This article appeared in the June, 2002 issue of Catholic World Report
Victims, Scandals, Truth, Compassion
by Michael D. O'Brien
Time moves with incredible speed as one gets older. It accelerates especially as one's children advance into adolescence and begin to move off into the world, carrying with them whatever strengths and weaknesses we have imparted. A few years ago our eldest son left for a minor seminary. He fought hard to be allowed to go, and he had an amazing array of arguments to support his desire. The only thing my wife and I had against it was his age. Fourteen is a short number of years to have lived. Is it enough time to outfit a boy to meet the modern world? Has he been sufficiently formed in the hurly-burly of family life to believe in the truths which we are called by God to live, and to know that we shall sometimes fail in the attempt? Has he learned mercy as well as justice? Truth as well as compassion? I stayed up many nights talking the matter over with my wife, praying, thinking — and worrying, as fathers are prone to do in these times.
On one especially dark night, a few days before our son's departure, I couldn't sleep, and my mind went back to the season of my life when I too was gone from my family. I had just turned thirteen years old. We lived in the Canadian north at the time, in a village high above the Arctic circle. Its population included a few hundred Inuit and a dozen or so whites. The one-room school taught only as far as the seventh grade, and so that September I left to join the other children combed out of the vast emptiness of the north. Just before freeze-up we were flown to a boarding school in the western Arctic. This establishment was comprised of a classroom building which taught grades one to twelve, and two massive institutional residences for the children, Catholic and Anglican. I was the former, and found myself suddenly plunged into a strange world called "Catholic Hostel-Senior Boys."
It was a frightening place, for I knew no one among the other boys. I was the only white, and one of the youngest as well. It was my first time away from my family, and my first experience of a militaristic regime. The regimentation of our section of the hostel was due partly to the need to create order in the lives of sixty boys. But a large measure of the fearful atmosphere was due to the man who ran it: a layman whom I shall call Mr. H, the supervisor. To this day I do not know if he was a genuinely split personality, or a gifted actor, or simply a human being torn by powerful opposing forces.
To say that he was a sadistic homosexual would be to suggest an evil cartoon character, a monster. He was a man, and a very fallen man. Under his authority we presented a disciplined, if subdued, veneer to any scrutinizing eye which might peer in from the outside. He could be charming to the hostel administrator during the periodic inspections. He could be obsequious to the bishop during his annual visit. He appeared to frequent the sacraments. He could even be quite kind to some of the older boys whom he formed into an inner circle of initiates. They met in his bedroom after lights-out each night, and various rumors rippled through the dormitory regarding just what they were doing in there. Our wildest imaginations could only conjecture that smoking and "booze" were involved. We did not for a moment suspect anything worse. As it turned out, there was a public trial the following year and the inner circle gave testimony about their long-standing sexual relations with Mr. H, sending him off to prison for many years.
Just before leaving home to enter this institution I had a conversation with my mother. Using the canny argumentation of a thirteen-year old, I had harangued her about the uselessness of praying the rosary and the Mass. Both of them, I told her in my adolescent arrogance, were boring, boring, boring! She listened patiently, and combated my objections with her insights, but I swept them away one after another. Finally she burst into tears, helpless in the face of my resistance. In the end she just begged me to keep praying and to try to understand.
To this day I am grateful for the mercy of God which protected me from Mr. H's attentions. From the moment of my arrival at the hostel he exhibited undue interest in me, as he did toward a few other new boys. They came from a variety of native peoples: Inuit, Indian, and Métis (mixed blood); the common factor among them was that they were all handsome muscular fellows. Some of them were drawn into the circle of initiates. But at six o'clock every morning I was mysteriously awakened by I knew not what. Considering my lifelong habit of rising from sleep only under extreme duress, this in retrospect seems semi-miraculous. I got up in the sleeping dormitory, dressed, and went down in the dark to the chapel in a distant wing of that huge institution, where a priest was saying Mass, usually alone. And for the rest of the ten long months of my stay in that dreadful place, I did not miss a single daily Mass. I also developed a desire to pray the rosary. This was not the fruit of a natural piety, for I had only recently argued my case against prayer to my mother. I believe it was my guardian angel arming me for the struggle to come. It was also the Lord feeding and strengthening me, though I had little feeling then about the Mass. It was also, I think, the prayers of my family. Something was definitely making me behave contrary to my inclinations, which were slovenly, selfish, and indifferent to religion. It was this same something that protected me when the invitation came to enter the world of corruption.
