(Fourth Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on April 25, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Acts 13: 14, 43-52.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2010]
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is extremely powerful.
It has the power to change the greatest sinner into the greatest saint.
It has the power to bring hope to those on the verge of despair.
It has the power to destroy falsehood with truth, and to diffuse hatred with love.
It has the power to address the deepest longings of the human heart.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to do all these things—and more.
Which is precisely why a lot of people fear it and hate it so much!
This fear and hatred go back to the earliest days of the Church, as we heard a few moments ago in our first reading from Acts 13. There we were told that Paul and Barnabas went into a synagogue in Antioch one sabbath day and began to preach the Gospel with great effectiveness. People were there in large numbers and they were listening attentively. And how did the enemies of the apostles respond to this message of truth and hope and love? It says, “They were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.”
Violent abuse. It sounds like what the New York Times typically hurls at the Catholic Church on its editorial pages, does it not? It’s definitely what the Times and other secular news outlets have been hurling at Pope Benedict XVI in recent weeks—which is what I want to talk about for a few moments today.
I mention the New York Times, incidentally, because most other newspapers and media outlets in this country follow its lead—for better or for worse.
In this case, it’s for worse.
First of all, let me say that this topic is not something which is pleasant to preach about or pleasant to hear about, but I think the subject needs to be addressed, because our Holy Father is currently being accused of doing terrible things that he didn’t do.
The background of these accusations has been the recent revelations of priestly sexual abuse in Ireland and other places in Europe, and the gross mishandling of some of these cases by certain bishops and religious superiors. Pope Benedict, for his part, has been very clear in his condemnation of these evil acts and in his support for the victims.
In doing this, he’s acted like the strong and loving spiritual father that he is.
But to the enemies of the Church, that’s not enough. Consequently, they’ve twisted the facts about certain cases—the most noteworthy concerning an abusive priest in the Archdiocese of Munich and an abusive priest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—to make it appear that, during the years when he was a bishop in Munich and later the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, Benedict either ignored the crimes of abusers or approved of them remaining in active ministry.
Both of those accusations are categorically false!
I won’t get into all the details of these cases—there’s no time to do that in a Sunday homily—but I will say that if you’re interested in the truth of what really happened and why, go to the Catholic League’s web site (Catholic League News Releases), and read some of Dr. Bill Donahue’s recent news releases. They’re very enlightening. They give you lots of facts that most people in the mainstream media conveniently leave out of their news reports.
Speaking of Dr. Donahue, one of the points he has made over and over again in television interviews and in his many writings is that this attack on the Holy Father is not by accident. It’s done for a definite purpose: to discredit the Church’s teaching, especially on matters of personal morality. As George Weigel said in a recent column he wrote: “[The] enemies of the Church [have seen] an opportunity to discredit Catholic moral teaching by painting the Church as a hypocritical criminal conspiracy of sexual abusers and their enablers.”
The logic they want people to embrace in their minds is simple: The Church is run by evil men; therefore what the Church teaches must be wrong. So don’t believe it.
Another way to look at it is this: The enemies of the Church, who actively support evils like abortion, so-called gay marriage, contraception, euthanasia and the like—who cannot defend their views on purely rational grounds—try to make a case for what they believe by attacking those of us who oppose their ideas.
In other words, since they can’t discredit the Gospel message directly through sound intellectual argument, they try to discredit the message indirectly by discrediting the messengers (the pope, the bishops, priests and even lay people who support Church teaching).
What happened to Paul and Barnabas in that synagogue in Antioch all those years ago, happens in our own culture today—just in a slightly different form.
Let me conclude this morning by giving you a few insights that can help you keep all of this “news” in proper perspective.
Here I will again quote George Weigel: “The sexual abuse of the young is a global plague. Portraying the Catholic Church as its epicenter is malicious and false. Forty to 60 percent of sexual abuse takes place within families. There were 290,000 reported cases of abuse in public schools in 1991 to 2000.”
By the way, I did the math. If each school year is 180 days, that means there were, on average, 161 acts of abuse in public schools in the United States each and every school day during the 1990s! This is why Charol Shakeshaft, the Virginia Commonwealth University professor who studied this issue for the government several years ago, said : “The physical abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”
That means we should hear at least 100 times as many stories about it in the daily news. But, of course, we don’t.
Something else to keep in mind as you hear these reports about the Holy Father and the Catholic Church: realize that there are many, many similar stories involving other individuals from other groups that are being totally ignored (besides those involving teachers). For example, three weeks ago, as the Times was bashing Pope Benedict all over its pages, an orthodox rabbi in New York City named Lebovits was convicted on 8 counts of molesting a Brooklyn boy; a few days later, a rabbi was arrested in Arizona for raping a 7-year-old girl in New York 10 years ago.
The New York Times ignored both stories. Maybe they just didn’t have room.
Finally, here’s something else the entire liberal media conveniently ignores in its current reporting about the Church: In 2009, here in the United States, there were only six credible cases of the sexual abuse of minors. Six in a Church which has roughly 68,000,000 members!
Now, to be sure, even one act is too many; but this does provide an important message about the effectiveness of the programs that most bishops have put into effect in recent years. As Weigel said: “Having learned the lessons of 2002, the Catholic Church in America today is likely the safest environment for children in the country. No institution working with the young—not the public schools, not the teachers unions, not the Scouts—has done as much to face its past failures in this area and to put in place policies to prevent such horrors in the future.”
As Catholics, we should never fear the truth. Jesus had a Judas among his first 12 priests, and the truth is there have been Judases in the priesthood ever since. And there have been many Judases among the laity as well—for example, the lay professors in Catholic universities who teach things contrary to the faith and who corrupt the minds of impressionable young people.
They, too, are Judases.
But in the midst of all this, there are many other clerics and lay people—the vast majority—who are doing God’s work faithfully and leading many to salvation in Christ.
Today we pray for the victims of sexual abuse in families, in schools, in religious institutions and in the wider culture. May God give them the grace to heal and to forgive. And we pray for ourselves and for one another, that we will be among those faithful priests and lay people in the Church who witness to the powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ by the things we say, and especially by the things we do.