Thursday, February 7, 2019

Pastors, Priests and Perverts

(Yesterday’s Wichita Eagle had yet another front page article concerning sexual abuses among the priesthood right here in the State of Kansas.  It prompted me to re-post the article below once again.)

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  My middle school pastor had resigned a month earlier, but had decided to let the world know he had since chosen an "alternative lifestyle."  This wonderful young man who had such a unique call on his life to minister to young people had left so many families and youth devastated.  I immediately called him and asked him if it was true.  He confirmed and gave me assurances that he had never discussed his decision with any of our teens.  He had never influenced them to believe anything different than what the Bible teaches.  He was just tired of his internal battle and had given up the fight. My heart breaks for him to this day.

Of course, my mind also raced to the possible damage this could cause the church as this unusual news began to spread.  But as I began to pray through my own broken heart and concern for my former employee, the Lord spoke to me very clearly.  “You will meet this head on with truth and love and I will walk you through it.”

Within 24 hours I had called a “family meeting” of any of our church members who wanted to attend. Of course, I especially focused on getting as many parents of teenagers to the meeting.  Rumors had already started and the atmosphere was tense as people filled our sanctuary.  I explained what I knew…how I found out…and exactly what my conversation with the former youth pastor had been the day before.  I answered several questions from concerned parents and we closed the meeting with prayer.

As we were leaving, I felt weighed down by the burden of the many confused and frustrated teens and parents who were in attendance.  Our friend, our middle school pastor, our confidant had seemingly betrayed everything he had been preaching for the past 2 years.

Then a parent came up to me a gave me a big hug. “Pastor, you did the right thing.  Thank you for being honest and straightforward with us.  That means the world to us.”  I began to cry and the burden began to lift. 

We are only as sick as our secrets.

This morning’s headline estimates that at least 1000 children were abused by priests in the Catholic Church over the past several decades.  That’s just in Pennsylvania.  Attorneys in Kansas are working with victims to formulate lawsuits against the church for knowingly covering up the same type of atrocities.  Attorneys General from at least 27 other states are currently investigating similar stories. But it’s not just a Catholic church problem.

Our own headlines in Wichita recently detailed a local youth pastor’s victimization of one of his own female youth group members over the span of more than a year.  He was sentenced to 8 years behind bars. The local church who employed the youth pastor for nearly 2 decades is now the focus of a civil lawsuit brought by the parents of the victim.  They seek hundreds of thousands of dollars, claiming that church leadership knowingly ignored warnings about this employee’s inappropriate behavior.

These kind of stories make our skin crawl and our hearts ache.  We weep for the victims of such abuse.  We don’t clearly know the ripple effects of such crimes.  Childhoods are robbed.  The ability to function in a normal, healthy relationship as adults is brought into question.  And so often…the victims become abusers themselves.  Trust of authority figures is oft times shattered beyond repair.  The social, moral and spiritual foundations are cracked and weakened.  The moral authority to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ erodes with every accusation that surfaces.

But shouldn’t we also be outraged by the cover up?  The Vatican itself, even the Pope, is being accused of complicity in knowingly ignoring and not removing perverted priests in a timely manner.  Often they simply re-assigned the priests to different positions until the dust settled.  Discipline not given.  Protection of innocents withheld.  Victims often accused.

It’s true. There is a millstone that is custom fit for the neck of any adult who harms a child and causes them to stumble.  If there were levels of judgment for sins, these type would top of the list…at least in most people’s opinion.

Is there hope?  Sure there is.  There’s hope for the victims of such pain to find the help they need to recover and heal.  There’s hope for a youth pastor, who now has lost everything, to repent, seek forgiveness and find his path to recovery as well.

Perhaps the greatest hope is for a repentant church leadership to stand in their pulpits and tell the truth, regardless of the price.  Tell the truth, confess their own sins of cover up and self-preservation and seek the forgiveness of their congregants. Rather than hide, blame the victims or make excuse for what really happened…they should come clean and repent so healing can truly begin for all affected.

King David was guilty of great sins: an illicit affair with another man’s wife and the subsequent cover up that led to having her husband murdered.  David thought he had gotten away with it…until the prophet Nathan came to him with grim news.  He called David on his failures. David repented and the kingdom was restored to him.

Maybe we should pray for spiritual fathers and modern day prophets who will not go quietly away when faced with such sin.  The ones who will make it their business when some would tell them “it’s none of your business.” Maybe God will use someone who can bring restoration to the Catholic Church and to any church where leadership is tempted to hide and make excuses for sin in ill-fated attempts to “save the ministry.”  Let’s pray for accountability, transparency and healing.

There is hope.

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