Boston. Beantown. Boston Strong. “The Athens of America.” Home of Red Sox Nation, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, Cheers, and countless other cultural phenomena.
But in 2002, Boston unwittingly became known for something far less luminous—Boston became ground zero for the clerical sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Without warning, this predominantly Irish Catholic city was thrust into the epicenter of a massive scandal unlike any other. It was unparalleled because those at the heart of the scandal were people whom we loved and trusted. The whole crisis carried with it a sense of unspeakable betrayal. Forgiveness and reconciliation seemed like a bleak, far-off impossibility.
Since then the Catholic Church both in the United States and globally has worked tirelessly to ensure that this crisis can never recur (the Vatican has a helpful website highlighting the response and protections in place). But the healing process continues – particularly for those who have suffered.
All members of the Church are called to suffer with those who have been victimized or otherwise suffered for the sins—and crimes—in the Church. For as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, the Church is made up of many parts, but one body, and “if [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
Since the scandal erupted, each pope has met with survivors of clerical abuse, and earlier this week Pope Francis did the same. He celebrated Mass at Santa Marta on Monday morning and met individually with six survivors of abuse afterwards. The homily from Monday’s Mass is powerful, and I would urge you to read it in its entirety here, but I’d like to focus on one aspect of the homily in particular—what Pope Francis calls “the grace of reconciliation.”
He said: “Dear brothers and sisters, because we are all members of God’s family, we are called to live lives shaped by mercy. The Lord Jesus, our Savior, is the supreme example of this; though innocent, he took our sins upon himself on the cross. To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ. By turning back to him, accompanied by our most holy Mother, who stood sorrowing at the foot of the cross, let us seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God. The loving intercession of Our Lady of Tender Mercy is an unfailing source of help in the process of our healing.”
To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ. The words are so beautiful when the Pope preaches them, yet so difficult to live in practice. Of course reconciliation should be the very essence of our shared identity as Christians, but is it the essence of our communities, of our families—of our local church and domestic?
As St. Paul wrote in Corinthians, we are many parts, but one body of Christ. Christ is what gives us this shared identity. And Christ models the grace of reconciliation for us throughout the Gospels—for instance, when He forgives Peter for denying Him three times. In this example Christ not only forgives Peter, he makes him the foundation of the future Church. As with all things, Christ calls us beyond our humanity to something far greater—He calls us to be reconciled to Himself and to His Church.
Reconciliation in the face of such betrayal and unspeakable hurt is a tall order. I’m not a native Bostonian—I moved here for college in 2004 and settled here permanently in 2012—but I’ve learned much about the people here. Perhaps it is those proud Irish roots, or the revolutionary foundation on which the city is built, or the result of decades of tirelessly yet passionately cheering for a losing baseball team, but Bostonians possess an unbreakable spirit. People here are tough, they love hard, and trust, once broken, is nearly impossible to regain. The combination of the culture and that Boston was the epicenter of this crisis makes reconciliation here markedly difficult.
But our Holy Father is the earthly shepherd of the Church, and like Christ, his role is to call us all back home to the fold. As Pope Francis reminds us, “we are called to live lives shaped by mercy.” We must try to turn back to Christ in our hurt, in our anger, in our mistrust and “seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God.” We must continue to work for the safety of all in the Church’s care, and lovingly and humbly welcome all—especially those hurt by the Church—into the Body of Christ. I know that here in Boston, under the leadership of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and the guidance of Pope Francis, we are slowly witnessing the grace of reconciliation. May we—as a Church and as individuals—continue to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.