“Jaws Dropped. My Eyes Filled with Tears”: The Stunning Exchange at Mass About the Abuse Crisis

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Phil Roeder, Flickr, CC BY 2.0 / @SusanBReynolds1, Twitter

Wow.

“This morning at Mass, I witnessed something I have never seen, and words still mostly fail me.”

Thus begins Dr. Susan Reynolds‘ stunning story of what happened at her parish during Mass in response to the abuse crisis. Note that Dr. Reynolds, who teaches theology at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, shared this story two weeks ago, before the release of the Vigano testimony.

Here’s the story:

(Full story in text form at the end of the article.)

Lord, have mercy on us all.

She’s right. People are rightfully upset and looking for guidance. “People don’t want finessed press releases,” she writes at the end.

Whatever details investigations find at this point, I think it’s safe to say that this crisis in the Church is serious, deep, and not going away anytime soon.

May God gives grace to our shepherds to be more like this priest!

Here’s the full text of the story:

“This morning at Mass, I witnessed something I have never seen, and words still mostly fail me. /1

“Our priest gave a powerful homily. He explained how poor ecclesiology has disempowered lay people &, in simple terms, how we must view this crisis as systemic. He affirmed the statement on the bishops’ resignation. He concluded by calling for radical lay-led structural reform. /2

“Then he sat down. And then, in the fifth row, a dad stood up. “HOW?” he pleaded. “TELL US HOW.” His voice was shaking and determined and terrified. His collared shirt was matted to his back with sweat. /3

“Jaws dropped. My eyes filled with tears. I’ve belonged to call-and-response parishes. This isn’t one. This is a big, middle of the road parish in a wealthyish Southeast college town. In such contexts it’s hard to imagine a more subversive act than doing what that dad just did. /4

“The priest stood up again. He looked the dad in the eyes, and he answered him slowly and haltingly and thoughtfully. The whole thing was so stunning I don’t even remember what he said. But what he didn’t say was, “Sir, please have a seat,” or “We can talk after Mass.” /5

“He could have cited preservation of liturgical solemnity as an excuse to dismiss the man and thus escape this terribly uncomfortable moment. Instead, he let this father’s cry interrupt us. He allowed himself to be put on the spot, to answer for things he didn’t do. /6

“”I have a son,” the dad said. “He’s going to make his first communion. What am I supposed to tell him?” In his searching, halting response, the priest made space for the wrenching inadequacy of every possible response to be laid bare. /7

“This was not a brief, dismissive exchange. 10 minutes at least, and the two also talked at length after mass. At the end of mass, the priest offered to invite the Bishop to the parish for a listening session. “And if he won’t come, I will.” /8

“The holy rawness of that dad’s lament and the renegotiation of power it effected transformed the experience of the liturgy in ways that far exceed my ability to articulate them in this moment. /9

“People don’t want finessed press releases. They want to name their betrayal out loud, in public, in sacred space, before the tabernacle, before God and one another. They want to be listened to without condescension. They don’t want easy answers. They want contrition. /10”

[See also: The Little-Known Title of Mary All Catholics Need to Invoke to Save the Church in Crisis]

[See also: The Reason Why We Have Scandal in the Church: A Brave Priest’s Powerful Message]