My Church, Scandal, and Penance

A few days ago, I was (abruptly) asked for my insight regarding the abuse scandals of the Church. I didn't feel I knew enough about the topic and I didn't want my personal statements to be interpreted as that of my entire order. But reflecting on the fact that I am a friar and seek to build relationships, and that I have a voice in this vast blogosphere, I slowly found the words to articulate my thoughts. I was also inspired by the words of Davide Russo, a young Italian seminarian. Regardless of what you may think, know that my statements are rooted in my faith, my commitment to being a Capuchin, and the words of Jesus to love one another.(John 13:34) Peace. -V

As a member of the Roman Catholic Church (by my baptism, not just by my vocation as a religious friar) I experience the Church as a Sacrament; I am part of a salvation message, a flock, to spread to the prophetic teachings of Jesus Christ. These are the words of my Church (Lumen Gentium) , and it's something I profess each day a baptized member of this Body.

 Similarly, when the Church is weakened because of scandal, abuse, or any other sins of It's members (or  attempts to hide those transgressions), I am also weakened. I want to defensive. I want to think that others are attacking me or persecuting me. I want to shout the words of the psalm: Will you be angry with us forever, drag out your anger for all generations?(Ps 85:6)

But in the depth of my heart, I know my "sufferings" will never amount to those who've been abused, harmed, or kept quiet. Rather than seek martyrdom, I think it's best to seek forgiveness and to do penance. Francis of Assisi saw penance as a means of conversion - a way to open our hearts and better perform our roles as disciples of Christ.

For my part, I pray for those who've been harmed by the Church. As we are trained to prevent and identify signs of abuse, I make sure people aren't put into situations that could allow a predator to take advantage of a child. I try to be honest and transparent in my interactions with those I minister to. And in everything, I try to love as Francis did.

If people are angry, if they lack trust in the Catholic Church institution, if they wish to say mean or hateful things, it is because the Church, my Church, has done wrong. That is my cross to bear as a religious and as a member of the Catholic Church. But it is a cross of penance, not persecution. As a Capuchin I am called to seek a life of penance, to make peace with others, and to reflect the love of God to others.

At all times, moved by the spirit of conversion and renewal, let us devote ourselves to works of penance according to the Rule and Constitutions and, as God inspires us, so that the paschal mystery of Christ may be more and more at work within us. -Capuchin Constitutions 102:3

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