Ephphatha! be opened!

THIS Sunday’s Gospel presents Jesus’s miraculous healing of a deaf man (Mark 7:31-37) .

As Jesus took the deaf man off by himself away from the crowd, he put his fingers into the man ’s eyes, spat on the ground and touched his tongue. 

Then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and he said, “Ephphatha! — that is, “Be opened!” Immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. 

This dramatic healing amazed everyone in the crowd. “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak,” they said.

Posting on his Facebook page, Fr. Gregorio “Goyo” Hidalgo, the associate pastor of St. Rose of Lima in Sylmar, CA, appropriates this healing of the deaf man to today’s crisis in the Catholic Church with these words: “I can’t help but think that our Church needs a big “Ephphatha” so that those who are silent can speak and those who are deaf can hear. Jesus is going to need a big spitting this time to make the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

I presume that Fr. Goyo is referring to our prophetic responsibility to speak up against the child sexual abuse scandals by some members of the Catholic clergy that destroyed the lives of thousands of children and young people and has deeply hurt the moral integrity of the Church. He may also be talking about the need for people, not only in the Catholic Church but also in other segments and institutions of our society, to come out courageously and report any sexual abuses and harassment. 

Fr. Goyo’s words may indicate the need to make our bishops and the pope give a full account of the failure of the church in protecting young people from such tragedies. All members of the church should continue to demand from church leaders the destruction of the culture of cover-up and hiding of sex abuse cases under the rug. 

On the other hand, Fr. Goyo may also be asking priests, bishops, and lay leaders to keep parishioners, the media, and the civil authorities updated on the programs and systems that U.S. dioceses have developed and established to safeguard the children and young people from further abuses. 

For example, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has taken the lead in putting up procedures, policies, and programs to protect our children and youth since 2002. In its report last week to all parishes, entitled “A Brief Overview of Archdiocesan Programs and Actions for the Protection of Children and Young People,” the archdiocese, now under the leadership of Archbishop Jose Gomez, outlines the steps and actions that the church has done for reporting and investigating suspected abuse by clergy and for removing offenders from ministry. The report also delineates the extensive programs of education and background checks to make sure that children are safe. 

Foremost of the policies that the Archdiocese has initiated and developed since the leadership of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony is the “zero tolerance” policy “to ensure that future allegations would be reported to authorities and that anyone found to have committed abuse — whether a [bishop], priest, deacon, religious or layperson — would be held accountable and permanently removed from ministry in the archdiocese.”

The archdiocese has instituted the Office of Victim’s Assistance Ministry so that victim-survivors would have an advocate in the Archdiocese. It also established the Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board (CMOB), which constitutes primarily of lay people who examine the investigations of reported misconduct by clergy that is carried out by retired FBI agents retained by the Archdiocese and recommends an appropriate course of action. 

The Archdiocese has also instituted abuse prevention and reporting programs for adults and minors and fingerprinting and background checks for employees and volunteers at parishes and schools. 

The Brief Overview of the Archdiocesan Programs and Actions to Protect Children and Young People states: ”These programs and policies do not take away the real harm that was done and the trust that has been broken in the Church. However, they are a testament to the commitment of the people of Los Angeles, the majority of whom are lay Catholics who have worked for almost three decades to implement and carry out these programs…” Included in the aims of these programs is healing support for victim-survivors and their families.

May the Church’s efforts to advocate for justice and healing among victims of child sex abuse and her concrete actions to prevent any more abuse bring back integrity to the Catholic Church. May they make “the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” Amen.

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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