I have a heavy heart about the recent revelations of further clergy child abuse in Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. The grand jury’s report of these abuses is horrific and heart-rending. As I wear my clergy collar these days, I am aware (more than usual) of the pain and anger that many are feeling as a direct result of the evil perpetrated by those who were entrusted to represent Christ’s love to the Church and the wider world.
It is important to the well-being of this congregation that I address several issues that arise from the devastating abuse that occurred in our neighbor churches. What follows is not a meant to be a judgement or criticism of the Roman Catholic church, per se, but rather a caution to and safeguarding of our own parish family.
First, it is our policy in compliance with state law that anyone who volunteers or works with children in the church in any capacity must undergo state and federal background checks, fingerprinting, and abuse prevention training. This includes me. Furthermore, if anyone undergoes or observes any kind of abuse at this parish or any other Episcopal parish or event, please do not hesitate to call the Rev. Canon Betsy Ivey at 215-627-6434. All allegations will be taken very seriously, and all calls are confidential.
Second, child abuse and its institutional cover-up are unspeakably evil. However, such evil doesn’t happen spontaneously; it creeps. The foothold that opens the door to such creeping evil, especially in the Church, is spiritual pride on the part of spiritual leaders. Leaders in the church, and especially ordained leaders, can very easily fall into the notion that they are somehow more spiritual and have a deeper connection to God than others. If not kept in check, this notion gives rise to the idea that we can do whatever we want, that we do not have to be accountable for our actions, or that we are exempt from judgement due to our exalted position. Spiritual pride does not always result in abuse, but clergy abuse always has its roots in pride. The truth is that clergy are not automatically more spiritual or more deeply connected to God than anyone else. Furthermore, the church does not belong to the clergy but to all the people of God: which includes you! We are all in this together. We are all called to support each other in what God has given each us to do. It behooves all of us in leadership to remember that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
Lastly, the patterns of spiritual pride and abuse that have existed and do exist in many denominations, including the Episcopal Church, are often tied to twisted notions of masculinity, and the false belief that men are better suited for leadership. This can only be addressed by raising up and maintaining strong female leadership, clergy and lay, in the Church writ large. As a male priest who feels called to this community and who loves this place and this people, it falls to me to ensure that there is a balance of female leadership in all the areas of our little corner of God’s Church. We are incredibly blessed with many strong women leaders in our parish, and I hope to encourage and empower existing and future female leaders. In terms of the preaching and sacramental ministry of the church, I would love to see women lay preachers in our pulpit (yes, lay preachers are a thing!), and I will work to ensure there are women clergy who preach and serve at our altar from time to time. It’s really important.
Now, may God, whose Name is above every name and whose justice is only matched by God’s mercy, be praised and glorified in everything we do, and may God richly bless this parish as we strive to follow Jesus together. Amen.