I was awakened in the middle of the night by the supervisor's favorite boy. "Get up," he said, "Mr. H wants you!"
I was suddenly wide awake, and said with perfect inner peace and certainty, "No."
This, too, was out of character, because I was obedient by nature and a conformist at the time. To resist the will of anyone, let alone a man who was prone to irrational outbursts and who was also our absolute master, was practically unthinkable. My act of resistance was even more inexplicable when I consider the everyday events that occurred in our dorm: discipline by slaps and humiliations, excessive and unnecessary communal nudity, verbal abuse, sexual and racial slurs. I also recall our communal shower which the supervisor observed every night, and into which he once burst fully clothed, flailing about him with a rubber hose and raising welts on several of us as he shrieked about lust and impurity. The situation was made worse by the fact that for the entire school year we were forbidden to leave the hostel grounds except to go to the classrooms across the fenced yard. Within this enclosed environment, there were constant attacks upon anyone who did not cringe before the iron will which ruled it. Most of the boys learned to curry favor or to live under continual intimidation, and in the case of a few, to acquiesce to Mr. H's more personal invitations.
The morning following my refusal to go to his bedroom I entered a period of suffering. Mr. H began a campaign against me that was both merciless and relentless. He forbade my friends to speak to me. He invented an ugly nick-name which was to be my official name henceforth, and any boy caught using my real name would be slapped, (or strapped, if Mr. H was in an especially bad mood). Anyone caught speaking with me, in fact, would suffer the consequences. Sad to say, most of the boys complied with this. Thus, I became for a time a pariah, a scapegoat, an outcast. My friends ceased to be friends. I became nearly invisible. I was frequently brow-beaten and mocked by the supervisor. Some of the boys studied his behavior and emulated it, I suppose because in social situations where everyone's dignity and value are severely reduced, there are always those who will find someone lower on the totem pole to abuse, thereby asserting a little fugitive power, reclaiming a diminished sense of self by asserting superiority. I was given a disproportionate number of the worst jobs—toilet scrubbing became my area of expertise. My mail was opened and censored. My one attempt to describe my plight in a letter home merely brought upon me an angry rebuke and an order to rewrite it. There were no telephones in the remote village where my parents lived, and the government radio network was not open to private communication, so I could not contact home.
Years later I came to understand the combination of alienation and oppression as a technique of dehumanization. It renders potential victims more pliable. Weeks passed and the man's malice never abated. The winter was endless, dark, the sun shining only a few hours each day. That I might at some time in the future return home was a meaningless abstraction. My total reality was a lonely, hopeless, and apparently eternal suffering. I spent a lot of time weeping privately and praying, still rising before dawn to attend Mass. I could not understand the man's hatred, nor did I suspect the sexual roots of his relentless persecution. It did not occur to me that I had done nothing wrong, or that I might mention the state of things to the hostel administration. I merely assumed that I had no rights, and that any adult authority was beyond questioning.
As the supervisor sank deeper into secret sin with his favorite boys, and his emotional outbursts more and more revealed his inner chaos, fear increasingly controlled us. Yet there was one person who did not succumb. His name was Gordon. He was the son of native trappers who had bequeathed to him a natural dignity. He never said much, but he did not react to the psychological intimidation as the rest of us did. He did not rebel against it; neither did he flinch under it. He remained himself. Everyone respected him, even the supervisor. Without power, he refused to bend to power. He was the only one who ever accompanied me to Mass.
Sometimes when I was bullied or harangued by the supervisor, the other students staring at the floor in frozen silence, Gordon would glance my way, and merely look into my eyes. Never in those ten months did he utter a word of sympathy, but when things were at their worst he was always there with the look. The look puzzled me. Raised in a family where verbal communication was dominant, I knew that his look was an expression of solidarity, but I could not then understand that a good deal more was being said through those eyes. I did not understand that love is primarily a language of presence. And that the nature of any form of love is revealed in its acts more than its words.
Far from the hostel, miles back in the bush, there was a shack which scouts and hikers occasionally used. As a reward for good marks in school, a few of the older boys were permitted to camp there during the early part of Holy Week, returning to the hostel for the Holy Thursday liturgy. Because my marks were high, the hostel administrator suggested that I be permitted to accompany them. Mr. H was not pleased by the suggestion, but he could think of no reason to oppose it. Gordon was also included. Set free for the first time in months, the other boys went mad with joy, dancing on their snowshoes, yelling and laughing like maniacs, racing through the forest with the exhilaration of those who are given an unexpected liberation.
