Hardness of heart is ‘fruit of fear’ that must be overcome with love, archbishop says

DETROIT — Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron stood at the pulpit in the seat of the Church in Detroit, using his role as chief shepherd in southeast Michigan to address not only the parish, but the entire archdiocese.

Weeks after the Sept. 21 announcement of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s investigation into cases of abuse and their handling by Michigan’s seven Roman Catholic dioceses, Archbishop Vigneron used his Oct. 7 homily at the cathedral to address the root cause of the crisis and how the Church must move forward.

Connecting the Church’s response to the call to evangelize, Archbishop Vigneron said God “wanting His world back," also means “God wants His Church back. He wants her back the way He wants her to be — His spotless bride."“Today, I preach in a very particular context, one not quite so enthusiastic, marked by gloom, perhaps even leaving us deflated," Archbishop Vigneron said. “I refer to the renewed crisis regarding clergy sexual abuse, abuse of minors, and the failure of bishops and others in authority to protect those who were victimized."Archbishop Vigneron said Christ has never abandoned the Catholic Church, but rather, clergy entrusted with the stewardship of the Church have set the Church on a course that is contrary to its core mission of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The archbishop said this current state of the Church leads to two important questions: What is the root of the crisis? And how does the Church respond?“We see, clearly, that there is no excuse in the world ever for abusing a child, especially by someone who is a pastor in the Church," Archbishop Vigneron said. “Likewise, there is no excuse ever for covering up sinful and criminal behavior by priests and bishops."Acts of selfishness, whether it is the abuse of another person, or covering up abuse in the name of protecting an institution, can only be overcome by placing Christ at the center of all their actions, Archbishop Vigneron said.

“We’re all born selfish," Archbishop Vigneron said. “We’re all born tempted to protect ourselves no matter what the cost — even if that means going against God’s plan. This deep and profound self-centeredness has to be overcome.

“A hardness of heart has led us to this moment because it is the fruit of fear," Archbishop Vigneron continued. “Fear of the truth. Fear about trusting the Light of Christ. We might — with a certain slogan — call it putting ‘maintenance over mission.

’"“I’m very grateful that in the archdiocese, under the leadership of my predecessors, we have a record of full cooperation with law enforcement authorities so that for nearly 20 years, since 2002, we’ve been sharing past and current case files with county prosecutors," Archbishop Vigneron said. “For the present, we continue on this path. Last week, as you’ve read in the newspapers, we are cooperating fully with the Michigan Attorney General investigators and we remain committed to protecting everyone — especially children and vulnerable adults."Since the announcement of the investigation on Sept. 21, Archbishop Vigneron has met with clergy and members of the lay faithful to discuss actions the Church has taken to prevent abuse and further steps it can take to build a culture of accountability and transparency.

“I’ve received a lot of good counsel from many of the lay faithful, and, together with the priestly community, I look forward to us working through this lay involvement to advance these efforts," the archbishop said. “I’m confident that these ideas that are being gestated, worked out right now, will take final shape very soon."As ideas of reform are being discussed, Archbishop Vigneron said he has learned much from conversations with victim-survivors, which he said has an impact on how he governs the Church in southeast Michigan.

“From your stories, I continue to learn about the evils of sexual abuse," Archbishop Vigneron said. “Not as a theoretical category, one that a person might be informed about through a psychological manual or a moral theology textbook. But from first-hand stories about how deeply wounded these innocent victim-survivors have been. I want them to know that I have heard you, and I want to hear from those who are still hesitant to come forward."In addition to discerning reforms on how abuse claims are reported and listening to victim-survivors with a pastoral ear, Archbishop Vigneron said the news of the Attorney General’s investigation and heightened awareness of the past sins of the Church are no reason to not continue with the mission of spreading the Gospel message.

“Maybe you have felt — there are times when I have asked myself — wouldn’t it just be better to be quiet?" Archbishop Vigneron said. “To put our heads down, maintain what we might call ‘radio silence’ for a while? But the fact is that the mission of our evangelization initiative is not only entwined with our other actions, these actions in response to this crisis, but they find an essential remedy in the new evangelization. We need the new evangelization. We need to unleash the Gospel now more than ever. With the Holy Spirit to guide us, we have a roadmap to help God get His Church back, through the proclamation of the saving word of Jesus Christ."The Archdiocese of Detroit is much more than just a human institution, the archbishop said, but a Church guided by Divine Providence with the power of Jesus Christ at its side.

“This is how Christ will get his Church back: by unleashing the Gospel," Archbishop Vigneron. “I give God praise and thanks because He is faithful, even when we are not."Concluding his homily, Archbishop Vigneron offered a variation of a prayer first said by Blessed Charles de Foucault, a 20th century French Trappist monk who was martyred in Algeria and beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

“Father, we abandon the Church of Detroit into your hands; do with her what you will," the archbishop prayed. “Whatever you may do, we thank you. We are ready for all. We accept all that only your will be done in us and in your creatures. We wish no more than this, O Lord: Into your hands along with Jesus, we commend our Church. We offer her to you with all the love of our hearts, for we love you, Lord, and so, need to give ourselves to surrender ourselves into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence, for our hearts are not hard; we know you love us and we can trust in you. You are our Father and this is Your Church."