To Pray for Charles Kavanagh and To Give Thanks for Lunar Eclipses

Our teenager was looking over my shoulder one night as I read a New York Times article about one of my former pastors. “What does defrocked mean?” he asked me. “It means this man no longer is a priest,” I explained. For years I have intermittently followed the case of Charles Kavanagh, a man who once served as a priest my childhood parish. Acting on authority of the Vatican, a church tribunal last week found the man guilty of sexually abusing a teenager in the 1970s. The statue of limitations for any civil trial had long since run out but “between July 2002 and July 2003 the district attorney’s office worked closely with the Archdiocese and found the allegations to be credible.” 

A few hours later, my son wakened himself at 2 a.m. with a cell-phone alarm clock to watch the moon turn red. He saw in the first total lunar eclipse on a winter solstice since 1632, the year Galileo Galilei  printed Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems and received a summons to appear before the Roman Inquisition.

There are as many reasons to leave the Catholic Church as people who leave it, but certainly the sex-abuse crisis has propelled many faithful out Her doors. The fact a man I knew growing up as a glad-handing, gregarious priest has been found guilty of sex abuse repulses and saddens me. What I learned about Christ as a child came not from the words of our parish priests: I remember nothing they ever said. Instead, I encountered Christ by watching the fathers and mothers in my parish as they raised their large broods of children and coped with the myriad challenges work and family presented them. I understood even then that Kavanagh was a big shot in the Archdiocese of New York: during the week he served as rector of Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in Manhattan. Later, he served as the Archdiocese’s top fundraiser. Neither his sins nor anyone else’s  shake my faith the Holy Spirit guides the Church here on earth as well as the Church Triumphant.

The Church took nearly 200 years to figure out that Florentine physicist Galileo was right about his science and to declare “the printing and publication of works treating of the motion of the earth and the stability of the sun, in accordance with the opinion of modern astronomers, is permitted.” But declare it She did.

I understand the bewilderment of medieval clergy. So much of what lies beyond us is Mystery explainable only by Christ.  The massive size of the universe used to leave me wondering at the significance of human existence, until I read Dinesh D’Souza’s explanation of the anthropic principle both physicists and Christians now embrace. “It turns out that the vast size and great age of our universe are not coincidental. They are indispensable conditions for life on earth. In other words, the universe has to be just as big as it is and just as old  as it is in order to contain living inhabitants like you and me.”

Thus, the life of a Christian requires expanding one’s perspective beyond oneself. My family will occupy this glorious, wounded planet a microscopic sliver of time. I don’t expect the men who occupy positions of leadership and power in the Church to be perfect, in fact, I know they are as flawed as me. But I do believe that, in the fullness of time, the Holy Spirit guides the Church and weaves together the Communion of Saints. I pray that Mr. Kavanagh, who reportedly is disillusioned with the Church, will discover this truth.

Last week, mingled with my disgust and sorrow, I felt graced that my own children never have encountered soul-damaging abuse at the hands of adults called to lead them to their destinies.

The psalmist wrote: The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft. One day to the next conveys that message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge. There is no word or sound; no voice is heard;Yet their report goes forth through all the earth, their message, to the ends of the world.”

What a blessing that my son decided to get a glimpse of God’s handiwork in the skies on a cold winter night. He walked for an hour in our neighborhood with our puppy. I’d like to think he understands that no matter how badly we bungle, the universe remains God’s gift to us.

  • ThereseRita

    I'm sure you know that in "Light of the World", Seewald devotes about 2 whole chapters to the "Scandals." At the end of one them, he asks the Pope about the comment of the man who was a victim of abuse in Malta who said, "The Pope wept along with me." The Holy Father responded in part: "Actually I said nothing special at all to them. I was able to tell them that this affects me very deeply & I suffer with them & that was not just an expression…We keep them in our prayers and ask them not to lose faith in Christ as the true light & in the living communion of the Church." In sixty years in the Church, no one in my family has ever had the great misfortune to be misused by a priest…teachers, relatives, employers, yes…priests no. In another place in the book, Benedict says that its possible these horrible Scandals were used by the Lord for purification for priests & the Church. As the mom of a priest & the sister of two, I can say that they've all suffered alot from the whole situation…once my son was pumping gas in his collar & a guy walked across the gas station to ask him if he'd molested any kids lately. Sigh.

  • Anonymous

    I have had Msgr. Kavanagh serve as my spiritual advisor since I was 13 years old. I am now 45. I can assure you that the charges against Msgr Kavanagh are neither credible, not true. The de-frocking of a priest who has served well is the true scandal. As we have learned through events such as Galileo's admonishment for over 200 years, the church is certainly capable of misjudgment, especially if the right decision causes the church some embarrassment.I was a student at Cathedral Prep and know both the accuser and the accused. The accuser has stated clearly that this relationship was never sexual. In addition, since this initial claim over 8 years ago, there has not been another accusation against Msgr Kavanagh.I have no doubt, 200 or so years from now the church will right this wrong. The shame is that there are many high ranking church officials who know the decision regarding Msgr Kavanagh is unjust, however out of fear for standing up to the central authority, they will remain quiet. Gil BradyLeesburg, VA

  • Anonymous

    I went to Cathedral Prep and graduated. I know what kind of man Charles Kavanagh is. He was a mean spirited man who demeaned and harassed certain students. He was central to my reasons for leaving the church. He should never have been allowed near impressionable youth. A reading of he bizarre letter he sent to the Donohue family is indicative of just how sick a man he is and was!He was rightly defrocked!

  • Gil Brady

    As I commented in January 2011, I had complete confidence in the innocence of Msgr Kavanagh and continue to have more confidence based on the following official statement made by his accuser:

    My name is Daniel Donohue. Ten years ago in 2002, and in the years thereafter, I accused Msgr. Charles Kavanagh of having sexually abused me as a minor.
    Specifically, I accused him of getting into my bed and pressing his body against me on a trip to a Right to Life March in Washington D.C. while I was a senior in high school.
    This statement was not true and I apologize for it.
    I did not go on any such trip with Msgr. Kavanagh while I was in high school.
    Msgr. Kavanagh has been a positive force for good in the church and community and has helped thousands of young people.
    I have never intended that the church would deprive him of his ministry and I hope the church will reexamine this decision and process.

    Not liking a priest or believing him to be mean-spirited is no justification for de-frocking. The accuser has officially gone on record to state that he lied in his accusation and that the churches decision to defrock Msgr Kavanagh should be reviewed.

    Gil Brady
    Coronado, CA

    • Frank Weathers

      FYI, the Archdiocese of New York released this statement on May 1st.

      • Prodigal Daughter

        What is the church trying to say? If the guy who accused this priest lied, then what is the issue here?

        • Frank Weathers

          I do not know.