By Archbishop William E. Lori
I write to offer further reflections on the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church, particularly on how it affects our local Church in Baltimore.
First, I offer my sincere apology to those who have been wounded. Second, I ask for your mercy and charity, as I know these wounds run deep and trust has been broken.
Much of what follows is rooted in comments you shared with me after Masses and during recent listening sessions. I have appreciated your honest emotions – everything from a righteous anger to feelings of helplessness. Many of your comments exhibit hope for the future of our Church and its firm foundation in Jesus Christ. I was particularly struck by a young seminarian who said he felt like a fireman rushing into a burning building.
I ask you to pray with me that from heartbreak, anger, betrayal and frustration true healing and justice can be provided to victims of abuse and authentic renewal will occur in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and beyond.
Since 2002, our Church has attempted to address sexual abuse through our intensive efforts in the area of child and youth protection (www.archbalt.org/accountability). These efforts alone do not speak to the profound and ongoing conversion that is needed within our Church. The allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick bring to light abuses of power, clericalism and egregious violations against chastity.
These sins – both individual and institutional – strike at the heart of what the Church is and is called to be: One. Every week at Mass we confess the four “marks” of the Church – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Violations of unity are violations against love. Furthermore, sin is a rupturing of relationships, fundamentally with God but also between individuals, and sin alienates us from our very selves. As St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans: “For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.”
The current situation is painful for a host of reasons. We weep for the survivors of abuse and seek justice, but we are also forced to look at such brokenness wherein the Church’s body is turned in against itself.
Here, questions of the missionary impulse of the Church, the need to go out and make missionary disciples, may seem trivial if not irrelevant. There is a temptation simply to give up. I too have had this temptation.
Each morning, I spend an hour before the Blessed Sacrament asking the Lord to guide my ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. At times, during these last few weeks, I have felt numb – overcome by a deep sadness for the survivors of abuse, angry that anyone could do such awful things to vulnerable persons, disturbed by the inaction of some of my brother bishops, frustrated with myself and my own response to the crisis and at a loss as to why parts of our Church have not been better than this.
I must actively remind myself that our time in prayer and contemplation should not lead us to despair but instead reawaken in us a desire to more faithfully and more fully live out Christ’s Gospel call.
In the end of my pastoral letter, “A Light Brightly Visible,” I list four temptations that can stand in the way of our engaging more deeply in the process of evangelization: (1) we disregard the wisdom of the local Church and act in a top-down approach; (2) we expect nothing to change; (3) we have a fatalistic outlook about the Church’s future decline; and (4) we assume we are already doing everything well.
Today, with the exception of the last, I think these temptations are only further heightened, which is why there is such a great need for bold witnesses to proclaim the Gospel.
For my part, I will continue to strive for greater ecclesial and civil accountability with my brother priests and bishops. I will exhort priests in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to faithfully preach, teach and lead lives of virtue, particularly extoling the virtues of humility and chastity.
Humility should be the fundamental disposition of all Christians. It is a recognition of our complete and radical dependence on God. Humility reminds us bishops and priests that the heart of our ministry can be found in the Gospel of John’s recounting of Christ washing the feet of his disciples, which we read and reenact every Holy Week.
Similarly, chastity recognizes that we are called from baptism to give ourselves in love. For many, this takes the form of marriage, but some of us give ourselves wholly to the Lord and His Church. Put simply, sexual intimacy should only take place within the context of marriage and be both unitive and open to new life.
We must remember that Christ calls us all to have pure hearts and that we are all called to live chastely. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, anyone who looks at another person lustfully “has already committed adultery in his heart.” Humility and chastity should be central to the lives of every Christian and especially priests and bishops.
I will continue to seek more lay leadership in the Church, at all levels, particularly a leadership that deepens the feminine genius. The Gospel of John begins with a wedding feast at Cana, where both Jesus and his mother are celebrating with a newly married couple that has run out of wine. In this passage, we see a beautiful exchange between a man and a woman. Mary calls Jesus into prayer. Mary calls Jesus to live out his mission from the Father. Mary is one of the few apostles who remains with Jesus throughout his life and ministry, even to the foot of the cross. As we are told, she kept all of these things in her heart. The feminine genius is not defined by timidity. We have strong holy women in the history of the Church who have rightly challenged priests and bishops, much like our own beloved Mother Mary Lange. Women and men are complementary and the Church needs both: strong, holy, missionary men and women.
While there are many heroically virtuous priests and bishops, much of this crisis is born from an unwillingness or inability for some priests to live out their priestly or episcopal fatherhood. Individuals across the ideological spectrum have suggested that it is solely a crisis of same-sex attraction, or power and control, or clericalism. Let me be clear – these are all parts of the problem and we must speak this honest truth and prepare our priests well to live lives of virtue. Indeed, we need priests and bishops who are true fathers and pastors.
We are blessed in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to have 41 seminarians preparing to become priests who will give their lives in ministry for others. Like all candidates to the priesthood in our Archdiocese, they have undergone extensive psychological evaluation before being accepted as seminarians.
In our Archdiocese, every applicant undergoes a two-day evaluation conducted by three or four psychologists. Testing includes a personal profile and spirituality questionnaire, a clinical interview, a psychosocial interview, a spirituality interview, a personality inventory, pornography addiction screening and an evaluation of cognitive ability.
In the seminary, future priests receive ongoing spiritual direction, meeting regularly also with mentors and the director of vocations.
Seminary faculties meet weekly to discuss seminarians. Human formation takes into account such factors as healthy friendships, celibacy, fraternity, health, diet, exercise, recreation, psychological health and time management.
As part of their formation, seminarians are given between four and six parish assignments, during which they are evaluated by pastors and parishioners alike. They also learn from other pastoral work throughout the Archdiocese.
Each seminarian is expected to become a balanced and integrated human being. The goal is for our future priests to be approachable and relatable, essential qualities for effective priestly ministry. They should have a sound sense of themselves, both in their gifts and their limitations. Above all, they should be holy men willing to serve others.
I humbly ask for your help.
One of the unique insights of the Second Vatican Council was the importance of the laity in the life of the Church. I can say without question, our local Church needs holy lay women and men now more than ever. Please continue to deepen your bonds of community and family, strengthening your own family’s commitment to living lives of virtue. Your families are what St. John Paul II calls the seedbeds for holy vocations. Sometimes, because of the cultural situation concerning the Church, especially in light of the current scandal, there is a tendency to act in isolation. It is certainly important to set time aside for one’s own family and immediate community, but please continue your missionary efforts.
Specifically, I ask you to recall the mission priorities that we have identified for the Archdiocese: welcome, encounter, accompany, liturgy, sending and mission support. Our missionary efforts are more urgent than ever, and these priorities focus our efforts in an intentional way. I have witnessed this focus and its evangelizing fruit in many of our parishes and schools, and I humbly ask your help to recommit our parishes to this effort.
As I said in “A Light Brightly Visible,” we do not wage war against culture but instead engage it and, when necessary, challenge it. At times, this effort will not be easy. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” This might even be an apt analogy for the purification that needs to take place in our Church before we can again bear the fruits of evangelization. This purification will be painful at times, but is necessary. For this reason, I am grateful to countless parishioners who come together in prayer and fasting around the Archdiocese. Your efforts are essential for healing.
I commend these efforts to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth and Star of the New Evangelization.