Holiness, Part 1: The Backdrop

I recently received the following letter from a parishioner:

Dear Father Zlock,

I am still absorbing the latest and, to date, most horrific announcement – “Cardinal “ McCarrick’s admission of sexual abuse, spanning the many decades of his priesthood.

“Our” Church is a disgrace, if the highest levels of our leaders have and still may be abusing their parishioners and “seminarians “!!!

I pray for all those who have been involved. I pray for healing and I pray for a cleansing of our church.

This man has been protected by his superiors/ associates. I cannot believe he was elevated to cardinal. (Cardinal Law was another priest, who if not personally an abuser, did not report others who were, and then fled to the Vatican for protection).

I may be rambling but, I was originally a parishioner in one of his dioceses. Though I did not know him personally my dear mother in law, recently deceased, would have been heartbroken. She always had such wonderful things to say about him.

I have never personally known a priest who was an abuser. I have had so many wonderful, Holy priest friends in my life but, I am so sad and am reaching out to you, as my shepherd and pastor, and I hope, my friend.

How can I (we) help our parish to survive this continually unfolding of evil?

I can only imagine your own sadness. And then – all that is coming to light in Pa. God bless all that you do for our St Monica family.

My response:

It’s going to be a rough few weeks. The sad thing is that this is not a Catholic, nor a priest thing. Consider the cases of Charlie Rose, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Sandusky, a female assistant coach in Dover, PA, a female crew coach in Pittsburgh, a male coach in Western PA, a male teacher in West Chester.

What I have found especially aggravating, and nefarious, is that the press will absolutely hammer our church and certain politicians want to change the law, specifically so that they can come after us and sue us. Yet there are no cries about national inquiries, lawsuits or grand juries about people who are abusing our children in public schools and other organizations.

So, what to do? We “stick to the knitting.” We do what we have heard the Lord call us to do. At St. Monica, that means to help people encounter Christ through liturgy, the Word and serving others. There will be a lot of screaming and crying and anger and ink over the coming months. In most cases they will be providing more heat, than light. We need to focus on lighting the candles, rather than cursing the darkness. (Like your nephew, I would also recommend more bass fishing.)

Call me when you get home and let’s do coffee.


Recently, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger (Diocese of Albany, New York), sent a letter to members of the clergy (vicars, priests, mba-scandals-controversiesdeacons, seminarians). It was also copied to Parish Life Directors and Department Heads at the diocesan Pastoral Center. In the letter the bishop writes that, “A culture of virtue and chastity – in short, personal holiness – rooted in a trusting and committed relationship with Jesus Christ is the path toward healing and wholeness, even as we seek to drive the evil behaviors among us from the womb of the Church.” The sex abuse fiasco is “much more than a crisis of policies and procedures,” the bishop advised. “It is a profoundly spiritual crisis.” The root of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis is “sin and a retreat from holiness, specifically the holiness of an integral, truly human sexuality,”

That word “holiness” caught my eye. What is holiness? What does it look like in today’s world.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the Pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He penned some ideas on the subject of holiness on his blog. He says redthat,

First of all, holiness is wholeness. Second (and linked with the first) the truly holy person is humble. Third, the holy person has learned how to love others. Fourth, the holy person regards religion as the rules to the game, not the game itself. Fifth, the holy person has learned to love all things according to their worth. Sixth, the holy person is ordinary. Seventh, the holy person is a person of prayer, but you don’t see it much. Eighth – the holy person is joyful but not naive.

I like the words in the “holiness” picture above. Holiness is “An invitation to the extraordinary.” The video below captures that….

A poem I recently read captures her, and my, sentiment:

How baffling you are, Oh Church, and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you!

I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence.


You have given me so much scandal,

and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is.

I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity,

more compromised, more false,

and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful.

How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face,

and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.


No, I cannot free myself from you,

because I am you, though not completely.

And besides, where would I go?


Would I establish another?

I would not be able to establish it without the same faults,

for they are the same faults I carry in me.

And if I did establish another,

it would be my Church,

not the Church of Christ.

(From the book, The God Who Comes, by Carlo Carretto)


Look, holiness is hard. It is especially hard in the face of so much that is certainly not holy today. Recent events will have some people consider leaving the church, or at least consider taking a hiatus for a while. Next week, let’s look at that the topic of leaving – and returning.

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