In the wake of a widening clergy sex abuse crisis in the Church that even included a call by an archbishop for Pope Francis to resign, Catholics in the Phoenix Diocese were called to fast and pray.
Hundreds poured into Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Aug. 29 for a Holy Hour where Fr. John Lankeit presided. The rector of the cathedral, known for his fiery preaching style, pointed to the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist detailed in the Gospel reading of the day. “His persecutor demanded not that he should deny Christ but only that he should keep silent about the truth,” Fr. Lankeit said. “We’ve had enough of keeping silent about the truth.”
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He pointed to those who have suffered egregious wounds at the hands of “fake versions of a priest” and yet have remained faithful to the Church. “They are the strength of the Church,” Fr. Lankeit said. “You and I who have not been wounded — we can’t say we would keep our faith. … They are not victims. They are the body of Christ.”
Catholics must keep in mind what the Church is and what it isn’t, Fr. Lankeit said. “It isn’t the evil men who did this and who covered it up.”
“It’s important to understand we are powerless against this evil but not helpless,” he added. “It’s not in our power to fix. The solution to what is going on in the Church is to surrender to the Lord.”
He called on Catholics to pursue holiness and pointed to those who have carried the “horrific cross” of sex abuse at the hands of clergy as “the strongest.”
“They strengthen us,” Fr. Lankeit said. “We owe it to them to pursue holiness.” He urged attendees to turn to the Lord, admit they are hiding things and ask Him to root out evil in their hearts. Sin, he said, is the root of the scandal and can be traced to “disobedience to the Church’s teaching and a spirit of dissent.” Since at baptism each person becomes a temple of God, the purification of the Church begins with personal repentance.
“If you question the Church’s teaching, if you don’t believe the Church got it right with “Humanae Vitae,” repent of that tonight.”
In previous Sunday homilies during August that were broadcast live on local television and online, Fr. Lankeit spoke out about the crisis. Pointing to Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus, he said small acts of betrayal earlier in Judas’ walk with Jesus led to the “most cruel and unjust betrayal in human history.” Clergy who abuse and cover up abuse, Fr. Lankeit said, are the “modern Judases in the priesthood and episcopate today.”
The mood at the cathedral for the Holy Hour was somber and subdued but the congregation broke into applause at the conclusion of the homily.
Dan Troop of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Scottsdale said he was “angry and just stunned that they hadn’t taken care of this like they told us they had back in 2002. … It’s going to have to be taken care of now if the Church expects to ever regain its moral authority.”
Troop said he planned to redouble his prayer efforts, make sure he prays the Rosary daily and go to Confession more often.
Gary Shaffer, a convert and a Ss. Simon and Jude parishioner, said his first reaction to the scandal was “sadness and great disappointment” but that he was encouraged by the response of some bishops and priests who called for Holy Hours.
Luisa Lukaszewski, also a cathedral parishioner, said she was “sad for the victims and sad for the men who chose to do what they did. I just needed to be here tonight to be in solidarity with Catholics in Phoenix and to pray.”
The Diocese of Phoenix is in full compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, according to the diocese’s website. The Diocese of Phoenix has been audited annually since 2003, including an on-site audit in 2017. Recent audits were undertaken by StoneBridge Business Partners, an independent firm hired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to determine compliance with the Charter. Phoenix has been found to be in full compliance with the Charter following each audit.
In 2004, the Diocese of Phoenix and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office co-sponsored an historic summit on sexual abuse. It was attended by 350 people from the community and educated members of the Church, the public and the private sector on how to identify and deal with sexual misconduct against children. To this day, the Diocese of Phoenix and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office work together on matters involving criminal allegations.