6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 17, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
… But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
I suppose we could use this verse
to talk about a lot of problems in the world today.
But let me focus on one you might not expect: the treasures of the Church.
If you think about, it would be pretty hard to call the Catholic Church “poor.”
In fact, we’re pretty rich.
Which might seem to run afoul of the saying “blessed are the poor, woe to the rich.
But of course, the wealth of the Church is not a problem in itself,
just as being poor is not a good thing in itself.
After all if being poor were in itself a good thing,
then we should never try to help the poor out of poverty.
Of course, Jesus is talking about how riches can corrupt us so easily,
as it’s so easy to love money more than God,
so that we must all be, as St. Matthew clarifies, “poor in spirit.”
And really, to some extent it’s good that the Church is wealthy.
For example, our wealth helps keep us independent from governments.
Or more importantly, most of the wealth we hold
is largely in beautiful religious art and magnificent churches,
built, often by the faithful poor,
as a sign of our love and praise for God.
But, given that, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if we lost all that
—we’d survive with God’s grace.
Because the Church really has two great treasures:
first, its material wealth,
but there’s a second treasure, much much more important.
You’ve all heard the story of the 3rd century martyr, St. Lawrence,
who was in charge of the finances of the Church in Rome.
One day the emperor demanded he turn over all the Church’s treasury to him.
So St. Lawrence came to before the emperor
and pointed outside to a huge crowd of poor, sick and suffering people, and said “These are the true treasures of the Church,”
The second treasure of the church is its people: you and me.
So clearly there’s nothing wrong with the Church having treasures of either kind.
The problem comes when priests and bishops use those treasures
for their own personal selfish gain or satisfaction.
Sometimes, this happens in simple and very common ways.
For example, using the money of the Church to build an opulent rectory.
Or…when a priest uses the people,
by avoiding preaching any hard teachings of the faith from the pulpit,
because he wants them to like him,
even at the risk of neglecting their souls.
He uses them for selfish emotional comfort.
But sadly, we also see it in more dramatic, terrible ways.
We see priests and bishops actually stealing money from the Church
to pay for extravagant hidden lifestyles.
And most horribly, we see it when priests and bishops abuse their people,
especially by stealing the innocence of the most vulnerable,
Of course of the abuses of the 2 kinds of treasures of the church,
the second, the abuse of the people, is by far the worst.
This last week our Bishop Burbidge, the Bishop of Arlington,
released a list of priests of the diocese
who have been at least, as he says, “credibly accused” of abuse of minors.
I hope you know that I believe strongly
that priests who are guilty of this sin are despicable,
and deserve every punishment they get in this world and in the next.
As Jesus says today:
“Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.”
But as you consider that list, it’s important for your wellbeing of spirit
to remember a few things,
First, a “credible accusation” is not the same as being found guilty
—it might be compared to a civil judge saying
there’s enough evidence to have a trial.
But about half of these priests never had any kind of trial
in the church or in civil courts,
because they were accused after they had already died,
and so never had a chance to defend themselves.
And there are at least 2 who maintain their innocence.
In the case of one of those 2,
Rome has decided that there’s not enough evidence to find him guilty,
and they have allowed him to retire, as a priest, without any public ministry
Nevertheless, some of those on the list were found guilty by the Church.
Again, if they are guilty, let them be punished on earth and in hell or purgatory.
But as horrible as they are,
worse than the crimes and sins of mere priests
against the vulnerable in the Church
are sins and crimes of those who have been given
the highest responsibility to protect and care for
these treasures of the Church—bishops and cardinals.
Whether these sins are lying and covering up and facilitating the sins of priests,
or the bishop’s own actual assaulting or manipulating of the innocent.
If there was a list of these of offenders, which there isn’t,
right at the top of the list would be
the former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.
Today/yesterday (Saturday) the Vatican finally announced
that he had been found guilty of sexual abuse
of minors and adult seminarians, including in the confessional.
Guilty as charged of the worst kind of abuse, as a high-ranking churchman.
