‘I address you with a heavy heart’
Apr. 19, 2012
Following is the text of a letter that Rev. John J. Connolly Jr., pastor of St. Brendan’s Parish, wrote to his parishioners on April 11:
Dear Parishioners and Friends of Saint Brendan’s:
It is with a heavy heart that I address you today. Like many of you, I read the story in this morning’s paper reporting that Father James H. Lane, one of my predecessors as pastor of this parish, has been the subject of an allegation of the sexual abuse of a child some forty years ago. Like many of you, I knew Father Lane personally, and I admired and respected him. Like many of you, I am deeply shocked and profoundly saddened by the allegation made public today.
As members of this parish and this archdiocese, we have been dealing with the tragic reality and the enduring effects of the sexual abuse of children by clergy for well over a decade. That sad experience does little to prepare any of us for news such as we received today. Many of us are experiencing a variety of emotions as we react to this allegation. Shock, pain, confusion, anger and a host of other reactions fill our minds and hearts. Questions far outnumber answers at this point. Can this allegation be true? How do we respond? What do we, as individuals and as members of this parish, do?
As many of you know, I spent many years working to address the many elements of such abuse for the Archdiocese of Boston. In the course of that difficult and painful experience, one of the most important lessons I learned is that none of us knows, or can know, what we do not know. It is important to keep that simple but complex reality in mind when we are struggling with how to respond to those who bring forward allegations of abuse.
My experience has been that the great majority of those who do bring forward such allegations are telling the truth. They have been terribly wounded, as children, in so many ways by the abuse they have suffered, When and if they are able and willing to share their devastating stories of abuse with public authorities or church representatives, these folks who have been so traumatized deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, understanding, and honesty. Unfortunately, as is very often the case in this world, a small minority of people bring forward claims that are without foundation in order to procure a financial settlement. While such instances have been few and far between in my experience, I have encountered some situations that did indeed involve allegations that were false and without foundations.
As was reported, the archdiocese recognized the significant challenges inherent in conducting an investigation such as this one. In this case, the priest accused is deceased, there are no prior claims of misconduct against him, and the incident is alleged to have occurred over forty years ago. The inference I draw, in reading the story reported, is that the archdiocese was not able to substantiate this claim made against Father Lane.
I find myself in a similar position as I reflect upon the matter. I do not believe Father Lane to be the kind of man who would engage in such predatory and destructive behavior against a child. At this point in time, given what I know personally about Father Lane, I do not find this allegation to be credible. I believe, and I want to continue to believe, that Father Lane is not guilty of this charge.
However, in good conscience, I have to recall the lesson I mentioned earlier: That I do not know what I do not know. There have been other allegations brought forward against other priests and other people that, when first reported, did not seem credible to me. Sadly, in a considerable number of those cases, subsequent investigation continued and further information was developed that led me to move from doubt to belief that a particular allegation was in fact credible.
I am most certainly not suggesting that such is the case in this instance. I am simply acknowledging the lesson I learned that I do not know what I do not know.
The only words of advice and guidance that I am able to offer as I try to determine how we can respond or what we, as individuals and as a parish, ought to do, is to encourage all of us who have received this terribly upsetting news to pray. I am sure that there are those who will find this suggestion naïve, insufficient, and inadequate. I certainly understand such reactions. Nevertheless, that is the best I can offer. In the face of the report of such evil, prayer truly needs to be part of the response of any man or woman faith in and love of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
First and foremost, pray for the man who has brought forth this allegation. If the charge is, in fact, not true, this troubled soul must really need our prayers. If what he reports is true, he must need them all the more, as he continues to face the enduring effects of having been so grievously harmed as a child.
Second, pray for all those who have been sexually abused as children by clergy, or anyone else, for that matter. Whenever such reports become part of the news cycle, the scabs of old wounds related to such abuse are ripped open and new and enduring pain is suffered and damage done. We need to be mindful of the fact that whether or not this allegation is true, there are thousands of survivors in our midst whose painful experiences need to be acknowledged, believed, and respected. Holding them and their journeys toward healing in our prayers provides us one way to do that.
Third, pray for Father Jim Lane. Pray that he continues to experience the love and the mercy of God won for him by the life, death, and resurrection of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, whom he served and in whose person he sought to minister. As I prayed for Father Lane earlier this morning, the thought came to me that while many people are being hurt by the news of this allegation that we learned of today, the one person who most certainly is not is Father Lane. Whether he did or did not commit this sin and crime, both he and God know that. The same merciful and loving God who knows the actions and hearts of us all has already judged him. I was somewhat comforted by this realization, and hope some of you may be as well.
Whether or not this allegation is ever proven, the legacy of Father Jim Lane, as a living and caring priest and pastor who offered his life each day for forty-five years in faithful service to the parishioners of Saint Paul and Saint Brendan parishes, as well as to the men and women of the Boston Police Department and their families, remains as an example and inspiration to us all.
Finally, pray for the faithful and clergy of our parish, our archdiocese and our Church, We have all been united in suffering as we have confronted and responded to the evil of the sexual abuse of children by clergy that has been so painfully revealed over the last decade. The efforts of so many dedicated lay leaders, religious men and women, deacons, priests, and bishops who have stepped up to assist survivors of abuse in their ongoing journeys of healing and to demand and insure that training in abuse prevention and child protection become an integral part of our Catholic culture need to be continually supported by our prayers.
My intention in writing this letter is to share my personal thoughts and reactions with you as together we struggle with what to make of the shocking and upsetting news we received today. I apologize if my words have hurt or angered anyone or, inadvertently, done more harm than good. Humbly and respectfully, I offer them to you simply as one man’s initial reflections on how we, as people of faith, might respond together. I look forward to hearing from you, and am very open to holding a parish-wide meeting or listening session to discuss this sad and troubling matter.
Entrusting us all to the maternal protection of our Blessed Mother, who experienced both the pain of the Cross and the power of the Resurrection, and assuring you of my continued prayers in these Easter days for you and all whom you hold dear, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Reverend John J. Connolly, Jr.