Reaching the shack, we lit a huge bonfire in the snowdrifts outside. Sweet birch smoke scented our clothing. We gazed enraptured into a fire which pushed back the growing darkness, stirring deep memories in us: heat, light, home! Although I was to some extent invisible, and still an outcast, this temporary release from prison had restored most of the boys to normal behavior, latent humanity being never far below the surface. Someone passed around a native delicacy, a bag of "drymeat," shredded moose meat smoked over a willow fire and mixed with brown sugar. Gordon made sure the bag was passed to me, accompanied by the look. Never had a meal tasted so good.
On the eve of Holy Thursday, our last night in the shack, we lay on the floor in sleeping bags around the cracked wood stove, watching reflections of the flames flicker on the ceiling. My tension and depression had receded only a little. In the darkness a shape approached and firmly took up my hand. It was Gordon. He unclenched my fingers, and into my hand he placed a piece of bread spread with butter and jam. He closed my fingers over it, and without a word slipped back to his own sleeping bag. One by one everyone fell asleep as I lay gazing into the night, tears streaming down my face. The warm bread lay in my hands like a miracle. Slowly, savoring each bite, I ate the bread, and slept.
How do I assess my experience now? First of all I must say that the passage of forty years has erased all pain, and left in its wake a curious gratitude for that year. It taught me a great deal about human nature and about the dynamics of social groupings. I forgave the man a long time ago, and hold no ill feeling toward him, wherever he may be. I feel pity for him and I pray for him, but I do not ever minimize the effects of his sin. Even so, his effect on me was nowhere near as deep as the damage he inflicted on those boys whom he sexually abused. And that is why the rhetoric that has arisen around the recent scandals of priests abusing boys strikes me as somewhat off the mark. The secular media is using it, of course, as a cudgel to beat Catholicism itself. Liberal Catholics (irony of ironies) are using it to promote the cause of married priests and women's ordination. Statistics are being spin-doctored left and right to reinforce sociopolitical and ecclesial agendas of wildly differing sorts. A huge industry of public blame is growing up around the disclosure of clerical sins, and it is generating a spiral of outrage and hatred. New evils grow upon the rotting soil of unrepentance, and the devil harvests it for all it is worth.
A great deal is being written about "help" for the victims and "compassion" for the victimizers. Very little is being said about the absolutes of love and justice. In his April 23  address to the cardinals of the United States, whom he had called to Rome to discuss the crisis, Pope John Paul II set the proper context. He spoke the mind of Christ, the mind of the universal Church, when he said, "The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God."
He went on to say: "It must be absolutely clear to the Catholic faithful, and to the wider community, that Bishops and superiors are concerned, above all else, with the spiritual good of souls. People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young. They must know that Bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life."
Albeit with many exceptions, a great number of shepherds of souls in the particular churches have either lost, or never developed, the absolutely fundamental gift of spiritual fatherhood. A true father instinctively knows that his primary duty is not so much the administration of a well-run house, as it is the formation and protection of the most vulnerable members of the family who live in that house. Such a house becomes a true home. If the children whom he loves, and for whom he bears an ultimate responsibility, are violated by an individual, he does not merely move the individual to another household full of children. He acts. He acts, as the Holy Father put it, "with clarity and determination." He does not cover up crimes, he does not weigh the situation for its sociopolitical implications or its public relations losses, he does not exercise "compassion" on the criminal to the extent that the compassion due to the victim is negated. He instantly removes the offender from any influence over the children and ensures that he never again has access to them. He does so because his chief duty is not "crisis management" or "damage control." His chief duty always and everywhere is to serve his family, to be "concerned, above all else, with the spiritual good of souls."
Among the several symptoms of the disease at the heart of liberal particular churches is the tendency to false "compassion", a frame of mind — more accurately a sentiment — which renders a person in authority either unable or unwilling to act decisively, firmly, and lovingly to protect the flock from false shepherds. By definition a false shepherd is one who does not feed or protect the flock with his very life, or who directly harms it. We must include in this definition false teachers as well as sexual abusers (many of whom were self-exonerated by the disordered moral theology and ecclesiology that is rampant in the particular churches of North America). The empirical evidence is now overwhelming: the fruit of this short-range kindness is a catastrophic long-range cruelty.
Does this mean that we are now to condemn homosexuals as persons? Of course not. Such an over-reaction would be every bit as destructive to the principle of Love as false compassion. A person with homosexual inclinations usually has not chosen to be that way. But homosexual acts, particularly paedophilia and the seduction of young adolescents, are choices of the will, choices to use other human beings as objects for the service of a false self. A person struggling with a temptation to this disorder should not place himself, or be placed, in positions of authority over the young. What possible explanation can be found for those people who do precisely that? In my own experience, I recall that Mr. H was always emotionally torn between the attraction to goodness and the compulsion to evil. Why, then, did he place himself in a situation where these inner conflicts would be aggravated? It may be that in the beginning he thought he could play around the edges of temptation, thought he could control his desires. Then, after a while, with temptation constantly staring him in the face, he may have deluded himself into thinking a little "harmless" sin was permissible. The "little" sins gradually became bigger, until eventually they devoured his life. Indeed, they dragged him into darkness, and took other lives with him.
In Canada and elsewhere, the sexual exploitation of the young has been epidemic in Catholic residential schools and orphanages. In the United States it has occurred more frequently in parochial situations. In both, the abusers have functioned under the canopy of episcopal authority, which did not act decisively to protect the innocent by preventing any recurrence, thereby contributing to the continuation of the abuse. Why this colossal failure of prudence? That is the question that haunts everyone — why? There is a chain of neglect here, a chain of accounts which will one day have to be rendered to the Lord. Why, for example, did the priest-administrator of my residential school not stringently examine the psychological, moral, and spiritual state of all applicants to the supervisor's position? Why did our supervisor's confessor, knowing of a continuous abomination occurring in his household, not instruct the penitent to remove himself immediately from a situation of extreme moral danger? Why did he not refuse absolution to this man until he complied? I do not know. Perhaps Mr. H lied to him; perhaps not. Maybe he had spun a web of lies so complex that he no longer knew himself what was true and what was not true. The fact remains, however, that sixty fatherless boys were placed in the hands of a man who should have been a father to them, who should have been an image of Christ to them. Instead, he became an instrument of degradation.
It is not good enough to say that he was a wounded man, and that there were causes in his own childhood which led to these evil choices. Psychology, by explaining causes, has all too often lifted away responsibility, minimized guilt, maximized conflict resolution. This was the mistake made by the administrator who was, as I recall, a good priest, but one who did not like conflict, who was "concerned above all else" with a smoothly running institution. He could not see the signs because, I suspect, he did not want to see them. Or if he saw the signs, he minimized them. The well-being of individual young souls was not as important as the reputation of the institution. Years later, in fact, he permitted the situation to occur again, with a new abuser and new victims. I remember this priest as a "tolerant" man of kindly temperament. He was meek, but without the courage necessary for true Christian meekness. He did not seem to know that sometimes charity must take the form of a fierce fatherly hand protecting the flock from the ravages of wolves. It is neither tolerant nor Christ-like to gaze compassionately upon the wolves as they devour the lambs.
To return to the current scandals: How is it possible that such horrors occur within the very household of God? How is it that year after year certain priests can maintain a dualistic pattern of competent pastoral practice and secret corruption. The psychology of denial is a major factor. An expert on child abuse once told me that most abusers cannot consciously face the objective reality of their guilt. Those who commit such acts must deny the import of their guilt to themselves in order to live with themselves. Consequently, many of them feel no guilt whatsoever.
The Church must drink from the springs of wisdom which transcend ages and cultures. The Old Testament, so harsh on corrupters of the innocent, is also harsh on those who should have protected the victims and failed to do so (Cf. Ezekiel 3:17-27 and especially the entire 34th chapter of Ezekiel). Under the New Covenant, Jesus is equally severe: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt: 18: 6-7). Those who choose true repentance should not despair of the Father's mercy. But it is difficult for modern man to comprehend evil — personal evil. Without this awareness repentance remains beyond his grasp. Saturated in the sensuality of our times, numbed by the desacralization of being which pervades our culture, encouraged in sin by the undermining of the moral law by dissenting voices within the particular churches, he remains blinded and spiritually dead. He can perceive faith only in sociological terms or as an abstraction, a game of clever nuances that resembles more an infinity of mirrors than the splendor of the real moral cosmos. Repentance frees us, makes it possible for us to grasp the full meaning of the human person, introduces us to the great adventure of existence. In the real universe, every human person is unique, sacred, an image of God worthy of respect. The human body is a sign of the transcendent and immanent value of the person. It is a witness to the Incarnation, an icon of Christ, temple of the Holy Spirit, and thus any violation of its dignity and purpose is not only a negation of the personhood of the victim, but an affront against God.
