Sunday, February 3, 2013


I may have mentioned I have a new hangout: 7 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in downtown L.A.

At 7 a.m., things are quiet, things are low-key. People come a bit early to sit before the Blessed Sacrament in a side chapel. People spread out.  The sanctuary has side entrances but I like to walk the whole length of the hall to the left and enter from the rear, where the marble holy water fonts are located.

I like to walk down the center aisle toward the front, studying Christ's broken body on the crucifix.

Last Thursday morning I drove down Sunset Boulevard to the cathedral, came up from the parking structure, and emerged into the vast courtyard to see a couple of TV crews outside the gate.

I didn't think much of it, but inside, during the homily, the priest said, "We're going to be reading a lot of articles in the L.A. Times about the priest abuses and cover-ups that are going to be very painful, very uncomfortable. For us priests. For you. For us, the Church.  I think it's in AA, though, that people say, 'You're only as sick as your secrets.' And in a way it's good that this has happened. It's good everything is coming into the light. Yes, it will be painful, but in the end honesty and truth and letting go of our secrets will lead us all toward spiritual health, spiritual truth, spiritual healing."

I thought, Right on, Father.

I thought of my own abysmal track record in this area, as in so many others. I thought of the christening of three children I'd attended a couple of weeks before. I remembered their little heads, offered so heart-breakingly, so almost frighteningly trustingly, over the baptismal font. I thought of how children will pretty much do anything a grownup tells them, their eyes earnest; their hearts bursting to please, to be loved. I thought of the people I've known whose sexual and emotional trust was betrayed at a very young age, and of how they clearly bear that ghastly wound that no human being should have to bear--of loneliness, rage, and exile--into adulthood. I thought of the snow-white baptismal garment, the tiny embroidered blood-red cross.

I thought there is no possible place I could stand with all this but inside the Church. Where else could I stand with the victims, and where else could I stand, yes, with the abusing priests and with the bishops who covered up,  because how could I, of all people, point the finger? How could I not stand by them--not by what they did but by them, as erring, deeply sick humans--when the Church has stood by me  in my shame,  my emotional and spiritual sickness, my sin?

It is one thing to insist, as we must, upon accountability and responsibility. It's one thing to acknowledge that actions have consequences and to allow the priests and bishops the dignity of suffering them, as they must, in solitude and silence. It's another to perch like vultures to lord it over the fallen, to scapegoat and crow, to point the finger at one or a few when obviously the whole Church was at least tacitly complicit. How quickly we so-called followers of Christ distance ourselves from the leper. How little we like to consider our own tawdry track record, our dreadful longings, the people we have preyed upon, used and discarded. How quickly we forget Jesus, standing with the adulteress, saying "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

Where else would I go with my sorrow, my horror, my knowledge of the ways I have been and continue to be complicit in the world's violence but the Church? Where else could I stand with the victims for whom retired Cardinal Mahony was partially responsible but in the cathedral he built? Where else could I stand with Cardinal Mahony?

Who else would I stand with, kneel before, but Christ: as ever scourged, spat upon, mocked, betrayed?

His broken Body, his broken Church.

bird on top branch and nest,
tree in cathedral courtyard after Mass


  1. "How quickly we so-called followers of Christ distance ourselves from the leper." Faster than viral video, dear Heather, do we distance ourselves from those we feel to be our lesser. Since Slithereen made his way into Eden have we made ourselves look better in our own eye by calling another soul as lesser, their evil more egregious then our own.

    I recall Christ said that the poor will always be with us. Making a different point he might have also said (though he didn't) that the self-righteous would ever be among us and that I am too often one of them.

  2. Dear Heather,
    After posting my above comment I went on to open my e-mail to read the daily message from a Benedictine monastery. Serendipitously, today features The Seventh Degree of Humility from St. Benedict's Holy Rule.

    Brother Jerome's (OSB) reflection on the nature of the Blue Jay population of the monastery's neighbouring forest is quite fitting as is this 7th Degree itself.

    Both may be found here { I appreciate being on their mailing list. }

  3. Yes, Owen. I made the mistake of reading a couple of "Catholic" bloggers on Cardinal Mahony, and let's just say it is never brave, and never Christ-like, to stand on the side of the crowd with the stones in their hands.

