Catholics in St. Louis seek hope, healing after recent revelations of clergy abuse

Priests, youth ministers lead discussions in weeksfollowing Pa. report

Anger. Betrayal. Hurt. Sadness.

Theseare being felt by many Catholics after revelations of clergy sexual abuse, stemming from a Pennsylvania grand jury report released Aug. 14.

Fr. Grosch
Father Michael Grosch, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Shrewsbury, spoke in a homily the first weekend after the news about the anger and hurt that many are feeling, and sorrow for victims of abuse.

Prayer and action are needed to bring change in the Church, he said. “As wounded as everybody is, there’s been a lot of positive response with the need for prayer and the need for doubling down with all of this.”

A Mass of Reparation was offered Aug. 23 at St. Michael for the forgiveness of sins of abusive clergy, and the parish plans to offer several more in the coming weeks. Reparation is a theological term used when making amends for insults given to God through the sins of human beings. A Mass of Reparation uses specific prayers in seeking forgiveness.

But why should Catholics not involved in the sins of clergy participate in a Mass of Reparation? Father Grosch said that Catholics should understand the importance of the communal nature of the Church. A reading from Ezekiel explains:

“No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols, their abominations, and all their transgressions. I will deliver them from all their apostasy through which they sinned. I will cleanse them so that they will be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 37:23).

“The understanding, even from the days of ancient Israel, is that this isn’t just me and the Lord and my own personal relationship with Him,” Father Grosch said. “We do understand there is personal responsibility in this (abuse situation) and I personally do not share in that. But it is a communal understanding … it’s never been just me and God. It’s about God’s people and recognizing as we are one Body in Christ. If we are that mystical body with Christ as our head, these actions don’t just wound one person, they wound all of us. We are interceding and praying for the healing for the whole Church.”

Fr. Samson
Messages on social media were just as abundant in the days and weeks following the grand jury report. Father Charlie Samson, assistant for formation at Cardinal Glennon College, shared a post on Facebook in which he described the “harrowing account” of the Pennsylvania report. Directing his sorrow first toward the victims of abuse, Father Samson referred to the words of Jeremiah (23:1-4) in remaining hopeful in a time of sorrow for the Church.

“Try, as hard as you can, I encourage you, to choose to have hope, especially when you feel that hope cannot be had, and then do pray for your priests and bishops who are carrying out their ministry well and faithfully, that there might be more of them ordained and that all of their good shepherding might serve as salve to this wound,” Father Samson wrote.

He encouraged Catholics to pray for better accountability within the episcopacy, to ask bishops to write about the issue and to consider undertaking an investigation of clergy abuse in their dioceses, and offer charitable solidarity to fellow Catholics who also have been affected by the news.

Above all, stay close to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, he said. Psalm 146, verses 3 and 5, says, “Do not put your hope in princes or in any man or woman, in of whom will you find salvation. Blessed, rather, is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.”

“Put your ultimate faith not in men but rather in God, who alone will never disappoint you and will never fail to offer you the assurance, affirmation, and indeed salvation that you will never, ever find in any human being to whom you might turn to find it,” Father Samson wrote in a separate post.

After the grand jury report was released, youth ministers in the Archdiocese of St. Louis received an email from the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry with suggested points and resources for talking to teens about clergy abuse.

Always lead with love in discussions, wrote Tom Lancia, director of the Office of Youth Ministry. He reminded youth ministers that the Church at its core is not about the people who have committed sins, but one person, Jesus.

“He gave us this Church and most importantly His Body and Blood so that we can be in union with Him,” Lancia wrote. “That is where our faith lies, not in men. In the Book of Romans (5:20) it reminds us, ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.’”

The topic of clergy abuse was scheduled to be discussed at a Saint Louis Life Teen night last week. The collaborative youth ministry program is made up of more than a dozen south city and county parishes.

Director Lauren Scharmer said that the foundation for understanding what is happening in the Church now is to look at it within the context of a lived relationship with Jesus.

There also is an opportunity for a broader conversation, through an understanding that there is pain in the world because of the existence of sin.

“The question we are posing to our teens is to make sure that each and every one of us who makes up the Body of Christ are examining ourselves and looking at the places in our lives where we do not hold ourselves accountable to the sins we commit” before calling out anyone else for their sins, she said. “And while, yes, we should be calling out the issue (abuse by clergy), we should also make sure we’re doing it as people trying to remove sin and temptation from our own lives.”

Life Teen members are making a list of all seminarians, priests and bishops who have been associated with the Saint Louis Life Teen and will be praying for them and writing to them to thank them for their spiritual fatherhood within the program.

Scharmer added that it’s important to remember that “what is not revealed cannot be healed. What we are seeing in the Church is a great revealing of sin and shortcomings,” she said. “I need to remind them and myself that healing does come from revealing, and I hope to God that this is what it does for the Church that I love so much.”

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