The Tears of Angels: Dealing with a Crisis of Faith When a Priest is Accused

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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“It Shook Me to My Core”

Yesterday, I was returning home from my morning walk—a time I use to center myself, when I stopped to get the Saturday edition of the Altoona Mirror. For those of you who know me or follow my column, I am not a big fan of the Mirror, but I pick it up for my folks because it covers the local news. The first “front page” article was about a local baseball star taking a young lady with a disability to homecoming. This was a nice gesture and one of those things that brightens your morning.

The second headline was about a pedophile bust in Blair County, a headline that is becoming all to familiar as big cities send their problem denizens to rural towns to get the problem “out of sight, out of mind.” The final story was the one that shook me to my core, “Chest Springs priest put on leave after misconduct allegations.”

This shook me because Chest Spring’s Parish, St. Monica’s is our sister parish, which means that their priest is our priest. I stopped in the middle of the road, unable for a moment to move as I read the article. It was a small miracle that no one was driving on the sleepy small town road at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday.

Despite my dislike of the Altoona Mirror, their coverage of this story was well done and the staff of the Mirror did a good job. The article noted that there was an accusation of “sexual misconduct involving a minor,” then went on to discuss the history of the priest. The article did not provide details on the accusation, nor did it condemn Father Dave Rizzo in the court of public opinion.

Keep the Faith in Times of Crisis

Like those of us reading it, it seemed shocking that this could happen in our little town. The Bishop, the Most Rev. Mark Bartchak, acted quickly on the report, suspending the Fr. Rizzo from public ministry. This was a strong move by Bishop Mark because, while it did remove Fr. Rizzo from his ability to administer parishes, it did not condemn him before he had a trial. Bishop Mark protected the people, and he also protected Fr. Dave’s presumption of innocence as the case will now go before the civil authorities.

No one expects this to happen in their home parish. Whether Catholic or Jew, Episcopal or Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox, parents with kids in school or even the everyday citizen who depends on the Congress or the President to do their job, we expect that a person who is in a position of trust will live up to the trust that they have due to their position. When it comes out that a priest or pastor, teacher or representative has been accused of doing something to a child, it shakes a person.

If we take the time to hold onto our faith, to grab onto that iron bar, it brings a semblance of peace to our life.

In these times of crisis, we must turn to our faith. I like to think of a crisis as an earthquake, where everything seems to be shaking, even our faith. However, if we take a moment to stop and think, our faith, which is like an iron bar in our psyche, rooted so deeply that it is immobile, is not shaking.

No, in times of crisis we are shaking—from fear, from rage, from sadness, and because we are shaking, everything around us looks as if it is shaking. If we take the time to hold onto our faith, to grab onto that iron bar, it brings a semblance of peace to our life. When people ask, “where is God in time of crisis,” he is so deeply ingrained in us that all we have to do is reach out a hand and he will bring us balance.

Will the Angels Weep Tonight?

For some reason, when I read the story in the Mirror, I thought of a story that a priest had once told me while I was at St. David’s in Florida. The priest was a mission priest, from the Oblates of Mary, and he told a story about a woman who was ill. One night she had a dream where she was at church with her guardian angel.

It was during offertory, and as the procession was taking the bread, wine and water to the altar, there were dozens of angels in procession with them, one for each person at mass. The woman asked her guardian, “who are these angels in the procession?” The angel replied, “these are the guardian angels of each member of your parish, they celebrate the Eucharist with you in each Mass.”

As the woman watched, she saw a group of angels celebrating as they walked in the procession. She turned to the guardian and asked who they were. The angel replied that these were the guardian angels of those who were celebrating the mass and glorifying God in the Highest. The next group of angels was more somber, but they were still celebrant. The angel said that these were the angels who were celebrating the thanks of the people, thanking God for the blessings in their lives.

Next were a group of angels burdened down with heavy loads. While they were still happy in their tasks, they were weighed down and moving slowly in the procession. The guardian told the woman that these were the angels who were brining the petitions of people to the alter. They were still happy that they were participating in the mass, but they were sad that people were letting their temporal needs get in the way of fully worshiping the Lord.

Finally, there were a group of Angels standing at the back of the church weeping. The guardian said, “These are the angels of those who are not paying attention or who have not come to mass this day. They cry for the people, and the people hold them back from participating in the mass.

The story was a simple story, without doctorial force, to remind people to pay attention; however, it made me think—will there be many angels crying at mass tonight?

Tears of the Angels

Any time there is an accusation of misconduct, whether it be of a priest or a lay person, I think that it makes the angels cry three times. The first set of tears is for the victims and the accusers. If the accusation is true, then the angels cry, because no person, especially not a child, should ever have to endure the pain of being abused by someone whom they trust. This is a great evil in the world, and even the Lord said that “it would be better for them to have mill stone tied to their necks and be cast into the ocean than to harm one of these little ones.”

