The difficulties the Church now faces, in the wake of the recent report on clerical abuse by the grand jury of Pennsylvania, present a unique crisis for those men who are in the midst of discerning a vocation. For this reason, we would like to share with you the following reflections on the current scandal, the past actions of the Church, and what is needed as we (clergy, religious, and laity) move forward together. The first below is a reflection given at Evening Prayer on the Feast of Saint Augustine by Very Rev. Michael DiGregorio, O.S.A., Prior Provincial of the Villanova Province. The second is a letter addressed to the Augustinians of the Midwest Province by the Prior Provincial, Very Rev. Anthony Pizzo, O.S.A.
Feast of Saint Augustine, August 28, 2018 Reflection at Vespers II St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery Villanova, PA
At the opening of our Provincial Chapter in June, I said at the Mass of installation that we Augustinians do not exist unto ourselves nor for ourselves alone, that our life can be understood only in the wider context of the Church. As members of the Church we experience what the Church experiences, we rejoice in its moments of celebration and we mourn in its moments of sorrow.
For this reason, it seems to me that we cannot celebrate this Feast today without reference to the heaviness, confusion, disappointment and anger which the Church and so many of its members are experiencing at this moment in time. And if we are to pay honor to Saint Augustine on this occasion as I think he would have us do – being the good and faithful shepherd that he was - we do well to listen to his advice. It is a difficult time for the Church, for faith-filled lay men and women, for us religious, for clergy, for those of you who are at the beginning stages of your discernment and, if there is any light at all in what seems significant darkness, it is, we hope and pray, that the exposure of misdeeds, concealment, and the abuse of authority is a necessary and important step in the long path toward healing for those who have been suffering, and for the Church itself!
To those of us and those whom we serve, who find the present moment difficult, we recall Augustine’s well-known words, “You say, the times are troublesome, the times are burdensome, the times are miserable. Live rightly and you will change the times … Those who are hurt are human beings; those by whom they are hurt are also human beings. So, change human beings and the times will be changed” (Serm. 311, 8).
This is not at all a surprising statement from someone whose entire life and legacy are characterized precisely by the process he himself recommends, and which we ordinarily refer to as conversion. We remember that Augustine’s motivation in choosing religious life in community after baptism was to keep his own conversion process alive and to invite like-minded believers to do the same. In that light, we can think of our vocation to religious life, especially the Augustinian expression of it, as a call to remain men committed to life-long interior change, to spiritual growth – it’s the way in which we together work on changing ourselves so that we might also contribute to changing the times.
There are two things we celebrate on August 28th and they are intimately connected one to another: the anniversary of the death of Augustine which was the final and total change in him, effected not by him, however, but by God; and secondly, as is true almost always in the anniversaries of the saints, it is the day on which we celebrate the holiness of Augustine, which we can understand as the joint initiative of both God and himself. Augustine became a saint because he was faithful to the goal he had set out for himself: never to stop responding to the call he had received to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. “God calls us to correct ourselves,” Augustine says, “and invites us to do penance. He calls us through the wonderful gifts of his creation, and he calls us by granting time for life. He calls us through the reader and the preacher. He calls us with the innermost force of our thoughts. He calls us with the scourge of punishment, and he calls us with the mercy of his consolation.” (Comm. On Psalm 102, 16)
God is calling us, brothers, as he is calling the entire Church – now through the difficult reminders of personal human weakness and of institutional failure. He calls us, of course, to compassion and action on behalf of those who suffer, but also to a new way of being Church. It might not yet be clear to us what role we will have to play in this transformation, but it seems undeniably important that we be attentive and willing to take our part, with the same love for the Church and its members that Augustine had, and from a sure conviction that the renewal of the Church begins with the renewal of each of us and of our community. May our celebration today be a recommitment to this resolve.
Letter to the Augustinians of the Midwest Province
August 24, 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In light of the recent report on clerical abuse by the grand jury of Pennsylvania, I have felt compelled to address this by briefly commenting on how disheartening this has been. Just the idea, let alone the evidence produced, of over 1000 children and young people abused by hundreds of clergy and religious is stunning.
Although this is not a “new” revelation regarding the crime and sin of sexual abuse of minors by clergy and religious in the Church, hearing it again for the first time in this latest disclosure from several Catholic dioceses of the state of Pennsylvania continues to add to the shame and embarrassment of an institution that was designed to care for and shepherd the most vulnerable members of its flocks.
The words of the Prophet Jeremiah are echoed in a timely way: What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for, says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23,1 - NLT).
I hope these latest revelations compel us to reflect deeper about our roles and responsibilities as pastors and teachers of young people entrusted to our care spiritually and emotionally. Also, I hope that we are already acquainted with the protocol spelled out in the Province’s Handbook on Maintaining Ethical Ministry with Minors and Adults.
I encourage our Augustinian communities to spend time in prayer and reflection together processing how this affects us collectively and, at the same time, how we can be agents of change in the institutional Church as well as in the environment overall. Sexual abuse and other forms of abuse run rampant in all sectors of life, besides the Church. It’s present in our homes, workplace, schools, and in the political realm. Let us listen to our people and to one another. Although we are wounded ourselves, God’s grace and mercy will strengthen our resolve to accompany many who are hurting and yearn for healing as we seek healing for ourselves collectively and personally.
I strongly encourage you to read the Holy Father’s Letter to the People of God dated 20 August 2018 and to share this message with whom you live, work and minister.
Very Rev. Anthony B. Pizzo, O.S.A.