Thursday, September 08, 2005

I Could Use Some Healing, Too

I would like to share one of the least favorite aspects of my job as a bishop, and that is the willful self-humiliation that is often demanded of me, and which I dutifully carry out as the burden of my office. And this aspect was in full force yesterday, as I 'celebrated' my the dreaded, monthly 'Mass of Healing for Victims of Sexual Abuse.'

Now, every diocese does these masses, though some, admittedly, with less 'gusto' than others. In a few dioceses the bishop gets away with sloughing them off on his vicar general or another senior priest. But, for the sake of propriety, the bishop usually ends up doing at least one every month or two. Here in Norfolk, I do every one myself, once a month. With a smile on my face.

What's worst about it, besides the obvious self-degredation and humiliation it involves, is the number of people who show up. I mean, more specifically, the lack of them. The last one I did, in August, had only four attendees: a victim, his mental health counselor, one of my staff who had missed daily mass in the morning, and one of those ragged, unkempt ladies who always seem to be hanging around in the cathedral, no matter what's going on. Can you imagine what it's like to give a homily to these four blank faces staring back at you?

But I accept it as one of the inevitable consequences of a post-Dallas Charter church. There are the excessively convoluted and lengthy training sessions for diocesan volunteers, the 'workshops' all my priests have to sit through, the endless conversations with lawyers and accountants. The constant griping from the presbyteral council is hard enough. But at least that' s in private. 'Celebrating' your own administration's delinquencies, with full liturgical pomp, is simply degrading. (Not that anyone was abused under my watch, you can take my word on that, but it's hardly polite to point fingers at my much-beloved predecessor, at least as long as he's still living.)

At first I gave a polite 'no thank you' when the USCCB's Office for Child and Youth Protection sent out liturgical materials for the Masses of Healing for Victims of Sexual Abuse. But, after three months, I got a not-too-subtle phone call from Bishop Frank Malooly in Baltimore (he's the regional representative of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, who 'keeps an eye' on this province), telling me I better get in line. Ah well, that's the nature of the beast. Let no one accuse Bishop Leo Clayton of stepping out of line.