The vale of tears for these deep sins is a fearful thing. We also must remember that the angels cry not only when the accusation is true, but also when it is false. They cry for the person who is making the false accusation too. Whether it is because of a mistake, anger, or manipulation, there are many tears for those who make false accusations too.

The second set of tears is for the accused, whether the accusation is true or not. If the accusation is false, they cry for the test to which the accused is being put. Those that are in a position of trust put their lives into that position, and a false accusation can destroy all that for which a person has worked.

If we take a step back and compare it to the Justice Kavanagh case, all of the witnesses were proven to have been lying or have recanted—but the stain still remains on his record. He cannot coach his kids, he cannot teach Catechism, he cannot volunteer at children’s hospitals, all the things he loved, because of a false accusation. The angels cry when there is a false accusation, not because of the sin of false witness but because it takes away a person’s ability to minister to their fellow citizens.

The Teacher is Quietest During a Test

The tears are doubled when the accusation is true. When a person in a position of trust violates that trust, it shakes the whole community. People are a social animal, and we need to be social and work with others in our group. To do this we need trust, and when a person in a position of trust betrays us, we lose a little bit of trust for others around us.

To do this we need trust, and when a person in a position of trust betrays us, we lose a little bit of trust for others around us.

The angels cry at the distrust which breaks into our society because distrust is the opposite of faith, and incidents like this can even cause people to distrust the Lord. There is a quote circling around the internet, I have seen it attributed to Keanu Reeves, but I do not know who actually said it. It is a reply to people who say, “where is God in a crisis?” and it simply says, “The teacher is quietest during a test.”

The final set of tears may be the most of a deluge. These tears are for the people who are shaken by the accusation. So often, we see the community scatter when the shepherd is struck. Christ even warned us that this would happen. The crying is because some of these people will give up their faith because of the actions of a man or a woman. Remember, just because Judas betrayed Christ did not make the other apostles stop believing the message of Christ.

Bishops, pastors, priests, and popes are just men and all men and women in this world are flawed. The flaws of others do not erase the perfection of Christ. So as the angels cry about those who have lost their faith because of the sins of others, we as the people of God need to love each other more, live our faith to the fullest, and become the hope that others in despair need to see.

Not Knowing is the Hardest Part

I write this article not knowing the veracity of the accusations against the priest. I hope that they are false, and I will pray for Father David in this time of trouble. If they are false, I pray that they will be proven so quickly, so that he may return to his vocation. If they are true, I will pray that he asks forgiveness of the victim, of the community and of the Lord. I will also pray for the victim.

If the accusations are true, then I pray that they will find peace in this world, that they have not been able to find since they were abused. If the accusation is false, then I pray that they will come forward and not ruin an innocent man’s life. The hardest part of this whole situation is not knowing, but in my ignorance, I know that I am not in a position to judge, and that gives me a little peace.

My friends who are reading this, I ask that you pray for our little villages of St. Augustine and Chest Springs. Faith is a strong part of our lives up here on the mountain and many are struggling now. Please keep us in your prayers and near to your hearts as these issues are sorted out. If you are not a person who prays, please think of how we can stop these things from happening.

All children, born or unborn, deserve to have their childhood be a time of peace and growth, not fear and exploitation. Therefore, if you do not pray and feel bad for the people in this crisis, then volunteer your time to help end sex-trafficking, sexual abuse, and other exploitation of kids from around the world.

Prayers Become Action, and Action Becomes a Movement

If anyone from the Church reads this, we the people ask that the Church appoint an inquisitor to look for those who have done these actions and root them out. We need a person of the faith, but not of the cloth, to look for victims and perpetrators, activity, and not simply react to these problems. In Christ, we cannot fix the past with our current actions, but we can prevent it from happening again. Please Bishops and Pope, Monsignors and Cardinals, we need an inquisitor to look into this blight.

In Christ, we cannot fix the past with our current actions, but we can prevent it from happening again.

I thank you for reading this simple letter, though I know not if it will ever be published. Please keep all the victims of sexual misconduct in your prayers, for they are the most hurt in these situations. But, my friends, prayer must become action, and action must become a movement. Talk to your priest or pastor about doing something to create a safer environment for all children, and take the time to get your clearances and volunteer.

Be the change you want to see in the world. Remember “Evil reigns when good people do nothing.” Do not be a person who does nothing. Help your community, be a community. Please keep our parishes in your prayers. Do not let the tears of the angels become the tears of little angels in your life. #St.Augusting/St.Monica’sStrong

Author Profile

Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer
Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer
Dr. Christopher Smithmyer is a writer for NRN, the Vice President of International Affairs at Brav Online Conflict Management, and an Adjunct Professor of MBA Business at Doane University. He is also part of the founding team at BlackWalletLTD, one of the leaders in stable coin 2.0 ecosystem maintenance. Dr. Smithmyer’s focus is international business and finance, along with reviews of board games, weapons platforms, and survival items.