Last week I mentioned briefly the allegations that have been brought against my pastor, Fr Al, allegations about something that happened, if it happened, 50 years ago. I want to speak some more about my feelings on the issue. And I also want to state unequivocally, at the outset, that I believe my pastor is innocent of the allegations.
My bishop celebrated Mass this past weekend at my parish and his care for the parish is and has been a blessing. I decidedly respect and love this man. And this is some odd Catholic thing, that at the thought of certain men in the Church, I grow deeply emotional. And I hold them in my hearts with gratitude and respect, and I feel a deep, deep love for them even though I do not know them. (Show me your ring, Holy Father, that I might kiss it. - Yes, it's quite bizarre. It's quite difficult for my brain to work out, but my heart knows the truth of it.) It must be because I identify them and their ministry in the Church with Christ. Not that they are Christ literally. But as St Ignatius of Antioch said - where the bishop is, there is the Church, there is Christ. And of course Papa Benedict is our dear sweet Christ on Earth (and, no, I don't mean that blasphemously or idolatrously).
But I'm digressing. This post is about my pastor, Fr Al, whom I love though he has only been my pastor for three months, and though he has been accused of sexual misconduct. I don't believe he's guilty. And if he is, for I certainly do not know what has transpired in the life of this man I don't know, I will stand by and guard his reputation nevertheless. I am for him. First, because, while I cannot know, he is my pastor. Second, because if he is guilty, I am still called to love him deeply - and he has been forgiven. And if he proves to be guilty, and let me state as strongly as possible that I do not believe him to be so, I will be honored to have stood by his side nevertheless. Third, when his good name is restored and it is shown that I have not stood with him, how would I ever again be able to stand in his presence?
We shy away from our commitments to relationships because of our being burned in the past, or because of all the tawdriness from our leadership in the past and in the news. And so we trust no one, living in suspicion of everything and everyone, not realizing that our distrust is antithetical to our very faith. And if I keep my pastor at arm's length because he might be guilty then I am no kind of Christian. And if I keep my pastor at arm's length if I discover that he is guilty, then I am no kind of Christian. You see, as a Christian, I can only properly give one reaction to an allegation against Fr Al - and that is by offering my faith and hope and love. So what if it all turns to dung and I'm left standing there holding my faith, hope, and love? I don't care. Let them think me a fool. I stand where I stand, because if I refuse affection and loyalty then I don't just turn my back on Fr Al, I turn my back on all relationships.
For none of us are trustworthy. And I have my own sins.
In no way am I suggesting that the awfulness of pedophilia (or whatever misconduct is alleged) and the ruin it effects in the lives of all involved be covered over. But Fr Al is my pastor. And Jesus has risked far more than his reputation for me. And though the Church has dragged Jesus' reputation through the mud, yet Jesus is faithful - "If we are faithless, He remains faithful - for He cannot deny himself" (1 Tim 2.13, RSV). For you see the Church and Christ are the whole Christ - as St Joan of Arc said at her trial, "About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing, and we shouldn't complicate the matter."
I cannot judge. I can only love. I can only show mercy because it is mercy I seek from the hand of the Father. So I pray and I ask for your prayers.