Bishop Anthony Fisher's Homily for Masses at Padre Pio Parish
|Photography by Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu.|
Video and audio recordings of this homily are available at: www.parra.catholic.org.au
What to say to you, my dear people, in this unhappy week? Some of you will be angry, grieving, agog. I suppose I’m all those things myself. As your bishop when I heard the news my heart broke for you; as your brother in Christ my heart broke with you. I’ve been praying for wisdom on how to help all of us through this.
People have written to me who feel betrayed by the lies and hypocrisy, the repeating dumping on the Church and priests by one of our own. Others think Fr Kevin Lee a hero for opposing celibacy, authority and duplicity. Some wonder what to believe of the reports and rumours. Some feel their faith being undermined, while others are unaffected or even strengthened in their commitment.
Most of us will try to forgive and forget, hold on out of love of Christ and the Church, but also be a little diminished. It will take some time to heal. So I’d like to say a few things to you now even if I don’t have all the answers either. After Mass we can talk some more if you’d like.
1. I want to say how good it is that amidst hurt and division you’ve come together, to this church, for this Mass. You might have been tempted to throw in the towel on Church or to go elsewhere. Yet you are here, together, here together with the Lord, and that is a tribute to your generosity and fidelity. For we know, as our Gospel (Jn 15:1-8) reminds us, that cut off from the True Vine of Christ and His Church we are fruitless.
2. While we are dismayed by the way Fr Kevin left us, we honour the good work he did as the first Parish Priest of this wonderful parish. In case there is any doubt in your minds about the validity of his sacraments, please rest assured: Christ and the Church supplies for such defects and the validity of sacraments does not depend upon the worthiness of the priest.
3. Now is not the time to cover the whys and wherefores, successes and failures, of priestly celibacy or the personal history of particular priests. We are all still too raw. But let me say a little of a general nature.
According to the national census, fewer than half of Australians of marriageable age are married; a significant and growing number live alone. That presents its challenges, but the Church has always taught that both married life and single life are ways to sanctity – if lived well. My own experience and the long experience of the Church has been that celibacy can be lived positively and fruitfully, allowing a person to give themselves completely to the service of Christ and His people.
What’s more, the Church has always recognised that the great sacraments of marriage and priesthood complement each other. Each is a lifetime’s work in itself. Marriage and celibacy have never been easy and today both are under tremendous pressure. Ironically, from both sides of the fence people imagine the grass is greener on the other.
In many ways the crisis for marriage is greater than that for single life today. Many have given up on it altogether. Or they cohabit first, marry outside religion, have few or no children, end in divorce. A much higher proportion of marriages break up today than priestly vocations fail.
In describing today’s reality I’m not blaming anyone: we all know and love people who’ve tried really hard and it just hasn’t worked. Part of the problem is our society: there’s so little back up. But it would be naïve to imagine that marriage would fix the shortages of priests or pressures on clergy. Other denominations with married clergy face shortages – plus problems of infidelity and breakdown in clergy marriages.
4. There’s the issue of abuse. Clergy child abuse is a terrible thing that we must eliminate for the future while owning up to the past and trying to help victims. But marrying off the clergy won’t fix that any more than it will answer the vocations crisis. Research shows that predators abuse whatever state of life they are in, married or single, clerical or lay, and that sadly they are to be found in all those places.
5. God speaks to us in our present need through His Word and Sacraments. Our epistle (1 Jn 3:18-24) is clear. Faith and love must be more than just words: they must be alive and active. Faith and love must be more than just sentiment: we express them by keeping the commandments. Sometimes that brings real joy, what our first reading called ‘the consolation of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 9:26-31). At other times it brings painful change: what our Gospel calls ‘pruning’ (Jn 15:1-8). But we will not bear fruit by going it alone, by cutting ourselves off from ‘the True Vine’ of Christ and His Church.
I am confident that this young parish is mature enough to withstand the present challenge. So many people contribute in different ways and I ask you to redouble your efforts to support each other in faith and love at this time. You really do make a difference in each other’s lives and in the world. You will find, like the Church in our first reading, that whether troubled or at peace yours is a resilient community.
6. I want to assure you that, contrary to the scuttlebutt, no punitive action has been taken by the Diocese of Parramatta against Fr Kevin. He has not been excommunicated. He has not been evicted. He has refused to take calls from me and the diocesan office, and has not communicated his intentions to the Church except through the media. So I was as shocked as you were and knew as little about all this when it happened.
Like many of you, I am concerned for Kevin’s welfare and now that of his wife and for all of those who have been affected by his actions over the past few days. We all know that Church law and Catholic tradition make it impossible for Kevin to remain as Parish Priest if he has entered into a marriage. But he has left his ministry and his presbytery of his own accord.
7. Finally, I would like to speak to you about the great majority of clergy and religious of our Diocese who give generous and faithful service. They are people of integrity who do not live ‘double lives’. We should have great confidence in the clergy and people of Western Sydney.
I thank my Vicar-General, Monsignor Bob McGuckin, who has agreed to administer the parish for the time being. My Episcopal Vicar, Fr Chris de Sousa, came here soon after the news broke and has been a great support.
I will stick around after Mass if you would like to talk to me; so will Fr Chris and our CatholicCare people. If you have further questions you might try the parish or diocesan office. I will try to keep you informed. Many people have contacted me to say they are praying for you all. I have asked that this community be in the intentions of every other parish in the Diocese at all the Masses this Sunday. Please add your prayers to theirs so that, in the words of our Opening Prayer, we may yet “bear much fruit and come to the joys of life eternal”.
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