Ahead of bishops’ meeting, we need your prayer and fasting

Archbishop Aquila

Since ancient times, people have used the stars to navigate through the expanse of the sea or over unknown terrain.  As the bishops of the United States prepare to address the difficult topic of clergy sex abuse at our annual meeting in two weeks, I invite all Catholics to join us in praying and fasting that our deliberations will be guided by Christ, the light that shines forth in the darkness.

Some of you might know the story of Steven Callahan, a naval architect and sailor who survived 76 days floating across the Atlantic Ocean after his boat was damaged beyond repair in a storm. During his ordeal, he used the stars to determine where he was to navigate toward land, while also using his survival skills to obtain food and water. His story is one of courage, creativity and perseverance in the face of very long odds.

During these difficult times the Church is enduring because of the abuse crisis, my fellow bishops and I, as well as all believers, need similar virtues. Most importantly, we must orient ourselves toward the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. He is our hope, our anchor and sure refuge in the storm. We must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and fidelity to Christ and his Gospel.

For that reason, we bishops are devoting ourselves to seven days of prayer and fasting between Nov. 5 and 11, in anticipation of our annual fall bishops’ meeting in Baltimore. These two forms of penance allow us to draw closer to Christ, seek conversion and in a small way make reparation for the evil that has been committed.

In the Scriptures, Jesus explained that prayer and fasting were necessary to drive out a deaf and mute spirit that the disciples could not cast out (Mk. 9:29). Similarly, these acts of penance will help provide the spiritual groundwork for the Spirit of Truth to prevail at our meeting.

I have already invited the priests of the archdiocese to join Bishop Rodriguez and I in fasting and praying for the upcoming meeting during these specific days, but I want to also extend the same invitation to all the faithful of the archdiocese.

There are three specific intentions that I ask you to join us in praying for: for the healing and support of all victims and survivors of clergy abuse; for the conversion and just punishment of the perpetrators and concealers of clergy abuse; and for the Holy Spirit to guide all the bishops in responding to the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse in the Church.

Much like a person who is lost at sea and longing for rescue, every Catholic should ask God for the gifts of hope and gratitude to carry us to safe harbor. We should cultivate those virtues by giving thanks for the fact that Jesus remains with us in this trial through the sacraments and by recalling that despite fallible bishops, priests and lay people, the Good News that Jesus died and rose to save us from our sins is still true.

When he celebrated Mass for the Feast of All Souls last week, Pope Francis described the outlook that I pray will be yours and mine. “May we never lose hope,” he said, “always contemplating the horizon, always looking ahead. May God grant us the grace to recognize the lights that accompany us to where he awaits us with so much love.”

COMING UP: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

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Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr