A Blessed Holy Week

Let’s see now:  we’ve got a Sunday night series on one of the most corrupt and tawdry families in Church history, the Borgias, with popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests, all part of this big, happy family; we’ve heard non-stop for a decade about abusive priests, (albeit a small minority) and lax bishops who reassigned them; we’ve got front page stories of priests who embezzled money from their parishes; and I saw one not long ago about a priest arrested for DUI.

Yes, all this is scandalous, sinful, sickening, and criminal.

But, it is not new.

Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, nuns, brothers are human.

That means, we are sinners.

Granted, when one of us falls, it hurts and shocks more.  People rightly expect their spiritual leaders to practice what we preach.  When we don’t, we’re hypocrites.  And we know what Jesus thought about hypocrites.

But, this is not new.

If you think it worse today than in the past, I ask you to consider the solemn days we will observe next week, Holy Week:  Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Within an hour or so after Jesus had ordained His very first bishops and priests — the twelve apostles — what happened?  They fell asleep when He asked them to pray with Him; one betrayed Him for thirty silver coins; one — the first Pope — denied three times even knowing Him; and all but one, the youngest, ran away scared at the time He most needed them.  That lonely loyal one, St. John, was there with our blessed Mother at the foot of the cross on a hill called Calvary on a Friday strangely called “good.”

Not a very good start for bishops and priests.  Within a few hours after their ordination, 11/12 had abandoned Him.  That’s a worse record than even the Mets!

What’s the point?  That we should tolerate and overlook the sins and vices of the clergy?  Absolutely not!  Or, worse, that we priests and bishops should stop seeking the heroic virtue, holiness, and perfection called for by Jesus?  Never!

The point is that, if the life, vigor, holiness, and efficacy of the Church depended only upon the virtue of priests and bishops, it would have been dead-on-arrival, not surviving that afternoon when the sun hid in shame and the earth shuddered in sadness.

Our faith is not in popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, or even in monsignors.  Nope:  our faith is only in Jesus.  He and He alone will never let us down; He will never sin; He and He alone will never break a promise; He and He alone deserves our absolute trust and confidence.

That’s why it’s especially tragic when someone leaves Jesus and His Church because of a sin, scandal, or slight from a priest or bishop.  If your faith depended on us, it was misplaced to begin with.  We priests and bishops might represent Jesus and shepherd His Church, however awkwardly — but we are not Jesus and His Church.

One of the more moving, sad, yet, usually “sacramental” duties I have as a bishop is to meet at times with victim survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, and on occasion their families.  Some of them tell me they have left the Church, they hate the Church, they have lost their faith.  Most of them, though, tell me that, as shattered, sickened, and angry as they may be, nobody, nowhere, nohow is going to take their faith away!  These are an inspiration to me.

The wife of one victim once graciously said to me, “Archbishop, you have helped me regain my faith in the Church!  I am putting my trust in you!”

I replied, “I’m flattered and grateful, but, please, don’t put absolute confidence in me.  I’ll work everyday to earn and keep your trust, and pray daily I’ll never, ever let you down, but, believe me, sooner-or-later, sadly, I’m afraid I will let you down and disappoint you.  Please, put your total faith and trust only in Jesus!  Anything else is idolatry!”

Maybe, maybe there’s a decent reason for leaving the Church.  I’ve never heard one, but a lot of people apparently think they have good cause, since “ex-Catholics” sadly number in the millions.

However, leaving because of something a priest or bishop may have done or not done is surely not a decent reason.

When I was about six-or-seven, I spent Saturday night with my grandpa and grandma, “Nonnie” and “Pata.”  On Sunday morning, we got ready for Mass.  Pata wasn’t budging from his EZ chair with the sports page and a second cup of coffee.

“Let’s go, Dad! (that’s what Nonnie called him),” yells Nonnie.  “We’ll be late for Mass.”

“I’m not going.  I can’t stand that new priest, Father McCarthy,” replies Pata.

“Oh, yeah,” responds Nonnie.  “You can’t stand the new bartender up at Nick’s, either, but that sure doesn’t seem to keep you from going up there!  Get moving!”

All three of us went to Mass . . .

Frank Sheed, that great Catholic lay theologian of last century, expressed it a bit more eloquently than Nonnie:  “We are not baptized into the hierarchy; we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope.  Christ is the point.  I, myself, admire the present pope, but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope, a bishop, a priest could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church (although I might well wish that they would).”

Pray for us bishops and priests, please.  We’re sorry when we hurt you.  We must try harder to conform our lives to Jesus.  But don’t ever let our sins drive you away.

A blessed Holy Week!

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16 Responses to “A Blessed Holy Week”

  1. Bill Angresano says:

    Beautifully and honestly stated, truth. As is usual with this truly holy man, Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Continued Lenten Blessings…

  2. Archbishop Dolan, you rock. And while my faith is not in you, I am eternally grateful to Him for giving us priests like you. Thank you for your faith, thank you for saying “yes”, thank you for your witness.

