Trouble in the Kingdoms

It has been about two years or so, I believe, since the day my sister dropped in unannounced and in tears.  Her pastor, a Roman Catholic priest, had been accused.  She didn't need to finish the sentence.  The news came to the parish first hand -- at the end of Mass, he faced his congregation and told them of a single alleged wrongdoing some thirty years previous.  Though he was innocent, he said, he was voluntarily separating himself from any parish work that involved contact with young people.  He was not removed from his position.  He had no idea who his accuser was.

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.


Karen OBrien said…
Thank you for posting your opinion. I am still sorting out the "two kingdoms" that us Lutherans believe. This is a great example. Bottom line is that I pray for all involved, I pray for Justice, and I pray for the truth. I just don't know what to believe at this point.
altar ego said…
Prayer is always appropriate, even if our prayers can't be precise. Anyone in this situation--accused and guilty, or accused and innocent--needs to be held in the light of God for whatever care God provides.
Unknown said…
These most recent suspensions hit very close to me. One of my former classmates was part of the five charged by the grand jury. I know more than a few of the 21 suspended priests. I have questions (perhaps, hope) that these men are flasely accused, but I suspect that the accusations themselves have become a verdict. What bothers me is that the leaders and decision-makers who first denied, then ignored, and now are finally reacting are not bearing their fair share of responsibilty. Penance services are a good idea, but real repentance and conversion are more important.
Jo said…

Thank you for sharing your well worded thoughts. Coming from a Catholic background, your words really are touching. I find the whole topic such an enigma.
Certainly, I know priests who are celebate gay men. But the individuals in question, if the accusations are true, aren't gay - they are pedophiles. Why the Church has chosen to protect them, rather than innocent children, is beyond my comprehension. But I agree, they all need our prayers.
Things like this are truly personally traumatic when it concerns someone you know and trust. It gives you a sick in the stomach feeling, along with the intellectual dilemma for those of faith.In my way of simplistic thinking, however, I beleive that Christ payed for the sinner as well as the non-sinner and if peoiple have to categorize prayer, maybe they are not following what Christ taught. Guilty or innocent, the priest needs prayer.
psumom4 said…
It is hard to sort out. Unfortunately, his name came up in this situation before but action wasn't taken. Those in charge "looked the other way" before. I agree it is innocent until proven guilty but what about the innocent children. Think about what has happened to their lives.
Prayers are needed for all involved.
Mrs. Goodneedle said…
What a sad, sad situation. My thoughts, for what they're worth, is to keep his name on the public prayer list; he's never needed it more, regardless of the outcome. You are to be congratulated in the way you have explained the separate kingdoms, I've always struggled with being in the world but not of it. Being in the world requires adhering to the laws that govern, I will be praying for justice that is fair and merciful.