American priest reveals communication ‘mix-up’ about end of Vatican job

Msgr. Robert Oliver, then secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, in Rome, July 11, 2019. Msgr. Robert Oliver, then secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, in Rome, July 11, 2019. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Msgr. Robert Oliver, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, said last week that due to a “mix-up,” he was not told in advance that his service on the Vatican’s safeguarding commission was ending after six years.

Oliver had been secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) since its beginning in 2014. For the two years prior, he had been promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

On March 24, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had extended the terms of 15 members of the commission for a year, adding a member, Chilean survivor of clerical sexual abuse Juan Carlos Cruz, for a term of three years. Oliver’s term as secretary was not renewed.

Oliver said in a Good Friday homily in Boston on April 2 that he had learned the news from journalists as he was boarding a plane to come to Boston for a visit.

“It was just a few days ago that I was at the airport returning to Boston, for what I thought was going to be just a short trip,” he said. “We were just about to board the plane and my phone lit up, and several media members were asking why it was that the Vatican had announced that my service at the Holy See was ending.”

“Well, it seems that through a rather amusing mix-up in communications, unfortunately my superiors in Rome had kind of failed to let me know,” Oliver said.

The priest explained that he then spoke to his bishop, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who confirmed that the news was true and he would be returning to Boston archdiocese.

O’Malley is also president of the PCPM, a position he will continue to hold, according to the Archdiocese of Boston.

Oliver’s homily was delivered during the Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord, celebrated by O’Malley at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

In his homily, Oliver reflected on the image of Jesus on the cross, with his arms outstretched, and the feelings of “rejection, anger, all of us have experienced in our life.”

“And there’s the sense, really, that there was still so much that I had hoped to achieve,” he said.

He noted that for 20 years he has worked with Cardinal O’Malley for victims of abuse and for priests wrongly accused of abuse, “hoping to contribute something to the reform of our Church.”

He said that as he has tried to process his thoughts and emotions about the end of his time in Rome, he is primarily filled with gratitude.

“In the homily, I wanted to convey clearly my joy at coming home to serve in the archdiocese and that the time in Rome will remain an important chapter in my years of priestly ministry,” Oliver told CNA via email, calling the end of his service at the Vatican “not at all unexpected.”

“In fact, I ended up serving longer than the expected time,” he said.

In the homily, he said: “But OK, now it’s time for a change, and the readings put the cross before us. But really, feelings of rejection? There hangs the Savior of the world, of every human being, one cast out and alone, on the hill of Golgotha. Anger? What depth of hatred can lead someone to nail another person to a cross and to stand there taunting him and spitting on him for hours?”

“And there are the arms of our Savior stretched out to his executioners and praying for forgiveness.”

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Oliver said that he had been given a warm welcome in Boston, but did not know what he would be doing next, describing himself as being in a “free agent period, just like professional athletes.”

“Maybe the Patriots still have a bit of money left over,” he joked.

He said that he had been particularly touched by an email he received from a young woman who had been the victim of clerical sexual abuse and afterward ignored by the Church. She had been traumatized by her experience and almost committed suicide, he said.

The woman wrote to him after hearing that his term in Rome had ended. Oliver said that she wrote: “I’m so sorry to hear the news. It must be so difficult for you, I can’t possibly imagine. Please know how valuable your service as a priest is. Please know that God has great things ahead for you. Take a moment today and pause.”

“This is a victim of abuse by a priest,” he said, “when feeling completely rejected and alone, rejected by the Church, and she’s writing these words to a priest. This is evangelization.”

“As St. Paul writes in Ephesians, we need strength, we need the divine strength of God to understand these things, to comprehend the breadth, and the length, the depth, and the height of the love of the Crucified Savior,” he concluded.

“He has borne our sins. He welcomes us to the Father. He wishes us to respond, he wishes us to bring this life to others, and to speak to them about what he has done in our lives.”

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