After following the trial of an Albany priest who was convicted this week of raping two altar boys in the 1980s, I felt angry, saddened, disgusted by what I read. Gary Mercure will face up to life in prison when he is sentenced, and while that provides some sense of justice -- even if it is justice delayed -- it doesn't do much to take away the sense of horror over what happened to those children, now men, who were forever changed and harmed by his actions. That Mercure did what he did as a priest makes his crimes that much worse.
So when I opened my local daily this morning, I was heartened to see an honest and moving opinion piece on this very subject by Father Kenneth Doyle, chancellor for public information for the Diocese of Albany and pastor of Mater Christi parish here. His words reminded me that it is not only lay people who feel betrayed and battered by the sexual abuse crisis but priests as well, maybe more so.
From Father Doyle's piece, entitled "A Test of Faith":
I want to tell you how I feel about this. I am saddened, ashamed -- and, above all, I am angry.
A woman on our parish staff told me the other day that she was praying for Gary Mercure. I told her that she was much kinder than I and that my own instincts toward him were more aggressive.
But reason took hold and I realized that her response was the more noble and the more Christian one. That night, I did pray for Mercure --- prayed that he would grasp the horror of what he has done, find his peace with God and spend his remaining days praying for the children whose lives he has destroyed.
Why am I ashamed, since nothing I did myself led to this tragedy?
I am ashamed because someone in my own family of faith -- a brother priest, no less -- would commit these acts of cruelty. And I am deeply saddened because this whole sordid saga has damaged that family of faith, the Catholic Church that I love.
This is the same church that opened the first orphanages and medical clinics in history, that kept learning alive during the Dark Ages and founded the first universities; the same church that today sponsors one-sixth of all the hospital beds in America, has (in Catholic Charities) an operation that serves more of the poor that any other private agency in our land, has annually resettled nearly a third of all the refugees who come to our shores. But when people read a story like Mercure's, all of that good fades into the background. The primary image is of abusive priests.
Most of all, I am angry -- angry at what has been done to children. I am well aware that darkness is part of the psyche of us all, that temptation surrounds us, that our resolve is frail and we easily can fall. This awareness has made me, for 50 years, say three Hail Marys each night that Our Lady will help me to be faithful to my vocation, because I know that I can't do it without help from above.
But abusing a child is a different thing entirely. How can a priest -- or any adult -- ever rationalize doing that, wrecking a child's life for selfish and momentary pleasure, taking away forever any trust in grown-ups or in religion, leaving a person 30 years later to rehearse that graphic violence in an open courtroom and be traumatized all over again?
The matter of Mercure, this whole gruesome story, leaves me very sad, as does each and every case of sexual abuse of a minor.
Read the full column HERE.