UP priests share thoughts on Pennsylvania sexual abuse report
This is the first article of a three part series
Rev. Pat Hannon is the pastoral resident of Christie Hall and an English professor. He shared his thoughts and reflections with The Beacon on the recent cases of sex abuse within the Catholic Church.
The news of the accusing hundreds of priests of child sex abuse has brought pain and conflicted emotions to many Catholics. A from Sept. 18 detailing the abuse of minors in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana also released the names of 18 additional priests “credibly accused.”
The suffering that the victims face could be difficult for many to fathom, as thousands of children were abused by men that many trusted.
But to hear how this crisis is impacting priests on campus, The Beacon sat down with three of UP’s Holy Cross priests. This will be a series of three articles published in three consecutive days, which will feature one priest for each article.
First, The Beacon sat down with Rev. Pat Hannon, pastoral resident of Christie Hall and English instructor.
The Beacon: What were your initial thoughts and feelings with the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was released?
Hannon: I was of course saddened and disturbed. It brought back memories of . It left me feeling deeply saddened, angry, frustrated, all those emotions one has when something has happened to people that you love. It made me think about how I would respond to this. I wanted to think my way through my feelings, so then I began to think about it.
My reaction was to bring it to prayer and to see how I was going to find a place of mercy and forgiveness, but not wanting to shortchange any of the other emotions. This is not going to be cheap grace time. So, my other reaction was that it clearly brought me to prayer in an honest and vulnerable way.
The Beacon: Do you think there’s any part of Church culture that contributes to pedophilia and coverup?
Hannon: I do find it troubling that, and this is Pope Francis speaking, not just me, the darker side of the institutional church is this penchant towards clericalism and protecting one's own. That’s what has to change.
We can argue about what was motivating bishops 50 years ago to keep moving predator priests around. The science was different back then, but even if you take into account science, whether it was 50 years ago, 60 years ago or 15 years ago, I think bishops have recognized that they failed, failed in their charge as shepherds to care for all members of their dioceses, particularly the most vulnerable.
And again, many, many bishops have stood up and asked for forgiveness. Hopefully, if change and reform come, it's going to come from that position of honesty. Asking for forgiveness is one thing, but structures have to change as well.
The Beacon: What do you think the Church should do to solve the problem of clericalism (policy of maintaining the power of a religious hierarchy) in the Church?
Hannon: The vast majority of priests and religious are good men and women. And they’re also human. I would go back to Pope Francis when he instructs his fellow bishops and also priests to smell like your sheep. So, I think it is getting down and dirty with one’s congregations, one’s parishes, the people with whom we minister. I think religious communities can play a very important role in that.
I think it has something to do with the trappings of power and wealth and position. Poverty, chastity, obedience. We in Holy Cross free ourselves up. We let go of these positions or these trappings of again power, position, and possession so that we might then be freed up to be more powerful instruments of hope in God’s world. But I think that’s part of it. I think it also means allowing women to assume positions within the Church, within dioceses, positions of authority. This is where I again agree with Pope Francis. We need to be able to allow the feminine to help to, in a sense, balance out the masculine. Both are important, powerful sources of energy, but in my experience, each balances out the other.
Also, honesty. As painful as it is to have this out in the news, knowing that the Church is so big, so ancient, so intriguing to so many people, it seems natural that that’s where the media and the press would focus their attention. But having said that, let’s take advantage of this opportunity to be really honest about what has happened and face up to the responsibilities. And then begin to enact the kind of reforms so that such instances of abuse are incredibly rare in the future.
The Beacon: How does this affect your vocation as a priest here on campus?
Hannon: Thankfully, I have not felt, in any way, self-conscious or defensive. I love being a priest, I love my vocation. Every day I’m incredibly humbled by it, and the thought that I get to be a part of people's lives in ways that allows me to enter into their lives in really important, crucial moments, I find just really humbling. I’m very grateful. It hasn’t in any way discouraged me. It just becomes part of my experience as a priest. I continue to try to be more generous, more humble, more merciful, more honest.
The Beacon: What would you to say to a UP student who came to you and was struggling with this and their faith?
Hannon: First, I would just listen. I would let them and help them to articulate where the wound is. If they were asking me, ‘What should I do?’ I would tell them, you’ve got to go to the Mass. Go back to Eucharist and be strengthened by Eucharist at this moment, where we encounter the Paschal Mystery. It’s not always joyful. We are a Church of broken people, sinful people. Every time we go to Eucharist, we remember who we are and whose we are. These experiences of death and dying, of anger and hurt, don’t get the last word. It means moving from that anger and bitterness to mercy. And it’s not easily done. And it must not be hurried.
Don’t forget who you are and that you are an essential part of the Church. Your absence would be felt. But ultimately, I would honor that students’ conscience. I would tell them, ‘You have to follow your conscience. Do what you think you have to do, but if you’re asking me what I would do, I would see this as a beginning, a moment in which the Lord is saying, ‘Alright, so let’s go deeper now, you’re ready to go deeper. Let’s have a good conversation about what it means to be Church.’
The Beacon: What would you like Catholic students to know as they struggle with the scandal?
Hannon: That the Church is the Body of Christ in the world, the People of God, the human and the divine mingling. I’m reminded of a line from Patrick Kavanagh's poem, the great poem in which he says, “God is in the bits of pieces of Everyday - / A kiss here and a laugh again, and sometimes tears, / A pearl necklace round the neck of poverty.” And that’s the Church. The Church is the pearl necklace around the neck of poverty. It doesn’t glamorize poverty, but these are moments in which I feel impoverished and I know that the only one who's going to satisfy that deep hunger that I have, that deep thirst, is going to be Christ.
That’s why the Church is so important, why the sacraments are so important. We have these moments where we get to encounter Christ hiding in plain sight. The opponent wants to keep us divided, wants us to not think our way through our feelings because if we do, we’ll find ourselves back at Eucharist realizing that it is all about mercy.
Again, this is Bonhoeffer talking, this not cheap grace, this is costly grace. It’s going to ask everything of us. But I think that’s the starting point. That’s what I would say. We are still, as Augustine said, we are an Easter people. It means we’re going through this Good Friday right now, but we do so with our eyes open and unafraid. Don’t be afraid. There’s no room for fear.
Wes Cruse is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.