One of the visits I like to make when I go back to see friends in Syracuse is to my old church, All Saints, in the Syracuse University neighborhood. They welcome me back with open arms every single time, and most important for me, they also welcome my son Dan, and make sure he feels the love.
All Saints has a bit of a reputation for being a progressive Catholic church. The pastor, Father Fred Daley, likes to stir things up a bit — something I’ve always admired about him, of course. I remember when we were getting married (my second time around), he offered to marry us in his church when all the other priests wanted to know when my first marriage was annulled, and who would be taking Communion — in other words, they were looking to follow the rules before they would consent to anointing two divorced participants who might or might not be taking Communion without signed documentation first.
This visit had an edge to it, because the Diocese of Syracuse has declared bankruptcy due to the sexual abuse settlements. New York State passed new legislation extending the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims in the state. Before this legislation, victims had until they were 23 years old to come forward and file their claim for abuse that took place when they were children. Now the deadline is extended, so victims have until they turn 55 to bring their case. The diocese came to an agreement to contribute $100,000,000 to the Victims’ Trust Fund. Well, that is a lot of zeros.
Father Daley explained that the parish’s contribution was set at $220,000. All the parishes in the diocese are required to contribute, with the total coming from parishes set at $45 million. The diocese will contribute $50 million, with the remaining $5 million coming from “other diocesan entities.” In order to pay their portion, Father Daley explained, All Saints would be selling property, including the house where he lives. He had left the small apartment at the church, so that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet could live there. They’ve since gone, and he’ll move back into that apartment. That should produce around $160,000, he explained; the rest will come from selling off some lots the parish owns as well.
The homily addressed the hierarchy of the church and the accountability that Father Daley feels is still lacking from top clergy, such as bishops, archbishops, etc. He said that Jesus was Jewish, not Roman Catholic, and that the early church during the time of the apostles was based on community, justice, mercy, and love — not a chain of command. Father Daley seemed upset about the cover-up from church officials and the lack of transparency that he feels continues today.
“The church began with a little c, not a big C,” he said in reference to the way the Catholic Church often goes by simply “the Church.” He said the calls to leadership are supposed to be calls to service, not “power over the assembly.” Father Daley also said change is difficult and frustrating, but you “can’t put toothpaste back in the tube,” and that we need to be faithful to the early church.
All this reminded me of the discussions I’d get embroiled in when I was working for the Catholic Church. We all had opinions, some with strict fidelity to the codes of canon law, and others more anxious to revamp the “rules” and open the windows to let some fresh air in.
It jazzed me up to be back at All Saints, because it is a progressive Catholic Church, and I do align myself with much of what they do and say. They do a lot for migrants, and the poor and marginalized. They have all sorts of outreach and community projects, including a refugee welcoming task force, an LGBTQ task force, a women’s task force, a diverse-abilities task force, and a justice and peace task force. They do things; they don’t just talk about them on Sunday.
I feel horrible about the sexual abuse committed by those in power within the church. It’s shameful, abhorrent, and I could go on and on about it. I knew some of the priests charged, and it was an awful realization. This could very well be the undoing of much of the church, I thought while I sat in the pew last Sunday listening.
But I thought about other things too. About how I need to focus on my own relationship with God, not on my unhappiness with the hierarchy. I still feel comforted when I hear the same words of the Mass every time I go to church. Those words are reliable, unlike the actions of the hierarchy. In the end, I have to keep working on my own faith, and I can’t let the horrific sins committed by those in the church steer me away from the love, mercy, and hope God brings to my life.