We should not be surprised by the disclosures of the sins of clerics, for they too are bombarded by the spirit of the times. Many of them have lost the sense of sin. "The sin of the century," wrote Pope Pius XII, "is the loss of the sense of sin." We have no right to hate them, though their acts are indeed hateful. They were tempted, and they chose. Only God knows the depth of their objective guilt. And what of our share in this guilt? Have the Catholic people of the West become too busy chasing the good life, too preoccupied trying to reconcile God and Mammon? Have we fought against the corruption of our culture? Have we honestly prayed for our shepherds, or have we merely tossed generic prayers at heaven? Have we fasted for them? Have we defended the fullness of the Catholic faith in the face of liberal clerics and bishops, or have we quailed from this ugly task, thinking it impolitic and counterproductive?
At the same time, we must ask why many a bishop failed to keep a firm hand on the seminaries and Catholic universities. Did they fear conflict? Did they prefer smoothly functioning institutions with crumbling cores to the hard and often messy labor of building a true Catholic renaissance? Were they confused, distracted, compromised, fearful, dismayed by the complexity of their task? If so, why did they trust in strategies more than in grace? Why did they trust in a new class of experts more than the exigencies of the Gospel? And what of the abusive priests? When did these clerics cease to pray, sacrifice, seek the love of Christ to fill the void within themselves and heal their wounds? How did they come to think of themselves as mere administrators? How did they lose sight of their call to be apostles and shepherds? How did they become predators on their own flocks? And how did their superiors become accomplices after the fact?
Some of the crimes now coming to light were committed twenty and thirty years ago, some are as fresh as yesterday. Should we not simply forgive and forget? Forgive, yes. But what form does forgiveness take to ensure healing and freedom for all involved? Therapy? For some this may be helpful, but much of modern therapy emphasizes the deterministic view of human nature: "You did those things because of childhood influences. The Church wounded you. Your bishop didn't understand you. You were over-worked and under-appreciated." By contrast, Jesus looked into the heart of the woman taken in adultery with absolute love and truth, and this freed her to repent. "Go," he said, "and do not sin again" (John 8:11). There has been a strange numbness in this area which may be owing to the fact that, in certain circumstances, superiors themselves might be capable of similar acts, or are infected with theological Modernism, which maintains that the only real sin is social sin and that no one is going to hell.
When Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin . . . be the first to throw a stone." (John 8:7), he did not intend by these words that shepherds should become paralyzed, incapable of protecting the lambs entrusted to their care. What, then, is a bishop to do when he discovers abominable activities in the lives of his clerics? A Canadian bishop once said to me, with some dismay in his voice, that he did not know of a single Catholic rehabilitation center in North America where he could send a troubled priest, from which the priest would not return in a worse spiritual condition. A number of centers offer abundant compassion and extensive counseling programs, but he knew of none that was able to provide an effective combination of sound Catholic psychology, a true ecclesiology, and deep-reaching spiritual help. There are individual doctors and priests who minister in this way, but they are not numerous.
A psychotherapy which fails to lead a person to true repentance cannot set him free. It may only send him forth to sin again, because he has been convinced that he is not responsible. He will emerge from legalistic punishment ("truth" without love) or from popular therapies ("love" without truth) with a still-impaired sense of self-worth. Only the person who has taken responsibility for his own being can deal maturely with destructive impulses. Until that fundamental honesty is activated within the abuser, he will continue to devalue both his victims and himself.
