February 17, 2020
Taguig City – the 28th Canon Law Society of the Philippines held at BGC St. Michael Parish under the Diocese of Pasig presided by Most Rev. Mylo Hubert C. Vergara, D.D.
ACCEPTANCE, ACCOUNTABILITY AND ACCOMPANIMENT
Most Rev. Mylo Hubert C. Vergara D.D.,
Homily during the Opening Eucharistic Celebration
of the 28TH CLSP National Convention, February 17, 2020 (6:00PM)
St. Michael the Archangel Parish, BGC, Taguig City
First of all, it is a great blessing that the Diocese of Pasig was chosen to host the 28th Canon Law Society of the Philippines (CLSP) National Convention this year. I heard that for the past 27 years, all the canon law conventions had been held outside Metro Manila. We are indeed honored by your presence in our diocese: our dear bishops, priests, religious and lay collaborators. Indeed, we join the universal church in seriously addressing the burning issues of clergy undergoing crisis from canonical as well as pastoral perspectives and prospects. In this brief sharing, allow me to use three words which may capsulize God’s message for us during these next few days, culled from the readings of today’s eucharistic liturgy. These three words are: acceptance, accountability and accompaniment.
The first is ACCEPTANCE. In our first reading from the Letter of St. James, the author invites us to be joyful amidst trials, knowing that we are tested in our faith so that we may persevere as we face the many challenges that come our way (cf. James 1: 2-3). How can we be joyful when over the past two decades, the Church has been beset by various scandals due to sexual abuse done by bishops, priests, religious and even lay people as they shepherd the flock entrusted to their care, especially innocent minors? How can we be joyful when we feel deep pain in our hearts because some of our Church leaders have victimized and wounded members of the Body of Christ? As we face these trials, we even find ourselves at a loss because we do not know what to do and can’t find ready-made formulas and solutions to these pressing problems. But I guess the foundation to experience deep, inner joy is our humble acceptance that we are weak and sinful, and that as we have always heard, “when sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” It is by God’s grace that we humbly accept both our sinfulness and God’s forgiveness and mercy. The Lord invites us to a deeper joy that blossoms forth from the painful acceptance that we have, ourselves, wounded the Church but want to do something about it so as to be instruments of restoration and healing. In so doing, we hope, not to become bitter, but to become better persons, better priests, better religious, and better lay people. Hopefully, we become, not bitter, but better and persevering joyful, missionary disciples, serving the Church that God loves and that we love.
The second word is ACCOUNTABILITY. The author of the Letter of St. James also tells us to “…let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4) As we humbly accept that we are both an unholy and holy Church, we strive to endure the scandals we face in a very constructive, formative way to attain the perfection God wills for us. After all, Jesus himself told us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Throughout the past centuries, then and even now, we thank the hierarchical Church, through her leaders, for instituting church laws to ensure accountability for whatever offense is done to members of God’s flock. We must recognize that the Church has striven hard to correct her faults, her mistakes and her sins through the rigors of church laws and procedural norms. Perhaps, in a number of cases, they may have neither been properly applied nor executed well by church authorities. In fact, they have not been perfect and full proof. However, in the spirit of accountability and in the passage of time, we can sincerely and honestly say that we have done our best to address clergy sexual misconduct both universally and locally. We are grateful to St. John Paul II who wrote the Motu Propio Sacramentum Sanctitatis Tutela in 2001to address grave crimes against the Church. We are also grateful to Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI who promulgated the Motu Propio Normae de Gravioribus Delictis in 2010, further modifying the norms written by St. John Paul II to better deal, handle and judge a series of more grave crimes. Recently, we are deeply grateful to Pope Francis who issued the Motu Propio Come Una Madre Amorevole in 2016 and Vos Estis Lux Mundi in 2019 which established new procedural norms to combat sexual abuse and to ensure that bishops and religious superiors are held accountable of their actions. We are indeed blessed because our Church leaders have vigilantly tried their best to address the problems of clergy sexual misconduct both canonically and pastorally. This is our way of ensuring accountability for both victims and victimizers, and all members of the Body of Christ, the Church. We are grateful to God because, as we have heard from the author of the Letter of St. James, just when we lack wisdom to deal with our clergy crisis, we pleaded for God’s intervention; and he has provided this for us through the centuries and, even in the recent years, generously and ungrudgingly (James 1:5).
The third and final word is ACCOMPANIMENT. As we face the trials of our scandals and future problems in the Church, the primary accompaniment we seek for is God. This was echoed in our responsorial psalm when we uttered: Be kind to me Lord…let your love come to me, O Lord, and I shall live.”(Psalm 118) God’s kindness and love assures us that he is always there to accompany us and carry us when we hurdle the many difficulties of life. Indeed, he will always be our Good Shepherd, accompanying and guiding us as we graze the rough pasturelands and turbulent waters of our clergy crisis. But this divine accompaniment must be coupled with human accompaniment as we know that we are pastors caring for wounded sheep. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, in his talk “Clergy Sexual Misconduct: Some Reflections from Asia” (International Eucharistic Congress, 2012) shared that pastoral accompaniment is multi-faceted. He even identified that our pastoral care and accompaniment must consider the following: 1) victims and their families, 2) the hurting community, whether a parish, a diocese or a congregation, 3) the priest offender, 4) the priest offender’s family, 5) the non-offender clergy, 6) the superiors and bishops, and 7) seminary formation and ongoing formation of clergy. Given these pastoral thrusts and responses, we practically seek the accompaniment also from all stakeholders in our service to the Church to address our crises: the bishops, vicar general, vicars for priests, canon and civil lawyers, professional counselors and psychiatrists, media spokespersons and all those well meaning people who want to show love and care for both victims and victimizers of the problems of clergy sexual abuse. This canon law convention is a testimony of this accompaniment. Our accompaniment manifests how much we care and love each other. We all desire to touch and heal the wounded body of Christ in each other.
In our gospel reading, the Pharisees argued with Jesus, seeking from Him a sign from heaven to test Him. As we all know, the sign they wanted was to see an almighty, all powerful Messiah, their political liberator whom they feel will liberate them from the clutches of their oppressors and persecutors. Jesus told them, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” (Mark 8:12). He challenged them to set their gaze, not on the sign they expected but to look at the true and only sign: no one else but HIM. We have the only and greatest sign we need to accept our sins, to be accountable for our offenses and to accompany the wounded body of Christ. That greatest sign is the EUCHARIST we celebrate each day of our lives. For whenever the bread and wine we offer becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, we have Jesus, the wounded and divine healer before us who is loving and merciful, whom we receive, who restores us to wholeness. Amen.