  3. Bernard Burlew says:

    This was wonderful, God bless you Archbishop

  4. Maureen McCormack says:

    If only more people would read these words, they might come to understand where it is they should have put their \faith\.
    Thank you, Archbishop Dolan.

  5. Jeanne says:

    This is wonderful and uplifting !
    Thanks you so much Archbishop Dolan , your words bring peace and joy, your witness to the TRUTH is a great testimony of who you are !
    You speak direct and from the heart , we are blessed by you !
    We must prayer for our priests and love them , never judging them or turning our backs on them !
    We are all sinners , I am grateful to the good God for not turning His back on me ! He is faithful and we must keep our eyes on HIM , who is the Lord of All, LOVE and MERCY !
    God Bless You !
    The Lord speaks powerfully through you, I was touched deeply !
    Thanks so much;
    Jeannie

  6. Nannie says:

    This is an awesome read. I think many of our young adults need to be told this often. My adult children are always complaining they do not like our priest/ pastor. I am constantly telling them it is for Jesus that we attend and receive him in the Holy sacrifice of the mass. I thank you for your YES to Jesus and for trying with all your heart to be HIS servant. Blessings and prayers for you and the entire priesthood.

  7. Robert Fox says:

    Dear Arch Bishop:

    It is not just simple hatred for the Church which fuels the flurry of ‘programs’ you list. Rather, it is the decades of lack of self confidence most Catholics have (when it comes to knowing their own faith) which encourages these types of disturbing programs. Our enemies can smell our own lack of self knowledge & understanding and they capitalize on that.

    Catholics were disliked 100 years ago… but for different reasons than today. The difference between then and now though is that fewer Catholics actually know what they believe or how to defend a Lord that they no longer believe is King of the social order. And the reason for that is because they simply have not been taught that He is in many places. Our present liturgical praxis also validates this uncertainty, unfortunately.

    The larger view of this, which I feel you have missed is not ‘Hey things are not as bad as everyone is saying’ (a theme you have been playing for a while now)… but rather should be this: Why are we congratulating ourselves for more than 90% of ‘practicing Catholics’ being on contraception?

    Bottom line: The role of the bishop is to TEACH. And yet I still don’t hear Humanae Vitae or Quas Primas being taught in very many places where I live (other then how to try and create novel ‘pastoral’ loop-holes). And I have had young priests tell me that if they do teach HV or QP forcefully & well from the pulpit… then they will be ‘spoken to’ and ‘dealt with’ by their own peers and superiors. At least that is what I have heard in several diocese in NY (not including your own though I must happily admit).

    Were you to personally give a teaching on HV or QP, I would find a way to get my wife and kids in the car and get into NYC and to listen. I want to keep an open mind, and I want to hear this from a shepard. To date, I have not.

    Servus, Robert Fox, Long Island, NY

  8. Jules Aime says:

    An interesting post and absolutely true.

    However, you have dealt here only with individual sinners. I’d love to read what you might have to say about how Catholics should respond to collective and systemic corruption in the church. I speak only for myself here but what really troubles me is not so much that the individual priest who behaves shamefully but other priests and bishops whose personal conduct is impeccable but who concealed evil by others to protect the church from shame.

  9. Maureen Schooley says:

    After reading some of the news this morning from CNA, etc., I was feeling a bit battered and bruised, but then came across this blog. Thank you for being courageous, blunt and well…Catholic!

    Bless you Archbishop.

  10. Jim Cowan says:

    Thank you Archbishop Dolan. You always find a way to state your message on a clear and cocise manner with a touch of humor. I also thank God that we have many Religious men and women who always provide us with the light to see the path we must follow.

  11. Abbie McCarthy Kendall says:

    Today I read about former Belgian Bishop, Roger Vangheluwe. He resigned as bishop in 2010 after admitting he had abused one of his nephews for 13 years (starting when the child was only five years old!). In a TV interview aired in Belgium on Thursday, April 14, 2011, Vangheluwe revealed that he had abused a second nephew “a few times, a couple of times, not for years.”

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, AKA the Vatican:

    “For its part, the Holy See is following the situation attentively, well aware of its seriousness, and is gathering all the information necessary for an in-depth assessment,” Lombardi said. The Vatican said this week that it had ordered Vangheluwe to no longer work as a priest while officials determine his punishment.

    (Why on earth would information gathering and an in-depth assessment be needed when the man admitted his heinous actions on national TV? And what other punishments could reasonably considered but the filing of criminal charges and immediate excommunication???)

    Meanwhile, the child-abusing former Bishop is still a member of the priesthood, lounging “in a wooded Catholic retreat in Ferte-Imbault in central France, where he has been sent by the Vatican.”

