A message from Father Shelton:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I thank all of you who participated in our special forum on Bishop Stika’s pastoral letter and the horrors it addresses. The conversation was very honest, respectful and fruitful. There were some variations of perspective on the causes and solutions, variations mirroring those I’m seeing develop among priests and bishops. But there was also a determination to put contentions aside for the sake of protecting children and vulnerable adults from predatory priests and negligent bishops. Given modern Catholics’ differing degrees of assent to traditional Catholic moral principles, it is critical that such differences not take precedence over child protection. Our forum produced an initial movement to push for action from state authorities to reveal past abuse and deter future abuse. This movement should be led by lay Tennessee Catholics. There’s a time for prayer, and there’s a time for action. The consensus was that this is a time for action. Again, I thank everyone who participated. Our children and our Church are worth it.
The Catholic Church is my favorite thing in the world, because the Catholic Church is: all of you, all of the faithful departed, all our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, and all of the patriarchs and prophets of ancient Israel. The Church is the bride of Christ, and so the Church is the adopted daughter of the Father. In response to this profound reality, a great many of us—a great many of you—have sacrificed much for our Holy Mother Church.
The Church is also filled with filth. Our sins corrupt her. Even some of her chief caretakers, men of great respect, have permitted the filthiest of men not only to inhabit positions of trust within her, but at times seemingly even to possess her. “Let the children come to me”, Our Lord once insisted. “How far can we pervert His words?” these men have asked, and they’ve proven themselves fully capable of the destruction of innocence.
We still look for answers, but at this point we look mostly for consequences. We do fear consequences, especially the eternal consequence of Hell, but in this world we still can be merciful even as we expect—insist upon—demand—consequences. When the gravest of perversions lie under the cover of the perversion of justice, this absence of consequence can appear to be nothing less than corruption.
So, the Church is filled with sin because of our daily misdeeds, but the Church also suffers at times from corruption because…why? What good can come from this corruption? We ask God, “what lesson do we learn that couldn’t have been taught to us in a more reasonable manner?” We also want to know what we can do to stop it. This corruption, which cuts into the lives of the most innocent, is a monster we’d willingly face and kill. But where is it? Show it to us and we’ll slay it now! But we can’t fight what we can’t see, and this is the ultimate outrage. We become soldiers who can’t find the battlefield. So, there are no consequences. We fight no battles. We slay no monsters. We just sit angry or depressed, if you can still tell the difference. Even if the corruption ends, its legacy will endure and will mark us for years to come.
The prophets of Israel spoke of a light of justice enlightening the darkness. When we’re at our best, we worship Christ our Light. When we’re in solidarity with one another, we might even sing about a little light of our own that we’ll let shine, even in the presence of great darkness. Light and solidarity become our weapons. Even when we can’t yet go out to fight, we can still stand and defend, guarding the walls against predators, with weapons of light and solidarity.
We could become weary and walk away, but sometimes it’s better to do the right thing rather than the easy thing, which is what it means to do the Catholic thing, the 2000 year thing, enduring calamity, fighting evil, protecting the innocent, ensuring consequences for those who offer us corruption.
Stay or leave. If you leave now, who could blame you? If you stay, brace yourselves for an unexpected future. Stay or leave, but make a choice. Bishop Stika himself has a long history of acting promptly and effectively to prevent the clerical sexual abuse of minors in Saint Louis and Knoxville, which in one instance in the Diocese of Knoxville meant removing an accused priest, and he has even enacted a unique policy to protect our children from predators in our restrooms—a proactive approach in a leadership climate that can seem devoid of proactivity. So, at least here, and surely elsewhere, there are reasons to stay. There are other promising examples and other reasons to stay. But stay only if you’re ready to fight.
May Christ, Who purified the Temple from the corruption of negligent priests,
and Who was handed over to the Romans by corrupt leaders of priests,
bless you all,