Thanks be to God!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t revel in his crime, or even in his misfortunate,
but I do rejoice that justice has finally been served
and this evil tumor is ripped from the bowls of the Church.
That’s a good start.
But as I told you months ago,
Mister McCarrick’s abuse had been widely known
among seminarians, priests and bishops for almost 30 years,
but most of us couldn’t do anything about it
because we had no evidence, only persistent third hand accounts.
But the thing is, people who were in a position to know,
and could have investigated with authority, did nothing about it.
And he kept rising in the Church, from bishop, to archbishop to cardinal.
Finally someone did something about it—Pope Benedict XVI prohibited
the retired McCarrick from exercising public ministry,
requiring him to live a life of seclusion and penance.
But for some reason Pope Francis lifted those sanctions
and made McCarrick one of his trusted advisors,
some say giving him great influence on the selection
of new bishops and even cardinals in America.
Now, we shouldn’t assume a person’s guilt
until it’s been proven in a legitimate trial, or until they admit it themselves.
But there are accusations that specific named Vatican officials
ignored or hid official internal reports about McCarrick’s crimes
to support his promotion up the ranks.
And there are even accusations that this is part of a wide-ranging
sub-culture of homosexuals in the hierarchy.
I don’t know if any of that is true,
but since these accusations come from several highly placed sources,
including the former nuncio, to the United States, Archbishop Vigano,
it would seem that those accusations are at least as “credible”
as the “credible accusations” against the priests on the list released this week.
So, in justice they also must be thoroughly investigated,
or it’s all a bunch of hypocrisy.
But if Mr. McCarrick is simply a scapegoat–“move along, nothing to see here”–
then we are only allowing the cancerous filth to continue
to corrupt the body of the Church.
And we are begging for even great disaster.
This week the leaders of all the Bishops Conferences around the world
will gather in Rome for a Summit with the Pope
to discuss the problem of clerical child abuse,
especially the role of the bishops.
Many people hope this will be the beginning of a true reform.
But the signs are discouraging.
For example, Pope Francis said last week that
“The expectations need to be deflated…
The problems of abuse will continue.
It is a human problem, everywhere….
Moreover, the Pope named one of McCarrick’s alleged protégés,
Cardinal Cupich of Chicago,
to be one of the cardinals in charge of the summit.
Much as McCarrick was one of the bishops in charge of the Dallas meeting
17 years ago, when the bishops exempted themselves from the rules
they wrote for investigating abusive priests.
And lastly, last week, the Pope named another McCarrick protégé,
Cardinal Kevin Farrell,
to be the Vatican Camerlengo: the Cardinal who will be
temporarily in charge of the Church when the Pope dies or retires.
As they say, the optics are bad.
Now, maybe I’ve depressed you.
Some days I get a little depressed too.
Some of you may even be tempted to give up hope.
Be we can’t do that.
Earlier I mentioned that the Church has 2 treasures:
material wealth and the people of God.
But I intentionally left out the 3rd and by far the greatest treasure we have:
Jesus, and His Body on earth, the Church, that contains and hands down to us
all the spiritual gifts of Christ, including Scripture Tradition, Doctrines,
the sacraments, His Grace, and all the great Catholic saints.
As Jeremiah tells us in today’s first reading:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh.
but, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.”
I’ve said it before, we trust and follow Jesus and His Church
–we do not follow mere human beings,
even if they are bishops or priests, or cardinals, or even popes,
Yes, trust bishops and priests if they are they are following Jesus,
and helping you to do so also.
And thank God for them, and love them, respect them, and support them.
But in the end, we all, laity and priest alike,
must place our hope and trust together in Jesus and His Church.
And if we do that, as Jeremiah says today, we will be:
“like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes;
its leaves stay green;
in the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.”
As we now move more deeply into the great mystery of this Holy Mass,
let us thank the Lord for the purification He is manifesting in His Church.
But let us pray that by His almighty power,
He will continue to cleanse the filth from His Church.
And let us pray for all priests, bishops and cardinals,
that they always recognize that the treasures of the Church
are not theirs for plundering,
but they are merely poor stewards of these riches
that Christ hands on to us.