By Becky Berreth
Members of St. Patrick parish, Lead, and St. Ambrose Church, Deadwood, gathered for a hike up Black Elk Peak and a sunset Mass, on September 16, to celebrate the life of a former pastor.
Father Peter Kovarik was only in the parishes for a little over a year before he was killed in a plane crash, but in the 16 months he was assigned, he started a tradition at the top of the highest summit in South Dakota.
“Father Pete asked if I would put a hike together,” explained Jay Jacobs, parishioner in Lead. “That was our first hike. He loved being outdoors and wanted to share that with us. We were able to do two, Black Elk Peak and Cement Ridge, before he passed away.”
“Celebrating Mass on Black Elk Peak was something the people talked about who had hiked with him to Black Elk Peak,” said Father Leo Hausmann, current pastor. “They had a very fond memories of the event, so it seemed like making it an annual event in honor of Father Peter would be a good way to remember him, pray for him, and in the process find healing of our own grief related to his death.”
What makes this hike and Mass worth doing is the journey, explained Jacobs. “You’re hiking and then pretty soon you’re hiking with other people, and it becomes a journey to the destination.”
“Hiking to the summit of Black Elk Peak takes a while and there is a lot of good conversation about everything under the sun,” agreed Fr. Hausmann. “You really get to know people in a different way than you normally do at other social gatherings.”
The event, which has drawn anywhere from five to a dozen participants each year, has become a tradition for the two parishes, something Fr. Hausmann sees as important in today’s world.
“I think parish traditions are really important, especially for young people. Our culture today isn’t built on tradition to the extent of previous generations, probably for a lot of different reasons. We are so much more mobile these days and we lose some of our grounding. Traditions ground us.
“Even though much of the stability from times gone by that fostered tradition in family life isn’t as common in our present culture, we can offset that somewhat by building tradition in the parish. I think that if a person has a fond memory of a parish tradition from their youth, but somewhere along the path of life fell away from the practice of their faith, the fond memory of a parish tradition might play a part in drawing them back into the life of the church. For older and more consistently involved parishioners, parish traditions keep them involved and united with fellow parishioners.”
“The Mass is the most useless thing we can do, and by that, I mean it’s the highest thing we can do.” So says Bishop Robert Barron in his new film series on the Mass. I recently watched the first episode, and something that he said really grabbed my attention. “Mass,” he claims, “is the most useless thing we can do … Heaven is a place of utter uselessness. Mass, in its playful uselessness, is a great anticipation of Heaven.” Now, before we all chuck our Sunday plans to come to church and head to the lake or the nearest pub playing the Sunday game, let me also point out that Bishop Barron also echoes the Second Vatican Council in reminding us that the Mass is the “source and summit” of the Christian life — in fact, the most valuable activity we could choose to engage in. So, the Mass is at the same time both useless and valuable.
We need a moment to wrap our heads around this.
The key here lies in the word “playful.” Bishop Barron defines play as an activity which has no purpose outside of itself; it is something done for its own end. Work, on the other hand, is always a means to another end. For instance, we work to get paid so that we can buy the necessities of life. In our society, we tend to think that work is more valuable than play, but Bishop Barron challenges us, saying we have that backwards. We have impoverished the traditional meaning of play to mean something not important and not valuable, when it was once seen to signify the highest form of human activity. In the study guide that accompanies his series on the Mass, he writes, “We find our freedom in the things we do with no thought to utility, which is why our work may make us wealthy, but our play is what makes life worth living. Play, therefore, has the higher value.” Play is the highest form of human activity because, having no purpose outside of itself, it is free from utility and practicality. It is a good pursued for its own end, and is therefore more beautiful, more precious than work.
To say that this has caused me to look at things in a way I have never seen them before would be an understatement. My pragmatic, hard-working, task-driven, list-making German genetics are ready to launch into high rebellion, but the more I ponder this wisdom, the more I am intrigued, because we do tend towards imbalance. We all seem to be frantically working at an increasingly faster pace without in some sense knowing why; we feel compelled, trapped in the pace of American life. We lose the joy in valuable work and even turn what we name play into work by pursuing it not for its intrinsic good but for some externally imposed prize or gain. This hinders our ability to be good stewards of our time, limiting our ability to love both God and our neighbor well. This is not the freedom Jesus has promised us.