    Of course we expect this from the world, which hates the Church already, but such pathetic cowardice, such self-righteously smug Monday morning quarterbacking from within the Church is to me almost as shocking, as WRONG in its way, as the abuse.

    "You hypocrites! You bind up heavy burdens and lay them on people's shoulders and you don't lift a finger to move them," I thought [Matthew 23:4] And then the next thought, as you say, has to be And let me look at the myriad ways I'm a hypocrite. Let me look at all the unbearably heavy burdens I have tied, and continue to tie, upon the backs of others...

    Here's another thought: can any of us say that if we discovered our beloved brother had molested a kid that our first act would be to march him to the police station, turn him in to the cops, and publicly disavow/shun him as a monster? I'm not saying calling the cops perhaps SHOULDN'T be our first act but can any of us say it WOULD be?

    The Church is the cross upon which Christ was crucified," Romano Guardini observed. I might be called to turn in my brother. But I would no sooner refuse to stand by the Church in her sin, error and shame than I would refuse (I can only pray) to stand by my brother: the murderer, the child molester, the leper.

  4. Yes, yes, yes Heather! Thank you for this post! I have been grappling with this issue for a few months now and have been challenged to take sides. I cried out "I am on the side of the Church!" But could not express myself beyond that, could not really say why or how I felt so strongly about that statement. "The Church is the cross upon which Christ was crucified" is the best explanation. These are hard and painful times. I am grateful that we, the Church, can suffer together.

  5. Thanks so much for this necessary reminder, Heather. To say this is all painful for everyone involved is an understatement. But we need the proper perspective..."let the one who is without sin cast the first stone." I absolutely can't be that person, though its the easiest thing to do, to allow myself to stand as judge. It's much harder to stand within, without judging. Thank you for sending the clarion call and rallying us all around the common need for humility.

  6. Yes, yes, it is horribly painful! I have felt sick over the whole mess. But I can't love the victims by hating, despising and distancing myself from the perpetrators. I abhor what they did but I can't hate them. Love doesn't work that way. Either you love everyone or you love no-one. By love I don't mean a feeling, an emotion; I mean a choice...

    Michael D., thank you for your readership, but the link you sent has the very tone to which I'm objecting in the post. I will not put it up.

  7. Heather,

    I have no words to better this conversation, for you have said all that could possibly bring light to the darkness already.

    I especially love your last comment in which you pointed out that love for victims never comes in the form of hatred for the perpetrator. That is an excellent point; I am glad you called our attention to that.

  8. So true, so true, Heather. Easy said than done, but you make a choice not a feeling or emotion. Thank God, for a home on earth while we are on our journey to eternity. When Christ stood with that woman accused of adultery, no one stood with Him. He gave us an example what do with the "rejects of the world". I am no better. I have my own sins. May I have the strength to stand when no one else chooses the unpopular side. Thank you, Heather, for sharing your reflection on this most painful, and shameful issue. It does hurt us all. We are the Church. Let us all heal together.

  9. As angry as stuff like this makes me when I read or hear about it, at the same time I can't help thinking: I'm a sinner, just like them, and am I not called to pray for them (at the very least) and serve them?

    Or will Christ write my own name and sins on the ground, just as He did of those who brought the woman caught in adultery to Him, should I refuse and pick up a stone?

    I think I'll let the stone drop from my hand this time, and choose a better path.

  10. Jason,

    "I think I'll let the stone drop from my hand this time, and choose a better path." Would that more of us would choose this as our default.

    P.S. Hope you're continuing to cook up good things in the kitchen.

    Dear Heather,
    There is something in all of this that is timely for my consideration of what my Lent should be about. I think it will be more profound that giving up coffee or whatever and I will probably land flat on my face before the cock crows.

  11. Owen,

    Thank you. I wish it were that easy, to simply let go of the stone, especially when stories like this break. Sometimes the Lord has to pry it out of my clenched hand.

    Still cooking, and you are welcome, as always, to stop by for a bite, as it were, even virtually.

  12. The church has to acknowledge this horror and deal with it appropriately through the judicial system.
    It's way past time the covering up, the shoving the priest to an outer parish-is over.

