The whole church is deeply saddened by the new from Philadelphia and by the revelations concerning Cardinal McCarrick. The grand jury report on priest sexual abuse is devastating. What was done by those entrusted with a sacred trust was evil beyond words.

The Archbishop reminds us, in a press release, in the St. Louis Review, and in a letter to us priests, of the massive effort now in place in the Archdiocese to protect children and vulnerable adults. We do background checks on and train any adult involved in programs with children in any way that conveys any trust. Want to be at the classroom Christmas party? Then we need a background check. The bar for seminary admission is extraordinarily high in terms of maturity and psychological health. And the bar for actually being ordained 6 to 10 years later is even higher. Seminary is a half decade long job interview.

Yet that is little consolation for the past, and trust so utterly destroyed is not won back with programs.

Paradoxically this crisis of faith can teach us about faith. First, if you want a reason to believe in hell, read the grand jury report. Eternal brimstone seems like but a slap on the wrist of the moral monsters in the report. But… mercy? Mercy. Jesus died for that sickening abuser priest. To see the full impact of Jesus’s sacrifice and the radical message of mercy he came to share we have to be honest about the demands of justice and the darkness of evil. The error of so many bishops and church officials was to ignore, hide, coverup, perhaps in the name of a cheap mercy that was no mercy at all but a terrible evil. Jesus died for them, he knew what they would do, what they would deserve. He who said “what so ever you do to the least you do unto me,” bore the pain of every victim. Yet he still he in agony would offer to them, as he did to the criminal crucified at his side, “you will be with me in paradise,” if they would but repent. How could he? How dare he? This is the accusation of the older brother in the prodigal son, how dare you, Lord! Yet I need his mercy too, I have not done what they have done, but I have not loved as I should. I too have no power to save myself. For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Lord save your people!