Response to 'The Keepers'
Q. My husband was brought up a Catholic and has always been very committed to the church. I am a convert, and we are raising all of our kids in the Catholic faith. Two of my sons (who are now young adults) and my husband have watched the Netflix series "The Keepers," and I am deeply worried about the effect this may have on their faith.
My sons have started making negative comments about the church, and even my husband has said that the series' portrayal of how the church systematically covered up abuse has made him not want to go to Mass. (Luckily, he further commented that the most important things are God and the sacraments, and so he will continue to attend.)
I hear a lot of other people talking about the series, too. How do I convince my children that they should still be proud to be Catholics? (Newport News, Virginia)
A. Since 2002, the Catholic Church in the United States has had a universal zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse of minors -- meaning that any priest credibly accused of such an act can never again be permitted to serve in public ministry.
"The Keepers," to which the question refers, is a seven-part 2017 Netflix series based on the still-unsolved 1969 murder of a Catholic nun in Baltimore. The series examines the theory that Sister Catherine Cesnik was killed because she knew that the chaplain at her school, Father Joseph Maskell, had sexually abused students -- and that civil and church authorities interfered with the criminal investigation in order to cover up that connection.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore has issued a response entitled "Frequently Asked Questions Based on 'The Keepers'"; that document is available on line at www.archbalt.org, and I recommend it to interested readers. It indicates that the archdiocese had no knowledge of any accusation against Father Maskell until 1992 when an alleged victim came forward.
That person was encouraged to file a report with civil authorities, offered counseling assistance, and Father Maskell was removed from ministry and referred for evaluation and treatment. When the archdiocese was unable to corroborate the allegation, Father Maskell was returned to ministry the following year, but when additional accusers stepped forward in 1994, the priest was permanently prohibited from public ministry.
Undeniably, there were priests who abused children. Those actions, as Pope Francis has said, were "crimes" and "sins," and this represents a sad and regrettable chapter in the church's history. But because certain individuals were unfaithful to their vows, I would not deprive myself of the strength of the sacraments, and it pleases me that your husband is able to make that distinction.
As regards being proud to be Catholic, it matters a lot to me that one-sixth of all acute-care hospital beds in the U.S. are under Catholic auspices -- and that each year millions of poor and vulnerable people in America are helped by Catholic Charities.
Q. The beauty, timelessness and universality of the Roman Catholic Mass stem from its consistent form, enriched by the seasonal variety of scriptural content. Recently, though, I noticed that two different priests added their own words to the standard prayers and instructions to the congregation.
One priest even inserted, several times during the Mass, the phrase "God is good, all the time" -- and invited the congregation to respond, "All the time, God is good." One priest asked the congregation to join hands at the Our Father, when that is not in the Mass rubrics.
One of them focused a large part of his homily (which lasted more than 20 minutes) on his own personal experience. I agree that personal stories can be a powerful way to illustrate God's word -- but when that dominates the homily, it can crowd out the Gospel message.
Please confirm for me that a priest is not to "personalize" the Mass and put his own "stamp" on it. A priest's true "personal" mark on the celebration of the Mass should be his spirit, reverence, singing and energy -- together with an effective homily -- not any attempt to add, take away or otherwise "customize" this central sacramental celebration. (Indiana)
A. Best, I think, if I respond to each of your examples separately.
As for the priest who kept saying, "God is good, all the time," that is just silly and sophomoric -- in addition to being disallowed -- and I'm surprised that the congregation would even respond.
On the invitation to join hands at the Our Father, you're right -- there is no such suggestion in the liturgical instructions. Some people feel uncomfortable holding hands; so why make the Mass an awkward experience when you don't have to?
And finally, on the homily: I have no problem with a priest using personal experiences to illustrate the scriptural message, but 20 minutes seems to me about twice as long as a Sunday homily needs to be.
- - -Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.
- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service