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Transcending Human Weakness and Sun Among the Clergy
Transcending Human Weakness and Sun Among the Clergy
By Bishop Tod Brown, Orange County Catholic - March 2, 2002
During these Lenten Days we cast our eyes toward the horizon awaiting the first glimmer of Easter morning and that joyous refrain of the Paschal exultet: "Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead and shed His peaceful light on all humankind."
These days of Lent find their rhyme and reason in the shimmer of the Easter morning when that "Morning Star which never sets," Jesus, the Risen Lord, finds us watching and waiting with joy and hope.
Many of us will join in the Easter Vigil, watching and waiting for the light of the Christ. We will stand in the darkness of night holding a candle of faith. Year after year we glory in that holy moment when all the Church is washed in a sea of flickering candles, all of which have drawn their spark from the "Easter candle, a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God."
In that light we are a priestly people, a holy nation, consecrated to God's glory and honor. On the Easter Vigil we will gratefully witness those whom God's mercy has chosen to join us in the grace and dignity of that royal priesthood bestowed upon us by our baptism. Together with them, we will renew our baptismal promises and our sincere desire to be joined with Christ, who in the days of Holy Week reveals himself as both the victim and the priest. Our own dignity as Christians draws its strength and its meaning from the priestly acts of Jesus. Our Lenten observances--fasting, almsgiving, and prayer--in preparation for Holy Week and the rites of the Sacred Triduum draw us into the mystery of this priesthood of the baptized where we all die with Christ in order to rise with Him in glory.
The ministerial priesthood of the bishop and his brother priests finds its true meaning and function in service to that one priesthood of the faithful that we all share by our common baptism, the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The ministerial priesthood expressed in the offices of teaching, governing and sanctifying serves all the baptized so they likewise may "exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity." (Lumen Gentium n. 10) The ministerial priesthood is a calling and a sacred duty entrusted to my brother priests and me here in the Diocese of Orange. We do not take this upon ourselves by our own initiative. We acknowledge that the Good Shepherd who laid down His life is the One who does the choosing. His wisdom and mercy has entrusted us this honor. When we respond to His grace and follow His example then all the Body of Christ rejoices. When we fail to respond to that grace or seek our way then all the Body suffers.
The vibrancy and vitality of this local Church is a testimony to the beauty of Christ's priestly ministry lived out faithfully by both clergy and people. In recent months it has become very clear how the tragedy of human weakness and sin among the members of the ministerial priesthood have wounded the Church and marred the priestly image of Christ. Priests here and in other parts of the country have betrayed that sacred trust by which we serve you and you allow us to serve Christ in you. Many of these tragic episodes happened years ago when both the Church and society were less informed about the nature and causes of these flaws, but the pain of those grave sins still embitter many hearts and sourly wound the work of the Gospel. They have not only abused the lives of some of our community's most vulnerable, they have abused the trust given to them for the good of the Church.
When I came to this diocese I was made aware of the earnest efforts of Bishop McFarland and his associates to ensure that this sacred trust between priest and people was protected through careful policies and procedures governing the selection of candidates for the priesthood as well as the conduct and manners of priests in the ministry. The diocese also had established safeguards to ensure the proper conduct of all of the Church's ministers, with particular attention to the protection of children and all those who are most vulnerable. Any misconduct that abuses the sacred trust of God's people is wrong. It betrays the common priesthood that binds us together and deeply wounds the Body of Christ.
In my tenure I have encouraged the development of even more thorough policies and procedures taking into account the growing concern for sexual misconduct in the Church and society. These policies provide that any priest found guilty of sexual misconduct with a minor will be removed from ministry. All complaints or reports of clergy sexual misconduct with minors will be appropriately addressed by appointed lay personnel as well as clergy representatives.
The Diocese of Orange now sponsors an Assistance Ministry program specifically to minister to those parties and families of parties who have made a complaint of sexual misconduct against clergy, religious and lay personnel assigned in the diocese. The Assistance Ministry Coordinator, a licensed mental health professional, is available to assist those who come forward with complaints of sexual misconduct, insure the process of investigation and review of such complaints is initiated, offer pastoral assistance to alleged and proven victims of abuse, and manage the ongoing care offered to them. Through the Assistance Ministry Program we have renewed the diocese's longstanding commitment to provide psychological counseling for victims and family members.
Our diocesan Web site, www.rcbo.org, now provides a complete explanation of the manner in which to report incidences of sexual misconduct by clergy, religious and lay personnel assigned in the Diocese of Orange (click here to read more on this topic). A toll-free and confidential telephone report line, 1-800- 364-3064 has been made available for reports. Even anonymous reports will be addressed.
In an effort to prevent injury, we are sponsoring educational and awareness programs for the faithful and the clergy. The text of an awareness pamphlet, "Respecting the Boundaries: Keeping Ministerial Relationships Healthy and Holy," is displayed on the Web site. This pamphlet will be printed in English and Spanish and provided to the faithful in their respective parishes within the next few months.
Respecting Ministerial Boundaries seminars and workshops have and will continue to be presented to clergy here in the Diocese of Orange. Representatives from our Department of Catholic Schools and our Department of Human Resources are currently in dialogue with the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children--California Branch (NCMEC) to develop safety educational programs for the children and youth of our diocese, the purpose of which is to teach our children about accessing help, awareness of the problem, and assertiveness skills. Our Catholic school principals already have been provided information on training programs for parent volunteers to present a nationally recognized program of safety education to our children and minors. Further study is ongoing for a diocese-sponsored three-year program presented in all of our schools, as well as the possibility of establishing a link from the diocesan Web site to the NCMEC educational Web site.
I want to enunciate clearly for you the shared commitment of my brother priests and I, as well as all the men and women who are at the service of the Church, to protect the welfare of all God's children. We are committed to ensure that the ministerial priesthood serves the dignity of our common priesthood and builds up the Body of Christ, whose power and glory shines even through our human weakness. In His light we are a priestly people, a holy nation, consecrated to God's glory and honor.