    The church will always survive; but to continue its' work, it must acknowledge these abuses and correct the past actions.

    Forgiveness? We/I can leave that up to God. The victims must have justice and counselling.

  13. I admire you so much I follow your bog regularly and am a Catholic convert. I am also a teacher, but my heart is broken. I cannot, no matter how hard I pray for the perpetrators of this crime, come to reconciliation. But in the end I will tell you that I am still Catholic and trying to get it.

  14. thank you for this, Heather. I was challenged last weekend because I was doing a presentation on forgiveness and the sacrament of reconciliation for our 2nd grade parents (who were at a retreat with their children who will be making their first confession this coming Saturday).

    Then I remembered the story about Rudolf Hoess -- the Auschwitz commandant-- who moved from a young Catholic angry with his priest for what he thought was a violation of the the Nazi requesting to see a priest prior to his 1947 execution for war crimes. I think I read it from your blog,but you can search for the story on the internet.
    For the first time, I realized that Saints Edith Stein, Maximilian Kolbe, and Faustina may very well have been a part of the 'communion of the saints' who were praying for the redemption of such Nazis as Hoess. Edith and Maximilian, of course, died at Auschwitz. From his prison cell, Hoess could hear the summon-to-prayers bells of the Carmelite convent where Faustina had died in 1938. It was to those same nuns that Father Lohen went to request prayer for himself and for Hoess before going to the prison to hear Hoess' confession.
    To the parents, I put this in context of the Newtown kilings..and the necessity to pray for killers as well as victims.
    All we can do is pray -- but what a powerful weapon prayer is!

  15. We must forgive as God does. It's not easy? Of course not. It takes work but most importantly it requires prayer. That's our first and only option. The more we pray the easier it is to forgive. Remember, we must forgive to attain Heaven. Work on it. You'll find it easier and easier as you rely on prayer. When we begin to feel peace about the matter, then we'll know we are beginning to overcome our sin of unforgiveness. When we reach that point we will live better, feel better and see Heaven at the end of the tunnel of darkness that satan loves to darkness. We must overcome the lack of forgiveness, or else...we won't feel that ultimate peace.

  16. Just wanted to thank you all for weighing in on this situation that is so hard, so delicate, so impervious to being tied up in a neat package. Yes, hate the sin; no, don't hate the sinner. Yes, there is error: how can I bring truth? Yes, there is discord: how can I bring harmony? None of this happens on the instant: the admission of my own complicity, absorbing the rage of those who think rage is the answer,even to WANT reconciliation means a years-long, rocky slog.

    You console me. You encourage me. You accompany me...

  17. Thank you, Heather. I have spent most of my adult life reading about Ireland, and in so doing reading writers like James Joyce who stepped away from the Church and exposed the sins and hypocrisy of its members, often priests. And yet, as an adult convert to Catholicism, I realized that the Church is a microcosm of humanity--humanity entrusted with responsibility, prone to err and fall, but with the gift of God at its center. Indeed, the epiphany that Peter was kind of a goof--"hey, Lord, we can beat this thing, don't worry"--the Peter who betrayed Him--and still, maybe because of that, that Christ chose him to be the rock, that was a wonderful turning point for me. Christ's embrace of the abject, of which you speak so eloquently in your books, of which I have reason to believe Joyce appreciated as he matured from the young disappointed rebel he represents in his works--this is what drew me to the Church, and gives me hope amidst the worst failing of humanity, both within and outside the Church.

  18. It is difficult for me, a victim of sexual abuse (, to forgive my abuser, but I have. It is even more difficult for me to forgive the bishops that covered up the crimes of the perpetrators in order to prevent scandal. Protecting an adult who has molested even one child, one time (statistically proven to be rare among molesters), dismisses the pain, trauma and horror that the victim endured and would endure for life. Moving an abusing priest to another diocese, or sending him for "treatment" and then reassigning him, without ever contacting the police, even making sure to not refer the offender to particular therapists for fear they would report the crime to the police, as Cardinal Mahony and Monsignor Curry did is criminal behavior. It is obstruction of justice. It is not lack of love to hold someone accountable for their actions. Both the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children and the bishops and other clergy who protected them should be held accountable.


I WELCOME your comments!!!