    So, Archbishop Dolan, why is a Bishop who resigned his position in early 2010–after admitting that he abused children–still a member of the priesthood? After making the admission, why did Belgium’s Cardinal Godfried Danneels fail to immediately report him to the local police (regardless of any statute of limitations) and then excommunicate him?

    We know why, don’t we? It’s because the now retired Danneels advised one of Wangheluwehad’s victim’s to delay a public statement about the abuse until Vangheluwehad retired. Danneels also told the vicitim, “I don’t know if there will be much to gain from making a lot of noise about this, neither for you nor for him.”

    Archbishop, why was Father S. Joseph Collova allowed to remain in the Catholic priesthood after credible charges of child abuse were made against him in the ’90s? Why did YOU let him “lounge around” for three years while he was (supposedly) being investigated by the church? Why did you not expedite the investigation and excommunicate him in 2007 for the crime of abusing children? Why instead, did you wait until 2010 to excommunicate him–not for abusing children–but for joining another denomination and forming a church?

    I would appreciate receiving by email your direct reply to this post. Really, Archbishop, the reply I received a few weeks ago re my comments on your “Airport” blog post was ridiculous. The first sentence contained an apology and a lie about having already emailed a response to me. Next was a blizzard of irrelavent statistics, followed by a faux-friendly closing. This amateurish attempt at PR may work on unquestioning Catholic “sheep”. But using this tactic on someone with a high IQ, a highly successful career in corporate marketing, communications, and PR, and a burning fire to protect children, well, that was a crucial error. To top it off, your minion knowingly sent that awful email to a woman who told you that her dear, late cousin was cruelly abused by a priest for YEARS.

    We know you are the leader of the Catholic church in America. We know the Pope likes you and that you have his ear. It is time for you to be a true leader and do the right thing. And I, an angered atheist/Catholic, could help you.

    I look forward to your reply.

    Abbie McCarthy Kendall

  12. Rick says:

    Very good post considering the cult of personality developing in the Church, especially on the internet, today and leading many of the faithful away from Christ, alone in whom they should be putting their trust. Perhaps Ezekiel 34:1-10 should be read at every presbyterial and episcopal ordination. Keep up the wonderful work you are doing Archbishop Dolan in shepherding the Church in New York. We still miss you in St. Louis!
    Rick B.
    Manchester, MO

  13. Chris says:

    Archbishop, you are absolutely right. I was, until just months ago, one of those who put my faith in the hierarchy and institution of the church and spent my life defending it. At the age of 48, I finally realized the errors of my ways and realized that that faith was misplaced. My faith now lies where it should have been all along, in God, his Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    I will no longer defend the Church, until the hierarchy cleans up its act and starts leading by the example of doing the right thing. It is often said that the church is not a democracy, and it isn’t. For that reason, it is not up to the Catholics in the pews to fix the problems; it is up to the oligarchy to do that. How we in the pews respond is an individual choice. I, for one, will not support the Church financially until I see concrete, overt changes in moral leadership from the top down.

  14. JMJ

    Your Eminence,

    I enjoyed your Holy Week Blog. But as much as I agree with you, that we belong to the Church for Jesus’s sake and not for any preference or non-preference to it’s Hierarchy, I must tell you, that I believe that the Church’s clergy sex scandal pales in comparison to the way the Hierarchy has utterly failed in defending the unborn.
    Almost 60 MILLION innocents have been aborted in this country since “Roe v. Wade” in 1973. “Roe v. Wade has been primarily upheld and substained by many so-called Catholic politicians. Where is the Church’s outrage? When if ever will the Hierarchy have the decency to quit cuddling these merchants of death?s, yes they are merchants of death, as they sell their support of abortion for votes. Excommunication is certainly an extreme instrument of church law and should only be used in the most extreme of cases. But is the deaths of 60 MILLION Innocents not the most extreme of cruelities mankind has so far conjured up. Maintaining the status-quo for the past 38 years brings more shame on the Hierarchy than the sex scandals could ever do.

    Praying that the Holy Spirit will instill in you and the rest of the Church’s Hierarchy with the Courage and Wisdom to Defend the Innocent from conception to natura;l death.

    God Bless,

    Bernard J. Byrne

  15. Brendan Murphy says:

    Archbishop, this is such a cool posting. I absolutely and utterly agree with you. My dad here in Scotland in the 1970s often said “the priest is not the point.” Of course he didn’t mean that those large number sof good men are pointless – no – indeed he head much respect for priests, what he meant was that “God was the point.” This worked for him through his life and he was faithful to the Church and the Gospel throughout.

    Brendan

  16. jan says:

    As one of the Generals in the Church militant, I offer God my prayers for you and for all priests who have given up their life for the Trinitarian Godhead and for us, their flock. Courage! He is coming soon!