In church today, the gospel reading came from St. Matthew (as have most of the readings during this liturgical year), and it had to do with the parable of the vineyard owner who leased his vineyard to tenants who killed the owner's servants and, ultimately, the vineyard owner's son, leading to Jesus telling the Apostles, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." There's much more to the reading than that, but rejection was part of what was going on, something that was emphasized again in the homily.
I would say that John Salveson, founder of SNAP who is mentioned in the column that follows by Tom Ferrick, Jr. of the Inquirer, could teach the Catholic Church a thing or two about rejection.
It comes down to a question of faith.
After the storm and fury over the D.A.'s report on sexual abuse of children by priests, the issue for Catholics is this:
Do you have faith in the leaders of the Philadelphia Archdiocese to handle this problem?
Do you believe they have the people and procedures in place to make sure it will never happen again, and if it does, to swiftly punish the abusers?
I don't know what your answer to those questions would be, but John Salveson's is a simple and direct "no."
Salveson has been in the news lately as local leader of SNAP - Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
His lack of faith in the church apparatus is based on personal experience. He lives and works in the Philadelphia area now but was born and reared on Long Island, where he was sexually abused by a priest from age 13 to 20.
He complained to his bishop about the priest in 1980. Eight years later, the abusive priest was still serving in parishes, and church officials had shut the door on Salveson.
They paid attention only after he stood outside the abuser's parish one Sunday - along with several TV news cameras - and handed out flyers publicly outing the offender.
Salveson believes the church's current anti-abuse efforts are more an example of "risk management than pastoral concern."
He says only outside forces can be effective, which is why his group this week will propose legislation to remove the statute of limitations on sexual-abuse cases. It keeps the cops and the D.A. in the picture.
He believes the church's old-boy network will lapse once the clamor has died. Don't look for it to change.
"You don't go to a hardware store to buy a quart of milk," is the way Salveson puts it. "You can go every day, and they still won't have milk."
It comes down to a question of a confession.
Church officials have been contrite, but as Catholics know, before contrition must come the confession of sins.
Most of the abusive priests who appeared before the grand jury invoked the Fifth Amendment. No confessions there.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, in his pastoral letter, threaded the needle with care:
He said there were cases of past abuse by individual priests and offered "sincere apologies" to victims of abuse. But he rejected the grand jury's finding that there was a coverup by the archdiocese.
Rigali was protecting his predecessors, Cardinals John Krol and Anthony J. Bevilacqua. He was protecting the archdiocese from legal exposure - to criminal charges and civil suits.
That explains his motives, but how does that lead to reconciliation?
It comes down to a question of justice.
Was justice done? The grand jury didn't think so. It was furious that it could not indict the priests for abuse, or charge the archdiocese with a cover-up. "A travesty," they called it.
But the law is the law. The statute of limitations had run out.
Experts will tell you that with this crime, victims often do not step forward for many years, so great is their trauma and shame.
There is, as Salveson said, "a lot of denial - individual and collective" - among victims, abusers, authorities, the public.
Not only can no criminal charges be filed, any civil suits by the victims will be rejected because of the statute of limitations, according to a ruling Wednesday by the state Supreme Court in a victim-abuse case.
This is why SNAP plans to ask the legislature to pass a bill allowing a one-year window for the victims to file civil suits seeking damages.
If such suits were allowed, it would expose the archdiocese to millions of dollars in damages. It would, indirectly, place a great financial burden on the region's Catholics.
But the alternative is what? What are the victims left with?
No confession. No punishment. No justice. No faith.