Journalists and writers are often called “wordsmiths” as words are the tools we use to forge images, ideas, opinions and feelings, and to tell stories. Well, today, reading the report from Pennsylvania on clerical sex abuse cases, I have run out of words.

Appalled, saddened, disillusioned, angered – these words don’t even start to say what I feel. How many priests have I known in my lifetime? Only God knows – and I’m sure He is at a loss for words as well.

I think of pastors I’ve known in my life, some well, others less so. I think of hospital and university and military chaplains I’ve known over the decades. University professors. Employees of the Roman Curia. Seminary professors. Seminary rectors. Employees of dioceses around the world. Priests who were friends of friends who suggested they look up Joan when they came to Rome for a visit or retreat or pilgrimage or to study. And so on….

I always smile when I hear from past or present priest friends. I smile because I think of our visits, our meals, our conversations, the laughter, the shared love for the Church and for our various ministries (I believe what I do is a form of ministry), our joy in the faith that we hope somehow we are transmitting to people and maybe transforming their lives.

I smile when I think of the good men I’ve known, those who accepted God’s call to become His shepherds, to be “in persona Christi” for us, to act in the Lord’s behalf for us.

I cannot smile today, even on this glorious feast of the Assumption. My heart is broken at the thought of even one priest on this planet breaking his vows and abusing another human being in such a terrible, inhuman way. One priest in the history of the Church found guilty of abuse would always be one priest too many! My heart is broken by the sheer numbers revealed in the Pennsylvania report. My heart is more than broken for the victims!

My heart also breaks as I think of my priest friends and their own feelings as they read this report. I cannot even imagine the depth of their sadness or anger. Will they be rejected – or feel rejected – by the faithful? Will a Roman collar no longer inspire respect and trust? I pray not!

I had written a totally different column to celebrate today’s solemnity, but it would appear almost frivolous in the wake of the news of the Pennsylvania clerical sex abuse report.

I think it’s time for a rosary………