Follow-Up Forum

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I invite you to a follow-up forum on Monday, August 26th at 6 pm in the Social Hall, to review and reflect upon the special forum we held in August of last year.

Last summer was pretty bad, at least for American Catholics. It was the “Summer of Shame”. First came public revelations of wide-spread private knowledge of the abusive leadership of a popular cardinal. Then came that grand jury report, a kind of report that is possible only in the unique US judicial system, England and similar countries having abandoned grand juries. And, as far as I’m aware, only US states have popularly elected prosecuting attorneys. It was a uniquely Catholic scandal, made known to us by our uniquely American system of justice.

Our bishop issued a very helpful letter to the faithful of the diocese last August, a letter meant to help us all navigate the sorrowful news during that shameful summer. The following week, we gathered together as a parish to discuss his letter and to enter into open dialogue on the whole situation. I read the letter, then sat down without adding any comments of my own, because I wanted each and every one of you to have an opportunity to speak, to be heard and to take action together as a parish. It was helpful to me to hear clearly and completely what each of you had to say.

Please allow me now to briefly note a few personal observations.

I’m a convert to the Catholic Faith. I began seeking guidance from God on the right path for me through life when I was a teenager. If God wanted me to be a Baptist, then I would try to be the most faithful Baptist ever. If Buddhist, or Muslim, then that, all the way. If God failed to answer, then I’d become the kindest secular humanist I could be. By the time I was 16, it was clear to me that God wanted me to join the Catholic Church. I thank the Glenmary Home Mission Society for accompanying me on that journey. During those first exciting months with the Catholic Church, I began to feel God calling me to the priesthood of his Son, and I eagerly accepted the invitation.

When I was 17, Glenmary turned the parish over to the local diocese, and a new pastor arrived. After Mass one Saturday evening, this priest invited me to a restaurant for supper. He drove to an isolated point, then pulled over, and graphically propositioned me. I could not possibly have been less prepared to respond to that situation. All I could manage to say–in the few seconds I had to come up with a response–was, “maybe some other time”. This was the man I would need to write my letter of recommendation for the seminary once I graduated from high school. He continued propositioning me verbally over the following months, mostly via persistent calls to my home, with all of this culminating in an incident of violence during my freshman year in the seminary. Many of you already know about all of this, but I share it again here to provide some context.

What happened to me should not in any way be confused with the sexual abuse by a priest against a child, which is a trauma. But what happened to me did prompt a spiritual and vocational crisis. If God led me to the Catholic Church, as I believed, then did he know what that priest was going to do? Why would God lead me into a situation like that? How could I be a man of integrity if I accepted a letter of recommendation for the seminary from that priest? How common was this sort of behavior in the priesthood? Why did that priest show no concern about any repercussions from higher authorities? Who was I, just a convert, to tell everyone about his behavior, thus causing trouble for a priest who was a lifelong Catholic? More fundamentally, we’re all sinners, and the whole point of the Catholic Church is to reconcile sinners to God and to each other, so, how did that priest fit into this process of reconciliation? I later learned that he did this sort of thing to children, too, in a succession of other parishes where he was later assigned, which raises questions about what I could have done to prevent that. I was thinking only about myself. That priest is no longer in active ministry, but has not yet been formally removed from the clergy. His name was released by his diocese earlier this year, one of the “credibly accused”.

In 1990 I told a couple of priests what had happened, but they were the wrong ones to tell. I felt at the time that God was prompting me to tell three other priests everything that had happened. Specifically, they were my vocations director and the two priests who lived on my floor at the seminary. I arranged to meet with each one of them, but each time I “chickened-out”. I’m convinced that had I done what God wanted, then things would have turned out better for the children who were harmed by that priest. So, I live with an awareness that I was complicit in enabling future misbehavior. Those three priests I should have told, by the way, are all bishops now, and I can testify that each one is a genuinely good man, a faithful Catholic and a courageous shepherd without compromise.

Two years of crisis was too much for me, so I left the seminary and became a deputy sheriff. But God persisted, I moved to another state and now I’m happy to be here with all of you.

I think we’re all a little worn out after last summer. But we have work to do: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Those are the last words Our Lord spoke on Earth, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Brothers and sisters, we need to keep gathering together as Catholics to create constructive dialogue among ourselves about this mission. There will be different opinions, but there should never be division. And we should pray for the leadership we need most from our pope and our bishop.

With all this in mind, there are questions I think we need to ask our Heavenly Father together as a parish: Where does Jesus want us to go from here? Is there something He wants us to do differently? Are we willing to do it together? Who are the strong lay leaders in our parish ready and willing to step up and help us move forward together? Together, with one voice, we need to ask Our Lord to guide us into fruitfulness as a parish, as we sort through all the perversion and corruption exposed by prosecutors and publicized by journalists.

As we move together down this path of dialogical discernment, listening to each other as we listen to God, I ask you to please read Pope Paul VI’s 1964 encyclical Ecclesiam Suam. It provides the interpretive approach for applying the pastoral initiatives of the Second Vatican Council. The four constitutions of Vatican II provide the great pastoral plan guiding the Church in living out the Gospel in our present day. We need this guidance now more than ever.

Please allow me to encourage you to do a few other things, too, that will strengthen you for the fight ahead of us:
Fast—at least a little—on Fridays, in commemoration of Our Lord’s Good Friday Crucifixion.
Feast on Sundays in celebration of His Resurrection.
Wear our Blessed Mother’s prophetic scapular of Mount Carmel habitually.
Meditate upon the mysteries of our salvation with the Holy Rosary daily.
Read a chapter of the Holy Bible at least once each week, if not daily.
Pray the Angelus morning, noon and evening; it only takes a minute.
Make a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament at least once each month.
Know the seven corporal and seven spiritual Works of Mercy and each day look for opportunities to perform them.
Keep an image of the Sacred Heart, such as a crucifix, on the eastern wall of each room of your home and office. The Roman soldier’s lance revealed to Sacred Heart of Christ on the Cross, the Heart that will return to us from the East, and through which we’ll pass into Heaven.
Go to Confession each month.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them.
Learn your parts of the Mass in Latin. Satan used Rome to kill Christ, but Christ overcame His Roman death, and so now His Church uses the Roman capital, the Roman cross and the Roman language in her victorious fight against Satan.

As always, if you have any questions, complaints, concerns or suggestions about our parish, then please let me know. If you call the office and the receptionist transfers you to my extension, it always goes to my cell phone, so you can reach me wherever I am. If you call when the office is closed, dialing my extension does the same thing. I also reply to emails within a few hours.

¡Hagan lío!

In Christ, Our Rising Sun of Justice,

Father Shelton
July 26th, 2019
Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Also:

“Letter to a Suffering Church” – Parish Announcement from Bishop Barron from Word on Fire on Vimeo.

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