I was nearly as shocked and devastated as my sister. I know this man. He buried my mother and at the time showed tremendous sensitivity to my situation of being a student at a Lutheran seminary, coming to a Mass and being excluded from the Eucharist. He found a way to have a funeral in his church without Communion, and to have my own parish pastor participate in the service. Some years later he buried my brother-in-law and was a tremendous comfort and support to my grieving sister. There was no way the accusation could be true. My immediate response was to contact my own pastor and request that Monsignor be placed on our prayer list, a request that has been honored each Sunday for these two years.
What an eye-opener for me, a person who along with many others has scoffed at the Roman Catholic church's handling of the pedophile priest crisis. It was fine to condemn that church for moving these men around and allowing them to continue in their roles, so long as the accused were strangers.
Yesterday I learned that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has newly suspended 21 additional priests, my sister's pastor among them, and I was surprised at how sad, how shaken I was, on hearing this news. Suspension, in my understanding, means that he may not celebrate Mass publicly and he may not wear his collar, among other restrictions. Most likely his pastoral duties will be limited to things like visiting the sick and the elderly. Important ministries, to be sure, and ones that are often neglected in any denomination, but perhaps not the ones that are most personally satisfying.
The question then arose: What should our Lutheran church -- geographically located in the same block as Monsignor's church -- do about the prayer list now, in light of the action of the Archdiocese? Should we keep his name on the list? If so, what would people take that to mean? Or should we remove his name from the public list and continue to pray privately for him? And what would people take that to mean?
I pondered these questions and reached the following conclusions:
1. Because of this long recent history of abuse, cover up, and denial, it seems that the Archdiocese has actually done the right thing in suspending someone in the case of a "credible accusation." Our country's presumption of "innocent until proven guilty" needs to be set aside when there are children involved. The action of the Archdiocese is unfortunate and painful, but correct. Additionally, the Church must be preserved, even if it means the tremendous inconvenience of an innocent man for the sake of the greater good. I think I am clear on that at this point.
2. That being said, I think that "innocent until proven guilty" still is the law of our land, and as his neighbors, our position should be to support that premise by holding him in prayer. I think this is an example of Luther's Two Kingdoms theology: What the Archdiocese has done -- suspending this man while the legal process runs its course -- comes from God's Kingdom on the left, the secular, the law. And as we hold our neighbor in prayer, we are acting in accordance with God's Kingdom on the right, the spiritual or grace and gospel Kingdom.
I think I have sorted it out. I'm still sad today, and I continue in my belief that the accusation is unjust. But I understand the need for good order. In both Kingdoms.