Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reflections on a recent scandal

Well, I’ve been thinking and praying about this all weekend. The news regarding Fr. Patrick Umberger hit me like a ton of bricks this past Wednesday. My first reaction was: "Oh, no! Not this. Not now." My heart sank. A wave of shame washed over me. And then I prayed for my brother priest and the people who would be scandalized by this. My next thought was, "at least no one was actually abused here." Then, I reread the article and my thoughts went to the children who were exploited by those taking the pictures.

I have been surprised by my lack of anger regarding this situation. There is a terrible inevitability about this. We live in a sick and broken society. So it should not surprise us that even a man who has faithfully served God’s Church for 30 years is subject to temptation and may even succumb to it. Remember, Judas was with Jesus himself for three years and he succumbed to the temptations of Satan and went on to betray our Lord. Peter denied Him and all of the other apostles abandoned Him. Some of us betray Him big, others of us betray Him in smaller ways, but we all betray Him who loved us and stand in need of mercy and forgiveness from Him and from one another. I think I’ll be going to confession Monday.
Fr. Pat immediately preceded me at Holy Family Parish. I have to admit, I didn’t relish coming home from my five days of vacation and facing my parishioners. My first Mass on Saturday night was a trial. However, I inserted a special petition for those priests who have failed in some way and those hurt or scandalized by them. We got through the weekend ok, but with no one broaching the subject I am now wondering how best to address the issue, or even if I should. What would you want your pastor to do?

I have been greatly heartened by some of what I have seen on facebook and on the blog of a friend of mine. One young lady on facebook very rightly pointed out that this isn’t the time for finger pointing but the time for prayer for those men who have been sickened by this attraction to young teen boys. My friend, over at "Credo Catholic", wrote a beautiful, three paragraph posting on the appropriate response to scandal. There was also a very good, heartfelt editorial in the La Crosse Tribune which also gave me much hope.

It was inevitable that SNAP would have their say. Too bad they used this situation to try scoring rhetorical points which did nothing to advance understanding and healing, or to address the real situation. But then, that is what we’ve come to expect from them. You can’t destroy a man based on unsubstantiated fears, suspicions, or allegations. You can however test those suspicions which is exactly what the Onalaska Police Department and the Wisconsin Child Pornography Task-Force did. We should all be grateful for the difficult task they perform. Because of their work Fr. Pat and many like him are able to get the help they obviously need.

Msgr Gilles, our diocesan administrator, conveyed bishop-designate William Callahan’s sentiment that "During difficult times like this we are all brought to our knees". Bishop Callahan went on to state that "as we approach Jesus in Holy Communion today we can pray for God’s healing for one another, for Fr. Umberger and for all of us in the Diocese".

Msgr Gilles went on to announce that the diocesan curia would be celebrating Mass for healing and strength for Fr. Pat, the parishioners of St. Patricks - Onalaska, and the priests of the diocese. I would ask that all of us offer at least one Mass or communion for this same intention. And please, continue to pray for us, your priests. We have been given the grace of ordination, but we are still men subject to temptation and sin. We truly do need your prayers, especially in times like these.


  1. Father

    You asked what would you want your pastor to do? Great question.......nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the corner, but everyone knows it is there. If I were a parishoner 1. I would want to hear about what needs to be done. 2. Tell your people (as you mentioned in the blog) the devil doesn't leave you along just because of Holy Orders. 3. Concupiscence - it is still here. 4. The laity need to step it in terms of prayers for clergy. 5. I have said it many times, the laity need to (properly) step up and do what they can in the parish. A Priest cannot do his Clerical (Sacramental) work if he is to busy doing clerical work(paperwork). Hope this is OK. God bless Father, and thank you for your answer to God's call.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Matt. I appreciate it!


Comments are most welcome! As always, be charitable and remember the 8th Commandment (Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor).