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The Purification and the Spring: Another Look at Our Current Crisis

Deacon Keith A Fournier

© Third Millennium, LLC


"We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification that is urgently needed if the Church is to preach more effectively the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its liberating force. Now you must ensure that where sin increased, grace will all the more abound (cf. Rom 5:20). So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church"

Pope John Paul II, Homily, April 23, 2002

"A new missionary age will arise, a new springtime for the Church"

Pope John Paul II, Homily, May 11, 1991


I woke up to a horrible headline in our local newspaper: “Virginia Priest Again Accused of Abuse.”

My heart sank.

I went to Sunday Mass knowing that something probably had to be said in the homily about the current situation in this Diocese- even though I just wanted to hear the scriptures broken open so that I could be refreshed for the coming week of work.

However, any preacher or pastor HAD to mention this horrible news. After all, in the last weeks alone two priests have been forced to resign over past sexual abuse with young boys in this Diocese. Now, this headline uncovering another allegation, this time an allegation of a priest drugging a seminarian and raping him!

The priest/homilist did a good job. He tied the events into the Biblical readings and led the faithful back to a response of faith. I could tell how burdened he was by all of this just by observing his demeanor. So, when we left the sanctuary, I greeted him and tried to encourage him—as best I could.

“It’s Clergy Reform father, Mark 4: 22—nothing is hidden that will not be revealed… God loves His Church” I said. He smiled a slight, hardly detectable smile -the kind of expression that people make when they are actually not comfortable with what you have said but do not know quite how to respond.

“This is not the first time in our history that this has happened. The purification is a necessary part of the Spring-time!” I continued, with a tone of encouragement and consolation in my voice, “…we will get through it all.” I walked away from him knowing that I needed to add him to my growing prayer list this week.

Though I am a deacon of this Diocese, I do not serve in this parish. I returned here two years ago after having spent three years in a neighboring diocese while studying and advising a political campaign. I knew when I returned that this diocese was going through a lot of struggles. I wanted to help.

Little did I realize how profoundly the events of our current crisis would move those struggles into a kind of fourth gear. What is happening in this Diocese is only now beginning to unfold… and unfold it must. I believe that the words of the gospel text are particularly appropriate “…what was spoken in secret will be shouted from the housetops”.

Truth is the greatest antidote to the poison of sin and the light is the greatest way to expose the darkness.

This is not the first time I have shared such sentiments with this local pastor. I am not sure that we see all of this in quite the same way. However, he is a good man, a good priest and … he has a good heart.

What perhaps makes it even more difficult for him is that he knows some of the very men who have been dismissed from priestly ministry.

I believe that all of the revelations concerning clergy who have committed these egregious sins (and succumbed to the basest of sexual deviance- by committing criminal, immoral acts against children), demand an honest assessment of the condition of our beloved Church, at least in some segments of the more devastated parts of the vineyard.

That is what I will attempt in this article. I admit that I will address these difficult issues in very broad and general terms. I will also be simple, plainspoken and perhaps “painfully” honest. My goal is to help move us forward through the process of purification and into the springtime.

I have always loved the old parable “The Emperor has no Clothes.” Most of us heard it as children. It was about a fictional kingdom where a tailor had convinced the king and his entourage that he would weave him the finest garment for the day of his coronation. He convinced the whole kingdom that the material was so fine they couldn’t see it –all except one little honest boy.

The parable stands for the timeless insight that sometimes “children” (those who are unconcerned with how they ...

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