After a recent scandal broke out in his diocese, a priest delivered a powerful homily on seeking justice and why a Catholic should go directly to legal authorities when crimes such as sexual abuse are suspected.
In the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan, scandal has broke out after Rev. Robert DeLand Jr, a longtime area priest, was charged Monday, Feb. 26, with three felonies on accusations he sexually assaulted a 21-year-old man and 17-year-old boy. Authorities indicated the investigation could involve additional clergy. It is a sad situation.
But in response, Rev. Edwin C. Dwyer, a priest of the Diocese of Saginaw, delivered a powerful sermon directly addressing what a Catholic should do when they suspect sexual abuse by clergy is occurring. A transcript of the homily was posted on Fr. Dwyer’s personal Facebook page, and is published here with permission, after our request.
Father Dwyer’s Homily:
“Cleanse the Temple: Homily for the 3rd Week of Lent.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
Every now and then we need to cleanse the temple with the help of Christ.
Every now and then we need to take a look what’s in our own hearts, in our own lives, and in the Church of Christ, and clean house.
Every now and then zeal for the House of God should consume us, and we should evaluate what is going on around us, and do what we can to eliminate what is contrary to God.
Every now and then, we need to cleanse the temple.
Christ gives us an example of this today. Zeal for his Father’s house consumes him, and he begins to flip over tables, makes a whip, and drives out the corrupt merchants from the Temple: a sacred building set aside by God for worshipping God. So, when folks ask you “What would Jesus do?” just remember that flipping over tables, and making a whip is a perfectly sound answer.
So, does that mean we can destroy church property? No. Remember, Christ is the Christ. He has an omniscient intellect, and he is God. Thus, he knows what is truly in the hearts of the money-changers, and merchants, and the Temple is his Temple. He is also perfect in his judgements, whereas we are fallible.
So what are we to do? Well, we should pray to be filled with zeal for the Father’s House as Christ was. What does it mean to be filled with zeal for the Father’s House? Well, many of the early saints wrote that it meant being filled with zeal for the truth.
The purpose of the Temple was to offer worship, and sacrifice to God. It’s purpose was to be a place of repentance for sin, and to resolve to live more Godly lives. It was not to be a place for the greedy to profit.
Today the Church as a whole is God’s divine institution in which we offer worship, and sacrifice to God. It is where we repent of our sins, and make resolution to live more Godly lives. It is not an institution for the petty, the greedy, and the morally depraved to exploit for their own evil purposes whether it be at the universal, diocesan, parochial, or domestic levels of the Church. Exploitation of the Mystical Body of Christ is an evil so contrary to the truth it out to fill the faithful with zeal to cleanse it.
There is no doubt that our diocese has had a difficult week. The news is frightening, and aggravating. And if we feel the zeal to cleanse the Temple, that is a good thing, but we must be mindful that we do not have the perfect intellect of Christ, and that the Gospels give us measured instructions for when evil corrupts God’s Temple, or as we would say today, his Church.
Firstly, pray. Pray to our Lord that justice prevail. Pray to him under the title of Sun of Justice. S-U-N. This is a title ascribed to Jesus Christ in certain liturgical texts, but has its origin in the Book of Malachi. The idea of the Sun of Justice is that when it burns, it exposes every lie, every hidden evil, as well as every good. So, dear faithful, pray that the Sun of Justice burns brightly over our diocese. Pray that if these alleged crimes be true, that it will come to the light, and if they be false, that that will come to the light. Praying for justice does not just include bringing evil into the light, but also that false accusations will not reign supreme.
Next, understand what should be discussed between individuals, and what must be brought immediately to the authorities.
Personal grievances between adults, should firstly be brought up in a one on one conversation as Christ instructs us in Matthew 18. First go to your brother and address the grievance, then bring two or three witnesses, and then the entire Church. To leap-frog over these steps is to cause gossip, and unnecessary intervention from others, including authority figures. So be adults about it. If your next door neighbor, and fellow parishioner says something insulting to you, there is no need to bring it up with parish leadership first. First address the concern with the neighbor, and be an adult about it. Hopefully this resolves the issue, but if it persists ask two or three others to bring up the behavior, and then get the parish involved only if those first two steps fail.
This practice also prevents false allegations in the long run. If we feel slighted by an individual, but do not bring it up with him directly, we can begin to assign motives we do not know to him, and then accuse him of nefarious motives. Once we believe one has such motives, it is not hard to leapfrog to assuming he lives out worse sins than we have witnessed, and one’s reputation becomes severely comprised.
I work with amazing students at Saginaw Valley State University, but they are, nevertheless, students. So occasionally one will come to me with concerns about another’s behavior outside of ministerial events. I tell them it is not my place to get involved. . . .yet.
I tell them they are right in finding a fellow Catholics certain behavior to be unChristlike, but that they need to go to the Catholic in question first, and then with two or three other friends, and if it persists after that, I will then address the issue. And guess what? I have never once, in 7 years of campus ministry, ever had to get involved. And I am so proud of them for cleansing the temple on their own, and in the way Christ taught them.
But there are circumstances that dictate we bring sins we are aware of to authorities first. And we will see this in some rules for life among various religious orders. For example, the alleged crimes of a local priest in the news. – I must emphasized “alleged.” Similar to the United States legal system, the Church operates under a presumption of innocence in her investigations. Nevertheless, this evil and how to deal with it are on our minds.
My fellow Christians, if some kind of crime of such an evil nature is known, even if it be by a leader in the Church, bring it to the authorities right away.
Think about trying to confront violent drug dealers in your neighborhood. It runs too high a risk of retaliation against your own life, and runs the risk of the dealers fleeing justice. Similarly, these kinds of crimes involved layers upon layers of evil. To try to remedy such societal evil, at a personal level would not be the best vehicle for justice. So if you are aware of such crimes in the Church or elsewhere, be filled with zeal for truth, and cleanse the temple; speak to police about it.
Every now and then we need to cleanse the tempe of our own hearts, and our own communities. Every now and then we need to cleanse the temple of the Church. But we must do it with the full reliance on God. We must remember how he instructs us. Our vigilance must be measured, but we must have vigilance. The Church is a place to meet the living God. So cleanse it of all things unGodly.
Amen. Glory to God.