By Rev. Anthony D. Andreassi, CO (Principal)
Drip. Drip. Drip. That is how some have described the seemingly never-ended revelations of clergy sex abuse. Like me you probably have found yourself angry with righteous indignation not only with the crimes and sins themselves but also how other leaders in the Church—good shepherds supposedly—covered these up or at least turned a blind eye. And what do we have now? Lives destroyed because of the violation of the innocence of youth and more thinking that maybe the Church is corrupt to her core and walking away from connectedness with the Body of Christ. While this has been horrible, in some ways we should not be surprised. We were warned. So many of the prophets from the Hebrew Bible wept and lamented over the corrupt leaders and shepherds of Israel in their day. The Lord had chosen them to protect and to lead the people of that day. But instead they often only enriched themselves while abusing or neglecting those most in need or vulnerable. Because of this corruption—this misleading by leaders of the Church—we can be tempted to go it alone. If even those who claim to be close to Christ and entrusted by him with leadership can and do sin in such horrific ways, why listen to or follow them? When I find myself asking these very questions, I try to dwell in reflection and prayer on the line from the Gospels: “At the sights of the crowds, his [Jesus’] heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36).” The word, translated here as ‘pity,’ means that Jesus was ‘wrenched in his gut.’ This is like the feeling of parents who see their child in real pain. The people’s hunger, their heartfelt search, their longing for more, called Jesus forth. He allowed their need to turn him into a shepherd. And that was Jesus’ lesson for the disciple—for those whom he was modeling what he was teaching in both deed and word. They saw how he identified with the needs that appeared before him. He was showing his followers that if they wanted to carry forth his mission, they had to feel the real needs of the people. Only in identifying with the pain, the need, the aimlessness of those that shepherds are called to protect, can they lead and give care in authentic ways and words. In the long history of the Church, there have been corrupt shepherds who have preyed on the Lord’s flock. But there have also been good and holy ones too. In going through some old papers and files while settling into my new office at Regis last fall, I came across a memory of one shepherd, a priest, who did in his daily life lay down his life for his sheep. It was a homily preached in 1988 by Father Philip Carey, SJ (Regis Class of 1925) on the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Unlike many Jesuits years ago who were in the ministry of education on the high school and college levels, Father Carey spent most of his life as a priest working among those who labored with their hands fighting for their right to form unions as well as well as fighting the corruption these associations sometimes fell into.
Father Carey came from humble beginnings. His father spent his days as a conductor on the trolleys Third Avenue El (which, up until 1955, many Regians who lived in upper Manhattan and the Bronx rode back and forth to school each day). Before these trolley workers were unionized, his father was often forced to work 97 hours each week. For many years he only had two full days off for “vacation” and this is when he would take his brood of kids to the parish Holy Name Breakfast in the winter and in the summer for a day at Coney Island. It was his father—a shepherd in his own right— whose words would shape Fr. Carey. He said to his newly-ordained son (and remember the time and context when they were said): “Don’t waste your time on God’s holy ladies. They come to Him naturally. It is grizzly guys like me who need you.” In reflecting on fifty years of service as a shepherd of God’s holy people, Father Carey said: “Somehow or another, the days of my priesthood have been with teamsters and sandhogs and dock workers—men who think and pray not with the twisting of philosophers but who come to God with ideas and goals they can squeeze in their fists.” With regard to my own faith as a Catholic and commitment to the Church—it is because of the example of holy and humble service of men like Father Carey. And it also due to many women who have supported me in my life personally and modeled what it means to be a true follower of Christ, especially the Sisters who taught me in elementary school and their example of quiet, but real and effective, service of others in the education of generations of children. When the dark clouds of sin and scandal aroused by the misdeeds of others, especially Church leaders, tempt me to chuck it all over and walk away, it is both the memory, as well as the continuing service and commitment to Christ in word and deed, of good women and men that keep me inside the Church trying to do the best I can to be faithful. May the Lord raise up more shepherds like Father Carey—those who lead good and decent lives of service to Christ and to others. We have no choice but to pray for this because it remains our belief as Catholics that Christ still walks among us even when the sins of the shepherds can cause us to throw up our hands and tempt us to walk away and go it alone.