Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Loss of trust

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published October 4, 2018

Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)

Jesus asks us to take to heart his words about that which can defile a person. That which defiles, is the root of impurity, does not come from without. It comes from within the heart, a heart that becomes poisoned by turning away from goodness. Evil comes from within us. It takes root when we refuse to welcome the word that, as James writes, has been planted within us—word that is able to save our souls.

The church is struggling these days with a painful and growing awareness of an evil that has been gradually, but surely, poisoning its heart.

The sexual abuse crisis is of such magnitude that it defies any easy answers, short-term remedies or solutions arrived at through any former ways of handling church problems. For no small part of the crisis has been the result of the failures of those who were responsible for church “problem-solving.”

People of good faith in every parish in our country are reeling from the impact of the abuse revelations and the cover-up, which to a great extent allowed the abuses to continue. Bishops and priests of good faith are trying to address the situation as best they can—even though they are doing so with an awareness that the situation may worsen before it gets better—and that there is no one person who really knows how to make it better.

The range of responses to the crisis are those of anger, betrayal, resentment, bitterness and perhaps most importantly, hope. Hope that there is some kind of a road ahead that we can all find and walk, a road more truthful and peaceful than the roads that have led us here.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory has invited all the people of the archdiocese to voice these reactions, to speak or write or pray from what is within their hearts—be those feelings dark or hopeful.

It seems to me that this is the best and perhaps the only way we can move as a church towards finding that road. It is not a road that is lost to us, a road that is nonexistent or mythical. It is way of living that opens to us when we as a people listen, and deeply listen, to the word that has been planted within us. It is the hope of the living God who dwells within us, leading us out of the darkness of these times.

Trust is a very difficult gift to restore once it has been lost. The media has been filled with stories of people who have lost all trust in the church. I do not know what the church, as an institution, can do to regain the trust it so abused. Perhaps it can do nothing but listen, and deeply listen, to the word in its heart. And then have the courage to follow where that word leads. The word is of God—and God may be leading the church into new and healthier ways of bearing him in this world. I am confident that God is guiding all creation, slowly forming it into the fullness of life—its likeness to his image, his life. I pray that the church has the humility and the courage to listen, to follow, and to learn again and again how to walk in and on the way of the Lord.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at