Annus Horribilis

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

November 24, 2002



A few years ago, the British royal family had a tough year. Its popularity was at an all-time low. There was endless scandal and a royal divorce. One of the queen's castles burned. The British parliament refused to pay for the repairs and cut funding for the allowances paid to royalty. To top it all off, they decommissioned the royal yacht, Britannia.

            At a Christmas season speech, Queen Elizabeth II reflected back on the preceding year and said she would be happy to see the end of that "annus horribilis" (horrible year).

            I know how she felt. This has been a tough year for the Catholic Church in general and for Catholic priests in particular. We have had our own "annus horribilis" in an endless scandal.

            But even in the midst of depressing news there have been a few folks who have shown us that the Holy Spirit is still guiding the "ship of Peter." So, I'd like to give a "bravo" award to a few folks who have earned our trust and our thanks.

            Bravo to Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore for "getting it" in responding to the sexual abuse scandal. The archbishop of Baltimore wrote a letter to every Catholic in his archdiocese. He disclosed every known case of child abuse in the Baltimore Archdiocese since the 1930s. He told exactly how much money had been spent on the scandal. He hosted listening sessions throughout the archdiocese. In disclosing all the facts, he lifted the cloud of suspicion that had hung over the good priests, deacons and religious who are serving with integrity in his archdiocese. Bravo.

            Bravo to Bishop Wilton Gregory of Bellville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. When he was elected a little over a year ago, he never expected to face the greatest scandal ever to confront the Catholic Church in the United States. He has managed to lead our bishops over troubled waters and to restore a measure of credibility to the church's national voice. Bravo.

            Bravo to Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma. He took on the job of chairing the national lay review board to be sure that bishops are complying with the child protection policies they established. No one, not even a bishop, likes to have someone looking over his shoulder. Despite attacks in the press, including some Catholic press, Keating has moved forward with his difficult task and has spoken without fear or favor. He has provided a voice we can trust. Bravo.

            Bravo to canon lawyers. They are a group that never gets thanked and often gets ridiculed. Canon lawyers have reminded us that even priests accused of horrible crimes and sins have a right to "due process" and a just hearing. Bravo.

            Bravo to the victims' support groups of various names and descriptions. They have kept us honest. Sunlight and bleach are the only real remedies for the mold of scandal. The victims' groups, despite occasional excesses, have done the church a service. Bravo.

            Finally, bravo to the faith-filled Catholics who stuck with their parishes and priests. They could distinguish between the value of the message and the weakness of the messengers. All over the United States good parishioners encouraged good priests to press on in their witness to Christ and service to the church. Bravo.

            I won't be sorry to see this "annus horribilis" come to a close. But there have been people who have made us realize that while sin abounds, grace abounds even more.

            Blessed Christmas and a happier new year!