By Father John Donovan/ SUN contributing writer
A few years back I called to order a pizza for my dinner, from the local storefront of a national chain. Since it was just for myself I asked for a small, with sausage and peppers. I was informed that they did not make small, just medium and large. “How is that?” I asked not understanding the concept of the use of a relative term with no appropriate relationship. Medium makes no sense to me if I do not know what it is between. The clerk summoned the manager as if I was making a prank call and the manager’s response was simply, they do what corporate tells them, they are just numbers in a system.
Often we use numbers, concepts that we can understand, but not completely understanding the context, the relationship that the number holds. For instance after twelve years of working at colleges, when I hear someone scored a 1420, I would congratulate, them as that would be a very good SAT score. If I hear they scored 690, I would ask Math or Verbal, praying that I did not embarrass the person or myself if that was their accumulative score.
Last week the Diocese of Syracuse released numbers related to clergy sexual abuse. Many of the news services covered the news and a full report was given in this publication. Working in the Vocation Promotion Office, there is one number that I did not feel was understood in relationship to the scope of the news. Some news agencies even stated that the Diocese is beginning to screen candidates prior to their entrance to the seminary and being more critical in their acceptance. Yet, what I see in the numbers tell me that the Diocese has been doing this for some time now. Of the forty-nine priests who have had allegations made against them, only two were ordained in the 1980’s and none since. This tells me that with the number stated, the Diocese has been screening more intensely for the last two decades.
The weekend this news was released I had the opportunity to spend a day with the seminarians of our Diocese. In fact, I facilitated their safe environment training, Protecting God’s Children™, the program adapted by our diocese. Several of them will have to undergo another training program in order to serve in the dioceses of their seminaries as part of their education. What I see in the men who are studying to serve this Diocese is a faithfulness, openness, commitment and courage. As many priests, including our shepherd Bishop Moynihan, have expressed the pain they have felt due to the sins of the others, these men have stepped forward, at times ridiculed by peers and family, for the call to serve God is greater than their personal angst.
Our seminarians are men who are embracing the responsibility to affect positive change to assure true service to the children of God. Rather than simply criticize and walk away they choose to be part of the solution of the problems we face. They are not content in accepting the status quo that their peers might, but instead, they have hope as to how through the grace of God, we can heal and strengthen our communities. I am proud of the character, the quality of our seminarians and see that it is because the Diocese has made the effort for two decades that we have reason to believe that our efforts to prevent the sins of the past, from happening again, will be realized.
For those who are contemplating religious life or priesthood, be assured, have courage and accept the call of God. For those who know people of character that you believe would serve the church well in these ministries, extend the invitation. As a Church we need to look at the example of our seminarians, the context of the question and numbers and know that just as medium is in relationship to small and large, we are called by God to be in relationship with one another, past, present and future as the Body of Christ.