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Msgr. Ricardo Bass, 2010 Role of Law Awardee
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Monsignor Ricardo E. Bass received the 2010 Role of Law Award in Buffalo, New York during the 72nd Annual CLSA Convention.

View Rev. Larry Jurcack's Introduction

As you can well imagine, I am deeply honored to have my name joined to the 37 previous recipients of this Role of Law Award which was first presented in 1973. I am particularly honored at this Convention which is meeting simultaneously with the Convention for the Canadian Canon Law Society. My thanks to the Board of Governors, to our President, Rev. Lawrence Jurcak, for his gracious and generous remarks, and to you in whose name they acted.

When Rev. Robert T. Kennedy was named as the fifth recipient of this Award 33 years ago, in 1977, he began with a brief story which I would like to repeat this evening. I repeat it because after 33 years I am hoping that most of you either never heard it or, if you did, that you have forgotten it. I am also repeating it because it is far more fitting for me than it ever was for Fr. Kennedy.

There was a little donkey who was entered in the Kentucky Derby. As the horses paraded onto the track, and the band played the beautiful strains of "My Old Kentucky Home”, the little donkey was chugging along trying as best he could to keep up with the thoroughbreds. As they neared the starting gate, one of the thoroughbreds looked down at the donkey and asked, "What are you doing in here?” The little donkey replied, "I entered not because I expected to win anything, but only because I thought the association would do me good.”

My association with the Canon Law Society has, indeed, "done me good” over the years. Because of this association during the past quarter of a century, I have ministered with and learned from the real canonical thoroughbreds – I have made lifetime friendships with a number of member of this Society – and I have come to value deeply the ministry in which we all share.

The Most Reverend Timothy Dolan. Archbishop of New York, at this year’s annual Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast which was held on September 2nd, quoted the great British historian, Lord Macauley: "After considerable study and with some admitted regret as a Protestant, I must confess that I consider the Roman Catholic Church to be of divine origin because no mere human institution run with such knavish imbecility could have survived two weeks.” The context of this remark was Archbishop Dolan speaking about the need for our Church, which we all love and for whom we all minister, to admit of its own sinfulness – the Church we love which, Dolan said, can be "…imperfect, sloppy, awkward and corrupt.” His was a clarion call for the Church we all love to admit not only its own sinfulness – but also its own woundedness. He referred to Chapter 20 of John’s Gospel – when Christ first appears to the disciples in the Upper Room, and after greeting them he then "…showed them his hands and his side...” – the wounds of his crucifixion. These were the wounds – the stripes - by which we were healed. These wounds which today are still shared by His Church and by each of us who are the ministers of that Church.

Henri Nouwen in his classic work, The Wounded Healer writes: "For the minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his time in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service.”¹ In recent years we most clearly see the "sufferings of our time” - our own wounds and the wounds of our beloved Church - in the sexual misconduct scandals which have plagued our Church and continue to plague Her. These scandals which have caused ceaseless numbers of Catholics to flee from the Church. These scandals which have clearly shown the woundedness of our entire Church: our hierarchy, our clergy, countless numbers of those who have been victimized and even ourselves.

Those of us who have chosen to minister as advocates for the accused and those of us who have been appointed to minister as delegates for our dioceses or religious congregations and those of us who, like myself, have chosen or been appointed to do both – are painfully aware of these wounds and the need for healing. But the path to such healing has proven to be long and complicated and frustrating. Yet in spite of some members of the hierarchy – in spite of norms which often raise more questions than they do provide answers – and in spite of processes which can drag on for years - healing has begun to take place – but the wounds are still ugly and gaping and there is much healing left to do.

The wounds are ugly and gaping for those who are accused and have not had their rights adequately protected – for those who have not had recourse to trained advocates – for those who have had their rights denied by overzealous bishops or untrained Episcopal delegates. As Sr. Rose McDermott so rightly pointed out in her acceptance of the 30th Role of Law Award in 2002:

If we, trained in the law, stand in silence while: allegations are treated as crimes, reputations are irretrievably lost before a formal trial, grave complaints are reviewed by unskilled persons, the rights of the accused to advocacy, defense, and recourse are denied; therapeutic evaluations are ordered prior to a penal process, statutes of limitation and the non-retroactivity of the law are forgotten, and the mitigating circumstances lessening imputability and tempering penalties are neglected, we have failed in our ministerial vocation.

These words ring as true today as they did when she first spoke them eight years ago.

As Episcopal Delegate in the Archdiocese of Detroit for over five years first for Adam Cardinal Maida and then for Archbishop Allen Vigneron for cases involving the sexual misconduct of the clergy, I had the opportunity of sitting with 22 different individuals who were proven to have been victims of such heinous acts. Most of those 22 had tried unsuccessfully for years to tell their story to someone in authority in the Church who would listen, but no one would – to speak with someone in authority in the Church who would believe them, but they could find no one – to approach some figure of authority in the church who would share in their woundedness but no one was willing to do so.

During those same years, I had the opportunity of also being an advocate for eight priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct with minors in dioceses outside my own. Through being their advocate, I saw the other side of the coin and experienced how a diocese can pass judgment on one of its own before any process has taken place – how a bishop can completely cut himself off and make himself unavailable for a priest who has been accused – and how files and important information can be withheld by a diocese in any number of ways.

By having a foot on each side of the fence and being both an Episcopal delegate and an advocate, I learned that as a Church we have not always done enough for many of those who were truly victims and we have not always done enough for many who have been accused but who have, in some cases, been denied protection of their rights and access to adequate canonical representation. We can and we must do better as a society of professional canonists and as a Church. The way is neither easy nor clear – but that should not – indeed must not – prevent us from entering into the woundedness of so many: both the accusers and the accused. We must become the wounded healers if we are to be true to our canonical tradition and to our vocation in the Church. We do this not for ourselves but for these our sisters and brothers in Christ and for our Church.

In the words of the great 20th century spiritual master, Carlos Carretto:

How baffling you are, oh Church,
And yet how I love you!
How you have made me suffer,
And yet how much I owe you!
I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence.
You have given me so much scandal
And yet you have made me understand sanctity.
I have seen nothing in the world more
Devoted to obscurity, more compromised,
More false, and I have touched nothing more pure,
More generous, more beautiful.
How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.
No, I cannot free myself from you, because
I am you, although not completely.
And where should I go?2

Thank you and God bless you.

1Nouwen, Henri. The Wounded Healer. Image Books: 1972.
2Carretto, Carlos. The God Who Cares. Orbis Books: 1974.
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