Where Is Your Fiery Love When It Comes to Abuse?

By James Borkowski
B.C. Catholic - Archdiocese of Vancouver
September 15, 2002

Two years ago, I received a forwarded voicemail from a local priest. The message had been left by a man who was extremely angry about clergy abuse and the apparent cover-up by the Church around the world. Since the man left no contact info, there was not much we could do.

A week later, one of our priests forwarded a similar message, but this one contained helpful information and an opportunity. The caller mentioned that two of his classmates from a local all-boys high school had committed suicide as a result of abuse.

The high school he referred to was my old school, and in this message the caller left a phone number. I called him back.

He immediately told me that either I was a pedophile or was covering for them. I offered a third option, detailing the work we have been doing in the archdiocese to bring about necessary change in the local Church. We worked through a fairly tense exchange and, to his credit, he agreed to meet in person to continue the discussion.

On a late afternoon at a local pub, we tentatively walked up to each other and took in the reality of how strange it was for each of us to meet someone with disparate views. We were each concerned that the other might have ulterior motives. We were also both convinced that the other would have no interest in thoughtful conversation and an openness to ideas. Thankfully, we were both wrong.

His name is Rob and what has followed is the development of an understanding and even an unlikely friendship. Rob has a passion for justice and a deep caring for the underdog. He shared many ideas, several of which have led to changes in our policies and practices around the issue of abuse. He has given me time, wisdom, and one gift which I never thought would be helpful. The gift of anger.

Systemic changes are important but Rob suggested another important step. We need to get mad. Perhaps mad as hell. For all of our mea culpas and commitments, we have not adequately and publicly expressed the rage that this tragedy warrants and victims are listening.

Inside the Church, everyone I know is mad at abusers and anyone covering it up. Perhaps in the name of charity, we work to maintain composure when speaking publicly. To Rob and many others, we sound resigned to the reality of abuse in our Church. We might even sound accepting.

We are called to express sincere anger at sin. Romans 12:9 and Psalm 97:10 are two of many examples in Scripture where hating the sin is critical. How did Jesus address the idea of hurting innocent and vulnerable people? Google “Millstone around neck.”

So why is it hard for us to express anger regarding clergy abuse? My former pastor in Ontario, Father Bob Bedard, founder of the Companions of the Cross, once asked, “What is the opposite of love?” As people answered “hate” and “sin,” he listened and then proposed an alternative idea, that fear is the opposite of love.

He explained that hate and anger can provide the fuel necessary to fight evil. They can call us to action when we need to rise up against injustice. Fear generally serves to paralyze us, preventing us from stepping up.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet with many victims of clergy abuse over the past few years, and each time my heart has broken for the destruction caused by the betrayal carried out by men called to reflect God. Now emerging from my “Catholic bubble,” I felt more aware of the things we need to deliberately improve.

I grew up with the ideas that a priest could do no wrong and that priests are somehow above other Christians. I was very wrong on both fronts.

My fear of confronting these ideas likely reduced my boldness and created the idea of balancing anger and charity. There is no need for balance. I’m furious at abusers and anyone involved in cover-ups. Our archbishop is angry, and so are all good priests and Catholics I know. We’re mad and we’re ready to share that more publicly. We’re ready to make sure that victims understand how committed we are.

In the past year alone, several priests have had faculties removed or have chosen to leave the priesthood when confronted by a shocking truth. The Church is moving much faster than would have happened years ago. I know that when evidence is received and quick steps are taken, our anger has been fruitful. When we have shared our anger with victims, they have been surprised and comforted. We need to show it more and invite the faithful to consider allowing anger to be an important part of the conversation, especially with non-Catholics. People need to see a fiery love burning behind our work and our commitments.

I want to thank Rob for teaching me this important lesson. I now see his anger directed at me as a divine mercy. Without knowing it, he was calling me to a Christ-like state of holy discontent. He called us as a Church to do more. His passion and courage have helped me and many others more than he knows.








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