief, confusion, and righteous anger. In the face of this evil, what can we do?
I know there’s a temptation to wash our hands of the matter, to say, 'You call this salvation? I’m out of here.' And so, I want to address fellow Catholics who may be facing this temptation and discuss how we can and should respond to the scandal and sin that’s been revealed. Abandoning the Church is not truly an option if we believe Christ’s words about his Church being one flock with one shepherd. If we are to bind up the wounds of the victims and see that wrongdoers face justice, then our task is to remain within the Church while we prayerfully and persistently seek truth. Like the unrelenting widow in the parable of Jesus, knocking again and again at the door of the unjust judge, we should keep demanding real answers and real reform from the hierarchy.
Bishops have responded to the current wave of revelations with varying degrees of humility and humanity. Bishop Robert C. Morlino penned a sobering letter about the moral rot and doctrinal failures that allowed abuse to flourish within seminaries. Among other promises, Morlino said, 'I promise to put any victim and their sufferings before that of the personal and professional reputation of a priest, or any Church employee, guilty of abuse.' This is important because the reverse priority (privileging the reputation of a priest, even one known to be guilty of abuse, over justice for victims) has led to much shady and sordid hushing-up of crimes. Morlino doesn’t mince words: 'More than anything else, we as a Church must cease our acceptance of sin and evil. We must cast out sin from our own lives and run toward holiness. We must refuse to be silent in the face of sin and evil in our families and communities and we must demand from our pastors—myself included—that they themselves are striving day in and day out for holiness.'"