Over the past week I’ve watched my parish pastor lead a pastoral response, within the context of our local church, to the announcement of a credible allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior with an adult male by a priest who’d served our parish community.
In my own small attempt to keep victims and those hurt (rather than those acting immorally) first, I’m not going to mention the name of this particular priest. I’ll share a bit of the background though, for context. He had a long history with my parish, having served as an assistant chaplain to the fellowship, and association of lay faithful (from 1983 to 1991) that preceded the formal, canonical establishment of my parish, Christ the King in Ann Arbor. In the past decade or so, he’d been active in various ministries based in the parish, as well as a neighboring Catholic radio station, and celebrated Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation in our parish and in the chapel of a local office park.
Okay, so how did the news unfold?
Tuesday Afternoon: Bishop informs my pastor
Wednesday: Parish sends out all-parish email from pastor, informing us of the diocese’s announcement of credible allegation, and encouraging anyone affected to contact the diocese or him personally. Local Catholic schools also sent out the diocese’s announcement.
Friday: Through an all-parish email, our pastor announced that following all Sunday Masses, he would hold Q&A.
Sunday Mass: Our pastor speaks at the end of each Mass, sharing what the credible allegations were, that the bishop had conducted an investigation, and that the diocese had shared information with local prosecutors (the possible charge might be something in the realm of lewd behavior, but also might not meet standards for a formal charge–only our speculation at this point). I was deeply moved by Fr. Ed (our pastor)’s authenticity and vulnerability. He tried very hard not to cry–and may or may not have succeeded. He encouraged anyone who may have additional information or who could have been affected to get in touch with he or the diocese. Though the recipients of unwanted inappropriate sexual behavior were adults, Fr. Ed called them “our kids”–because some were likely adults who had grown up in the parish community as children.
Sunday Q&A: I attended the post-Mass Q&A. Again, I was impressed by how direct, blunt, and forthright our pastor was. He didn’t hide behind legal language. He shared his own feelings of sadness, shock, and anger. He allowed all questions–which stretched quite a range of perspectives, i.e. those who’d lived with the priest in the past spoke, those who’d been positively impacted by his ministries, parishioners who happened to be attorneys shared opinions, those who work with the elderly spoke (note: this priest is elderly suffers from some health afflictions and lives in assisted living), and those who had known him for more than three decades. There were two Q&As, and the second one, I was told, went as long as needed to allow all questions. [I was at the first one, which did have a necessary set end time due to the second Mass needing to begin.] Our pastor demonstrated very open listening, though was direct in closing off speculation that veered into not believing the allegations, questioning the conclusiveness of the bishop’s investigation, or wondering about the specific identities of those making the allegations (i.e. parishioners? non-parishioners? etc.). A strong statement was made about our co-responsibility as laity, and our role in accompanying anyone who has an allegation to bring–supporting them spiritually and practically in getting to the right person to hear the concern. I did notice that most of the people at the well-attended Q&As were predominantly those with more than two decades of life in the parish, those who would have known this priest from his younger, more active years. As someone younger and newer to the parish (<5 years) I’ve had very little public contact with him, and so I think those like me may have had less specific need to attend the Q&A (plus many of us have young children…and they’ll only happily play on the parish playground for so long after Mass!).
I don’t have anything more to share at this point, simply wanted to document the pastoral communication and leadership I observed in what would be called a “crisis response.” Without a doubt, I hold my pastor in higher esteem than I did before this began, I trust him more than I did eight days ago. Evil is never God’s will. Period. But where evil is present, where injustice occurs–our response certainly matters.
Disclaimer: I’m assuming that facts and details may expand over time from what is presently publicly known, but this is my take as I can observe it now as a parishioner.