And what of the victims? For them the past is not healed, though for some it may be buried in a shallow grave. It can take thirty years for an abused child to become an adult capable of speaking of his experience. His first words may be a cry for vengeance. If he is treated as a problem and not a person, he will go elsewhere for help. He will seek public retribution, and the media are only too happy to oblige. Alternatively, he might seek a big pay-off of silence money (thereby adding cynicism about Christ's Church to the anguish of violation). But if he is listened to, prayed with, understood, he can be helped to let go of his hatred and learn to forgive. He can become free. However, this in no way cancels the demand for objective justice. We do not excuse war criminals merely because their crimes occurred fifty years ago, or because emotional wounds were factors in their acts. To do so with child-abusers is to tell the victim that what happened to him really wasn't such a terrible thing. It is to condemn him once again to isolation and the pain of radical devaluation.
There is another factor here that is not being sufficiently examined. One might call it the psychology of victimhood: an abuser often shifts the blame for his acts onto the victim: "You seduced me! You wanted that!" or "You made me so angry (or so passionate) that I had to do that to you!"
The victim, especially a child-victim, can be easily convinced that it is his fault and not the abuser's fault. For years I carried a groundless burden of shame because I had believed that I was something to be despised. I was merely hit and insulted, yet it took years to shake off the lie. In time I came to pity my oppressor. I came to see how wretched was his existence. I understood finally that his was not so much a problem of sex as it was a problem of love, and a problem of truth. By forgiving him I became free of his sin against me. Others have had much more to forgive, and they have had a difficult time doing it.
I look back upon my experience, and I am grateful for it. It gave me a glimpse into the human heart, into the unspeakable selfishness of Mr. H, and the immense courage and nobility of Gordon. Throughout the remainder of that school year the tormenting gradually declined, Mr. H lost interest in me, and I remained more or less invisible. The unspoken communion with Gordon remained. Not long after, I returned to my family, we left the north, and began a new stage of life. I never saw Gordon again. I do not know where he is or what he does. Perhaps in the world's eyes he is a person of little consequence. But to me he will always be a living icon of Christ. In a humble steadfast way he showed me Christ-like love at a time when I thought love no longer existed. In the end it all comes down to this much-abused word, doesn't it? The Church in the Americas must awaken to the fact that there can be no genuine love without truth.
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Postscript, May, 2011: At the time I wrote the above article, I did not wish to add scandal to scandal, omitting the fact that Martin Houston, the criminal abuser who had damaged the lives of so many boys, and was convicted under law as a "dangerous sexual offender," was released after nine years in prison and then went on to apply to enter a Canadian seminary. He was accepted by the then-archbishop of St. Boniface diocese with full knowledge of the man's past, a fact which came out during a later civil trial, after the man had been ordained a priest. Now the full story is a matter of public record. While it is true that an individual committed these gravest of sins, it is also true that he found a welcoming, sympathetic environment that allowed him to go on to become the "pastor" of souls. Such is the madness that has infected many dioceses and the national bishops' conference of the particular church in my country, and in other countries as well. Justified with endlessly nuanced theology and disordered anthropology, there is a pattern of "national" ecclesial disobedience to the universal Church under Peter, compromise with sin and error, and a massive failure of Christian prudence that have blighted the Bride of Christ for several decades now. However, let us not forget that, as G. K. Chesterton once wrote, "The Church is always leaping out of the tomb, just when the world pronounces her dead."
Michael D. O'Brien
Post-postscript: In June of this year, 2011, I attended the national Truth and Reconciliation event in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, where I was one of the speakers at the first "Circle of Reconciliation." You can view the talk online via the link below. It is at the 5th video down under the headings ‘Private Statement Gathering’ and ‘Circle of Reconciliation’. Once started, you can watch all the talks in the single video (about 4.5 hours) or move the slider to hour/minute/second 4:11:30 where my part begins. It’s about 25 minutes long.
From John Paul II's address to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April, 2002:
"We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification that is urgently needed if the Church is to preach more effectively the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its liberating force. Now you must ensure that where sin increased, grace will all the more abound (cf. Rom 5:20). So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.
"God alone is the source of holiness, and it is to him above all that we must turn for forgiveness, for healing and for the grace to meet this challenge with uncompromising courage and harmony of purpose. Like the Good Shepherd of last Sunday's Gospel, Pastors must go among their priests and people as men who inspire deep trust and lead them to restful waters (cf. Ps 22:2).
"I beg the Lord to give the Bishops of the United States the strength to build their response to the present crisis upon the solid foundations of faith and upon genuine pastoral charity for the victims, as well as for the priests and the entire Catholic community in your country. And I ask Catholics to stay close to their priests and Bishops, and to support them with their prayers at this difficult time."