Into the Wilderness
When I was a child, in the years after my mother’s death I found a lot of comfort in my local parish community. When I was in third grade, we got a new priest. His name was Fr. Boylan and I received my first Communion from his hands. He was my pastor for most of the rest of my childhood, and was someone my family got to know quite well. His housekeeper was my grandmother’s close friend. In fact, when it came time for me to choose a Confirmation sponsor, I chose her.
Fr. Boylan was a kind priest to me and to my family. I had such fond memories of him that when Eric and I were planning our wedding, we asked him to officiate for us, which he did. So, when a couple of years ago, when I heard through the grapevine that he had been removed from active ministry for “personal reasons”, I didn’t know what to think. I’d been around long enough to know what “personal reasons” usually meant, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe it of him.
All of that changed this week, with the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. You see, I grew up in the diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania and so many names were painfully familiar. One – Martin Boylan – especially. It gutted me to read descriptions of the things that had been done to children and teens, and the things that had been silenced and covered up, and to see the name of the priest from whose hands I received Eucharist, and whose face will always be present when I remember my wedding day.
A credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor was made by someone from the parish he was assigned to before ours. He had been removed from active ministry as the person – now an adult – had pressed charges. A small amount of digging uncovered that the charges were dropped last year because the man changed his mind and would no longer testify. Fr. Boylan remains barred from active ministry.
While the exact details of this one case aren’t known – given what I’ve read and stomached this week, I believe him. Whoever that man is, wherever he is. I believe you. You deserved to be listened to then, and now.
This is personal for me, because this report features the place where I grew up and learned the contours of Catholicism. The sense of betrayal runs deep; I was not abused, but I was betrayed. Men who said they stood for God, who were charged with teaching the faith, with being privy to our vulnerabilities, struggles, moments of joy, sorrow, and spirit – tainted those moments forever with their poison.
I will never be able to think of my first experience of Eucharist, of repeating my marriage vows, without a fleeting thought of the man – in persona Christi – who enjoyed the privilege of witnessing those moments with filthy hands.
I deserved better. We all, every single one of us, deserved so much better than this.
Despite its personal nature, this betrayal isn’t unique to me or to people from Pennsylvania. I’m not naïve enough to think this was a problem isolated to:
Every state in the country could produce a similar report, if they wanted to and invested the resources in doing so. I believe many more will, and this is only the beginning.
The other day on social media I mentioned these Scripture cards I had received from the ministry Blessed Is She. I pulled a series of five cards that spoke to me from the stack and displayed them on my office bulletin board. One, which I wrote about – quoted the prophet – saying “Come, let us rebuild.”
I knew, more than a month ago when I hung these up, that it was something I needed to keep seeing and thinking about. This week, I finally understood why. These are days of reckoning, and the Spirit is calling us all to assist in the work of tearing down – brick by brick – this evil thing, so that God’s Spirit can use our hands to build something new from the dust.
One of the other cards reads, from Hosea, “I will lead her into the wilderness.” This too, I knew, was a message from the Spirit. I’ve been looking at these quotes for a month, wondering what I was tearing down, and which wilderness I am being led to.
This is the wilderness. Friends, we lay women and men, and those good priests, sisters, and brothers who mourn and cry out and rend their garments – we are in the wilderness. We were led here by Shepherds in wolves clothing – by men who sold their souls and the bodies of children for power, prestige, and brand.
How do those pieces of silver feel in your pockets, Your Excellency? What about the millstone around your neck?
We, the faithful, have been lied to and abandoned, for decades. While women and families staggered under the heavy burdens of Church teachings on sexuality, the same men promulgating those teachings were raping and assaulting children and teens.
We have been treated as inferior, simple, sheep – incapable of grasping the complexities of faith and the spiritual life. Instead of genuine communion and compassion – those charged with being our Shepherds have disregarded the well-being of our children, families, and souls, all so they could keep their precious reputations.
It seems hopeless, and I think in many ways, the current church hierarchy is. In patriarchal structures such as these, abuse of power comes as no surprise. Of course, I have known and know many, many wonderful priests, deacons, and religious who give of themselves unfailingly and would rather die themselves than ever hurt or allow a child to be hurt.
Yet, these men and woman are often at the bottom of the power structure, and have only slightly more of a voice than lay people. This must change. A voice and a seat at the table must be earned – by having more than just a penis and a mitre – but by consistently living out the Gospel.
Every single Catholic, through the grace of Baptism and Confirmation, is called both to holiness, and to act as part of the priesthood of all believers. Every single one of you is called by God as Priest(ess), Prophet(ess) and King(Queen). No one is exempt.
We are in the wilderness today. The Spirit has called and equipped us for such a time as this. Everything must change, and we are the ones who will shape this narrative.
As priest, we bind the wounds of the broken, bring Good News to the forgotten, and suffer with the suffering. We share the sacramentality of Creation with all.
As prophet, we boldly speak the truth to power, spending our voices for the voiceless and our privilege on the marginalized. We write the vision, and keep on writing it. We preach, we teach, we offer whatever amount of water we have, to quench this unholy fire.
As King or Queen, we embrace our identity as beloved children of God. We know that our Kingdom is the justice and flourishing of every living thing.
The challenges are great, but so is the God who calls us to go into the wilderness to rebuild the Church.