It was a late morning sometime in MarchAprilMay of 2018. Those dark months have melded together in my mind to such an extent that I think of them as one dreadful month that seemed never to end.
After making sure Bishop Malone had whatever he needed for his latest meeting, I made a swift retreat from the Chancery. Walk-running with my head down, I sped down two flights of stairs to the one spot in the Catholic Center that brought me any consolation: the Chapel. Sitting in front of the tabernacle, I let the tears fall and poured my aching heart out to Jesus. Sobbing silently with my eyes closed, I became aware that someone else had entered the Chapel. “Well,” I thought to myself, “At least I don’t have to explain why I’m crying. Anyone in this building won’t have to guess.” But this unknown person had chosen the seat right next to me! Opening my tear-gilded eyes, I saw my closest colleague- Father Ryszard, who had tears in his own eyes. He smiled sympathetically and whispered, “I’m having a hard day too.” I smiled back at him as tears tumbled down my cheeks. We sat there in front of Our Lord for as long as we could enjoying the peace of His presence. There was great consolation in knowing we were not alone in human or divine terms.
I was vividly reminded of this Catholic Center Chapel experience last night when I was at Christ the King’s Chapel for my weekly Adoration hour. Overcome with emotion and exhaustion, I began to cry in a way that I haven’t in a very long time. I realized that I was doing the same kind of crying I’d perfected last year in the Catholic Center Chapel: silent, shaking sobbing. Praying to Jesus for consolation, I also reflected as to what brought on these tears. Not all tears are an evil, as Tolkien put it so beautifully, and they are rarely present without cause. The following is the reflection that my tears generated.
The past week has been the most challenging one since all of this began over a year ago. When Father Ryszard’s story was broadcast last Wednesday and Thursday, I was filled with gratitude, admiration and relief. How proud I was of my former colleague for his courage in blowing the whistle and then coming forward with his story of survivorhood! How wonderful it was to hear references to “whistle blowers” with that delightful pluralization. How relieved I was that Father was no longer required to cater to the whims of the bishop who had revictimized and retraumatized him multiple times.
But almost immediately, I began to realize that the same thing was going to happen to him that had happened to me last year: people were going to question his motives, doubt his sincerity and attack him personally. And I learned that it is exponentially harder to have this happen to a loved one than it is to bear it yourself. I’m no longer bothered by anything people say to me and I’ve learned to quickly spot constructive criticism, which I value, amidst the sea of ever-swirling critiques. But now people were saying things about Father Ryszard and oh I couldn’t abide by it! So I devoted myself to defending him at every opportunity.
And what an experience that has been! Because of my defense of Father Ryszard, I’ve been told that I’ve lost my credibility, lost my focus, lost it altogether. I’ve been told that my defense of him is “not a good strategy” as if I’ve ever had a strategy unless you call Telling the Truth a strategy. I’ve been warned that I’ll regret my support for him. I have lost followers and friends (of both the real and Facebook variety). But you know what I haven’t lost? Peace in my heart and in my soul.
I know Father Ryszard. I know that he is honest and that lies are antithetical to his very being. He does not have to prove his honesty or sincerity to me – I saw it in action day in and day out. He never hesitated, equivocated or prevaricated no matter the circumstances. In fact, he can be brutally honest in a way that I often needed! I know that he is faithful. His “office sermons” helped me to maintain my faith during the darkest days of my life. When he celebrates Mass, he raises his hands to heaven as though he is reaching right up to Jesus in love and gratitude. His devotion to Jesus and his example of faith in action inspired me to not give up on the God and the faith I’ve always loved. I know that Father is good because I witnessed his goodness every day for three years: cheerful charity, selfless service, and an energetic eagerness to help anyone and everyone he could.
Father Ryszard once said to me, “You understand without words.” What he meant was that he doesn’t have to explain the details of an interaction with the Bishop or the circumstances of his actions or inactions, his words or his silence. Having been with Father Ryszard on the Chancery battlefield for so long, I understand circumstances and details with no explanation necessary. Likewise, I don’t have to question Father Ryszard’s motives because I understand them without words too.
Lest you think that there have been no words between Father Ryszard and me, I can tell you that we have spoken about the matters at hand. His answers to my questions were immediate and guileless. He has been open and honest with me as always. He has been reasonable and rational as I’ve always known him to be. During one of these conversations, there were tears in both of our eyes because what we spoke about was so serious and intense. Never far from the surface is the reminder of his own abuse by a priest, the subsequent threats from our auxiliary bishop, and the callous complicity of our bishop.
Father has never given me reason to doubt his words, his motives or his actions. My loyalty to him is not blind – it is informed. This is not a loyalty based on naivete or niceness. It is not simply a matter of one whistle blower defending another because she’s so grateful for company in the weird world of whistle blowing. Rather, it is the loyalty between friends and comrades who have never had a reason to doubt each other and who understand each other without words.
It is appropriate that the anniversary of September 11th occurred during this past week. That will always be a day of sorrowful remembrance for our country. The terrorist acts of 9/11 were beyond despicable, but in their wake we witnessed unity and charity on a tremendous scale. This country came together in a manner I’ve never seen before or since. People showed their love for each other in ways large and small. In the aftermath of an unthinkable tragedy, we emerged as a people grounded in unity and charity.
The Diocese of Buffalo is currently dealing with a tragedy of a vastly different nature, but one that also requires unity and charity in order to be overcome. Sadly, this past week has been filled with division and animosity in so many ways and so many areas. I’ve witnessed the corrosive effect of gossip, slander and rumor, which have been running rampant throughout the diocese. I’ve observed conflict and dissension among people who were previously friends and allies. I’ve raised my eyebrows in alarm at a “mob mentality” that has seemed to take over various discussions or threads. I’ve had people contact me out of concern that all of this division will detract from our mission.
What is that mission? My primary mission is to obtain healing for survivors and for our diocese. Healing for survivors is multi-faceted: justice, empowerment, support, resources, closure and community. For the diocese, that mission is a little simpler: let’s get through this with as much unity and charity as we can. We will eventually be a Post Malone diocese whether it’s in two weeks or two years. We have to move toward healing and that can only occur if we’re united and loving. There are no separate teams here – we are the team – Team DOB! There will be things we disagree on and areas where we don’t see eye-to-eye, but we can’t let that drag us down and distract us.
Bishop Malone has tried to distract us and deflect our attention away from him. This is the same bishop who regularly used a “divide and conquer” strategy when dealing with his priests.
We know that the Devil loves nothing more than to divide good people so as to limit or level their effectiveness. He is a divider, but we know that he is never the conqueror.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he prays: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I’d say that’s a pretty good motto to guide us in our mission! We certainly can’t achieve any semblance of harmony without God’s grace, mercy and guidance.
The word harmony ultimately comes to us from the Greek word for “joint” – harmos. If our joints don’t work in harmony, we won’t get very far. If we didn’t have joints, we’d be rigid and inflexible. Of course, we’ve all experienced varying levels of creakiness and/or soreness in our joints. Things do get out of joint sometimes! But just as our joints work in harmony with their anatomical neighbors, we need to work in harmony with each other. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I believe it will be necessary.
This is meant as a reflection to be shared – not a sermon to be delivered. I need to listen to my own words as much or more than anyone! All week, I’ve been feeling very much out of joint. Peaceful though my mind and heart have been, my mind has been troubled and my spirit has been deflated. I’m going to try and take a break from it all this weekend. I will attempt to heed this additional advice from St. Paul: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… and the God of peace will be with you.”
Peace be with you, my friends. Please pray for me as I will for thee.