Guilty or Not Guilty? Withhold Judgment in Abuse Cases

We are in the midst of the Easter season: He is Risen, alleluia, alleluia! We read in the book of the Apocalypse that Jesus Christ is “the first and the last” (22:13). Indeed, He is first in the eternal sense, but He is also first in what we as Christians are to value. We know from Scripture that Christ, the Word of God Incarnate, is the Truth and that we are to follow the truth.

And how uncomfortable and blinding might the light of truth be, for we live in such dark times as Christians! Today we endure perhaps one of the greatest evils to have plagued the Bride of Christ. The Catholic Church is infested with sexual assault, pedophilic molestation, homosexual pederasty, and homosexual libertinism. This is an undeniable reality. It is certainly one that cannot be ignored or left to fizzle back into dormancy.

In this rude awakening, parishes from around the world — though we hear from the churches in the West typically — are struck with these plagues. In my hometown of Bakersfield, California, we are now dealing with this. A local celebrity priest, Monsignor Craig Harrison, has been accused of sexual abuse on three different accounts. I, along with fellow Bakersfield Catholics, must endure this uncomfortable process of discerning the truth. Many Catholics globally might have to do the same during this time of scandal.

As I speak to my local brothers and sisters in Christ, I also address the Church as one body. Let us look to Saint Luke the Evangelist in his Gospel account. “For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light” (8:17).

Whichever accused father I speak of — in my case, Msgr. Harrison — either the priest is innocent or the priest is guilty. And as the Truth rose from the dead, out of the dark tomb, it shall shine on us all.

I say this with charity, yet stern conviction: to defend a priest on the basis that you like his sermons, that you like his appearances at events, that you knew him as a nice and funny man is not sufficient to establish his innocence. And I venture to say it is offensive to the potential victims of sexual assault, to the grave situation we are in, to the sanctity of your own soul, and to Christ Himself. If your version of seeking the truth and the Truth is to only affirm what is comfortable and fashionable, then you put yourself at risk in the eyes of God.

Do not be like the masses during Jesus’s Bread of Life discourse. Do not say, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (Jn. 6:61). Do not say the truth is difficult and that you cannot accept it.

I am not deeming any priest guilty out of hand. I do not call him innocent indefinitely, either. I withhold judgment in prudence. But too many people will declare a priest innocent for feckless reasons — reasons of fashion, reasons of taste, reasons of comfort! Where is our prudence? Should we not embody wisdom, “live with prudence,” and “attain knowledge and discretion?” (Pv. 8:12).

If this continues, truth may actually be lost and justice may be lost for victims of sexual assault. And what for? For fashion, taste, comfort?

Pray that we do not condemn ourselves to such reckless judgment, especially if it condemns truth of the situation and justice for the innocent and persecuted, whoever they be — the alleged victims or the accused priest.

Our ears have grown accustomed to hearing the dangers of clericalism and its pervasive effects in the abuse scandal of the Church. In my experience, I have hardly coughed from such a cause, nor do I see the Church suffering from it as a plague. If we do not hold steadfast to the truth and if we bully prospective victims — victims of crimes the Church knows too well — with the fury of a mob as a source, what may actually come about is the weight of grief, despair, and fear upon the backs of actual victims from the years gone by and the ones to come. This would be actual clericalism.

Live in the spirit of Christ during this Easter season, a spirit that seeks the truth and justice to whom it is due. What can be lost if we follow Christ in all pursuits? During this time, we should be willing to leave an eye, a hand, and a foot for the sake of Christ, the fullness of Truth, lest we cast our whole bodies into a pit for fashion, comfort, and tastes.

Editor’s note: This article was submitted to 1P5 by an anonymous Catholic.

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