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The approaching end of the year and the shortened days make it seem to some folks that the end days are upon us, that all things are collapsing, and that the world is about to end. The recent horrific events in San Bernardino, Colorado Springs and Paris certainly heighten our fear, as do the Beirut bombings and the downing of the Russian civilian jetliner.
Violent and unexpected death, injury, suffering and terrorism all have captured the attention of people everywhere, and we see how fragile our civilization is, how delicate the balance of our peace is, and how vulnerable we are to the forces of evil.
In our day, in our own nation, the Catholic Church is reeling still from the effects of its own crisis; and, locally, it seems very clear that Catholic bishops will be spending a lot of time in court in the next years, seeking to settle legal cases involving priests and victims who, for the most part, are unknown to them. The number of court cases pending against Catholic dioceses in Minnesota is staggering, and it seems likely every Minnesota diocese could be in bankruptcy before the cases are resolved (“Diocese of Duluth files for bankruptcy,” Dec. 8).
Catholics and all people of good will share the devastating effects of this crisis. First, we mourn with all of those who have suffered as victims. We want to see justice done, healing promoted and charity fulfilled.
We must also be aware of and acknowledge the anger that many people feel, and their disappointment, too. Our pews in America are emptying not because people disbelieve the gospel but because we the Church have not been effective and holy stewards to inspire hope and confidence among the people of God.
This is a difficult era in which to be a Catholic person, a time unparalleled in difficulty since the Reformation. It is clear some priests behaved very badly in ways both criminal and sinful; their victims and all of us continue to pay a very steep price.
But here is something we must keep in mind: Not every person who has been accused is guilty. For example, in November, the News Tribune reported that the Rev. Timothy Backous, OSB, a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., and who had worked in Duluth and here at St. Michael’s, was exonerated in a third-party investigation. The investigation found that allegations against him “were not supported by evidence” (“Abbot: Priest exonerated of molesting St. Cloud choirboy in 1990,” Nov. 6).
The conclusion came after a yearlong, comprehensive investigation of allegations. The long process of hearing allegations and seeking the truth was painful for Father Tim and for many others. Thanks be to God for his patience, and his gift of a clear conscience.
I regret to note, however, that in the second paragraph of its news story, the News Tribune wrote, “But an advocate for victims of sexual abuse by priests isn’t satisfied.” The northern Minnesota director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said he found the investigation “not credible.” He charged, “Their third-party investigator was paid to find exactly what they were looking for.”
How would he know that? Why was this unsubstantiated, baseless claim reported as fact by the newspaper? The SNAP director has a right to any opinion he might choose to hold, of course, but when accusations and conclusions are not related to fact or reality, all of us are at risk.
We who seek an end to abuse and violence must share a special concern for all innocent people victimized by abusers or accusers. Together, as people of good will, we seek justice, healing, peace, mercy and understanding.
The Rev. William C. Graham is pastor of St. Michael Parish in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood. He and the Rev. Timothy Backous edited the 2014 book, “Common Good, Uncommon Questions.”
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