BRISTOL — More than 500 men, including a delegation from the Diocese of Bridgeport, recently attended the 11th annual Catholic Men’s Conference at St. Paul High School.
The conference, whose theme was “Go Into the Whole World,” featured the Rev. Bill Casey of the Congregation of the Fathers of Mercy, who is a frequent guest on EWTN.
“There must be a spiritual renewal that must begin with us,” he said to sustained applause. “Stand up, speak up and rise up to demand the reform of the clergy.”
“For the Church in this country, it is late in the game and there is no time to lose,” he said. “The Church is being defined by these scandals, and it could be for a generation to come.”
Echoing the words of Christ to St. Francis of Assisi during a similar period of turmoil in the 12th century, he told the men they must rebuild the Church.
Other speakers at the conference, which was held at St. Paul High School in Bristol, were Jason Calvi of EWTN News, Bob Kroll of With All Your Heart Apostolate, and Deacon Doug Hoffman of the Diocese of Norwich. Archbishop Leonard P. Blair held a question-and-answer session.
Father Casey said, “Church leaders must address the reality that more than 80 percent of these cases involve acts against post-pubescent boys, teenagers and young men, many of them seminarians … and something must be done about it.”
Calling for the defense of faithful priests, he said there are 45,000 active priests in the United States and 96 percent of them had no part in the abuse scandal. He also criticized the news coverage of the secular media for overlooking the efforts of faithful clergy. “Scandal sells, fidelity doesn’t sell,” he said. Father Casey told the men, “Pray for priests because the devil works triple overtime to destroy priests.”
He said times such as these produce the greatest saints. “We must never fail to be loyal sons to Holy Mother Church,” he said. “Heroic virtue is what it will take to turn things around in this time of turmoil in the Church.”
A great challenge facing the Church, he said, is that younger people have no idea of what it means to be Catholic. Because they lack knowledge of the basics of their faith, they are prey to misconceptions promoted by the media, cultural pagan influences, and non-believing professors.
“The vast majority of young Catholics who will lose the faith will lose it when they get to college, where they will be talked out of their faith by a veritable army of atheistic professors,” he said.
Steven Lee of Ridgefield, President and CEO of Veritas Catholic Network, said, “The conference left me renewed and reenergized to put my faith into action. It’s our responsibility by our baptism to go out into the vineyard, to reevangelize the world, and to heal, strengthen, and protect the Church.”
Thomas Hart of New Fairfield said the speakers, particularly the discussion about father wounds, led to self-reflection because it reminded him of his experiences with his father and the need for love and compassion. “Being the father of three boys and having coached many young men, my focus was always to insure that they developed a little better self-esteem.”
Regarding the sex abuse crisis in the Church, he said, “The stories are tragic and unthinkable, and we must address them and insure they never occur again.”
Art Maggiola said he went to confession for the first time in 40 years, which he described as “an exciting experience.” He said, “It’s always reassuring that other people have similar problems as expressed by the stories we heard, but if we stick together and fight this demon, I think we will come out stronger then ever.”
Otis Shelton and Don Mallozzi served as co-captains of St. Edward the Confessor’s Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference team and brought 20 men to the conference.
Shelton said the talk by Father Casey about the crisis in the Church was sobering. “Today’s sexual abuse scandal is serious,” he said. “And the clergy and laity need to respond to the call to action and address it. But we should always remember that the Catholic Church has faced serious challenges since its beginning and has survived them.”
Father James Sullivan, chaplain for the Men’s Conference, said: “In the spirit of Vatican II, there is a universal call to holiness, to evangelize, preach and spread the Gospel, not only for priests and religious, but everyone, no matter where they are in life — married, single, in offices, in sports, in factories, in fields. We need to redouble our efforts in this time of crisis and go out boldly proclaiming the Gospel because the power of evil is always at work to break down, divide and destroy.”
He said that priests he knows are intensifying their efforts; they are wearing their collars and they are walking proudly.
“We need to reach over the edge of the cliff to reclaim the lost sheep. It is not a time to retreat but advance and go further,” he said. “There is a wound in the Church and we have to understand people are hurting. We need to show the mercy and compassion of God, but we must do it in a spirit of joy because joy always attracts. During times like these, saints are made.”
Bob Kroll of the With All Your Heart Apostolate, discussed the impact fathers have on their children. The oldest of nine kids, he grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. His parents were heavy drinkers, and their family life was marred by physical, emotional and verbal abuse. The memories tormented him for much of his life until he found comfort through healing prayer and a personal relationship with Christ that led him to forgiveness.
“Father wounds have an enormous impact on our society with devastating effects everywhere,” he said. “The wounds that we receive from our fathers are the most intense and overwhelming wounds of all.”
The father of four sons, Kroll said that 43 percent of children in America live in homes without fathers; 63 percent of youth suicides occur in fatherless homes; 71 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes as do 82 percent of children with behavioral disorders.
When a father hurts his son through neglect and abuse, it leads to bitterness and anger, he said. The deficiency or absence of love from a person’s earthly father leads to the “father wound.” And that absence can be the result of death, divorce, abuse, alcoholism or abandonment.
Jason Calvi, the Capitol Hill Correspondent for EWTN News, said the scandal caused by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the Attorney General’s report on sex abuse in Pennsylvania, were evidence of demonic activity.
“Right now we are seeing unprecedented demonic activity,” Calvi said. In his discussion with an exorcist in the Washington area, he was told “the Lord is draining the spiritual swamp.” In the past month, there have been 18 cases of possible demonic activity in that Archdiocese.
“We cannot go out into the world if we are not fully prepared,” Calvi told the men. To remain solid in their faith and resist the devil, Calvi called on them to follow Our Lady of Fatima’s directives — pray the rosary, fast, pray for sinners and observe the devotion of the Five First Saturdays, which includes confession, Communion, rosary and meditation. “That is a blueprint for holiness,” he said. “An arsenal for these dark times.”
Deacon Hoffman talked about his faith journey. A convert to Catholicism from the Methodist Church and a retired Groton police officer, he told the men they will be sustained in their efforts by the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It was what led him to the Catholic faith, along with the inspiration of his wife, Catherine.
He told the men, “We cannot go into the whole world without that Real Presence, and an understanding of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and those before us and coming after us.”