I believe recapturing an appreciation for human activity which we pursue simply for its own end (play) can help us to put our work (necessary and good) in its proper place and perspective, and free it to serve the greater good. This in turn, frees us from the slavery we feel towards the tasks we engage in every day and helps us to order them properly. It can assist us in being good stewards of our time; receiving the time we have been given as a gift and striving to live each moment in God’s will and for his glory. Inspired by Bishop Barron’s wisdom, we can begin by fostering a deeper appreciation for the most important “play” we can engage in — the Mass. May we see the time we spend at Mass as the most valuable and highest form of human activity; not as a means to an end, but rather to simply be with the Almighty; to worship, to offer our love and our lives and to receive in return his gift of himself.
The sexual abuse crisis in the Church has been made far more horrendous by some bishops, who by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole. The abuse of their power and authority to manipulate and sexually abuse others has caused devastating harm. The fear of scandal replaced honest concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers. Again, we seek forgiveness from both the Lord Jesus and those who have been harmed in any way by these actions.
As a beginning step, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the aftermath of this scandal has undertaken some important initiatives to address the situation and its root causes. We must all continue to pray for healing in our Church, in particular for those who have been personally victimized. Be assured of my continued prayers for healing.
Over the course of the past few weeks, parishioners from across the diocese have questioned me regarding the extent of this issue in this diocese — if clergy sexual abuse is still happening in the Church, and what happens when an allegation becomes known. I thought that I would address some of these questions and share the good news of what the Diocese of Rapid City has been doing to protect our children and young people.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice completed a comprehensive research investigation focusing on the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse in the American Roman Catholic Church between 1950 and 2010. Released in 2011, this was the second of two studies done, and it reported that the vast majority of abuse cases occurred from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. Ninety-four percent of all cases occurred before 1990 and seventy percent of clergy offenders were ordained as priests before 1970. They concluded that these numbers, as well as the style and type of abuse, were fairly consistent with other large organizations (i.e., public schools, boy scouts, etc.) with men who had unsupervised and unlimited access to minors during the last half century and most especially during the 1960s and 1970s.
I share this, not to denigrate the gravity of this issue in the Church, but to put it into a historical context. One could get the sense from the media’s reporting about the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report that wide-spread clergy sexual abuse is still happening across this country. This is simply not the case, even though we are deeply saddened by a recent allegation in our own diocese. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, was established by the USCCB in June 2002. This Charter includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing and accountability, as well as supporting survivors and the prevention of further acts of abuse in the American Catholic Church.
Since the implementation of the Charter, the Catholic Church in America has done more in seeking to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults than any other institution, public or private. In fact, beginning in the 1990s, the bishops of the Diocese of Rapid City have implemented zero tolerance policies toward any instance of sexual abuse of children and young people.
The Diocese of Rapid City adheres to the following procedures regarding the handling of any reports of allegations of sexual misconduct.
Any allegation involving a minor or vulnerable adult is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. Allegations are referred to civil authorities.
The diocese has a policy dealing with sexual misconduct, as well as codes of conduct, for priests, deacons, lay employees, volunteers and youth activity participants.
The diocese has an independent review board made up of one priest and several lay people who make recommendations to the bishop regarding the credibility of allegations. They review every allegation that is made.
All clergy, seminarians, diocesan employees and volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults undergo background checks every five years.
All clergy, seminarians, diocesan employees and all volunteers working for the Church are required to participate in safe environment training and recurrent training every five years. Over the past years, 2817 clergy, seminarians, diocesan employees and volunteers have participated in the safe environment training.
All children involved in our Catholic schools and all children involved in parish religious formation programs are taught to recognize, resist and report abuse of any kind. This training takes place yearly. On average, over the past five years 3836 children have gone through the safe environment training each year.
The diocese is audited annually by an independent company to ensure proper training and safeguards are in place and followed. We have been in compliance since the audits began.
I will ensure that the diocese remains vigilant and transparent in fulfilling its policies and procedures regarding reported sexual misconduct. In all of this, we must also never lose sight of those victim-survivors who have suffered because people in positions in power and authority have failed to act as the Gospel demands.
For survivors of sexual abuse, these days in the Church may re-open deep wounds. Support is available from the Church and within our communities. Anyone who has been a victim of sexual misconduct by a bishop, priest, deacon or lay person working for or volunteering for the Church is invited to contact the Victim Assistance Coordinator by calling 605-209-3418 for assistance and compassionate care.
To anyone who has been abused, if you don’t feel comfortable for any reason with the Church providing help, never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement.
With compassion and without judgement, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with all of the strength God provides us.