I have so much on my heart in light of recent events. I welcome your comments, thoughts and ideas. This past week, reading the PA Grand Jury report of the investigations into priest abuse broke my heart. As the mother of two young children, it’s horrifying to think of anything happening to them, especially at the hands of priests who are supposed to be direct representatives of God’s love. I was also greatly saddened by, and frankly angry at, the bishops who concealed the abuse and let abusers continue in ministry. Every member of the clergy who has committed or perpetuated such heinous sins deserves justice from the law and from God. I know this will be a long and difficult road toward healing and recovery for all of us in the Church.
Tears are welling up in my eyes thinking of the years of happiness stolen from the victims of abuse. I wish I could say to them, “I cannot imagine your pain. I am so sorry. I want so much for you to know that you are loved, and that you are brave, and that I am praying for you. The real love that God has for you is nothing like the abuse that you have suffered, and I want so badly for you to know that.”
I’m asking myself, “what can I do to help?” I’m open to ideas, if you have them.
At a time like this, I’m even more saddened that some people will likely walk away from the Catholic faith. I don’t blame them. If your only experience of an organization is its bad members, then it makes sense. For me, my faith has been woven into my earliest memories and all through my life. I know that the abuse is not of Christ or what he really teaches. It's also not what the Church teaches. Each instance of sexual abuse is a grave sin.
I stay Catholic for the Eucharist. I stay Catholic because Christ wants me to receive him in every mass and to give me gifts of grace far beyond what I deserve. I think of St. Peter, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”
I believe our hope in suffering and trials is to turn to God, not away from him.
One of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, put it so well: “In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge).
I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe anymore, even if I had never met anyone in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call our Lord a fraud to His face.”
This is not the first scandal the Church has endured, nor will it be the last. Imperfect people cannot make a perfect institution.
And yet, I believe there is hope in this situation for two reasons:
The truth is becoming known, and I can only see that as a good thing. Changes in policy that lead to justice and greater protection for children will happen as a result of this report. No more secrecy or letting abusers off the hook. Also, allowing victims to speak their hurt aloud can begin the healing process for them and their families.
The report stated that since the scandal first broke in 2003, changes have been made and the incidents of abuse have been reduced. Not eliminated, but reduced. I was glad to hear that what the Church has done so far has had an effect. In my speaking ministry, I have to go through training in every new diocese I go to to recognize and understand how to report the signs of sexual abuse. It’s heartening that these policies, though not a guarantee against abuse, are creating a network of eyes to protect children.
In my thoughts about the scandals, thoughts of the good priests I know also come floating across my mind. In my life experience, the priesthood has been overwhelmingly positive.
I have many happy memories of holy priests coming over to share a meal with my family, delivering sincere and passionate homilies that changed my outlook, guiding and consoling me in confession, and a million other snapshots of healthy interaction. That is the priesthood as it was meant to be.
When I was seven, two of the priests from my parish coming over for a water balloon fight. My dad picked up the phone as we were all sitting around the dinner table one night, and his voice got serious. He said, “heavy weather approaching. Roger that,” and hung up. My siblings and I jumped up from the table and furiously began filling water balloons as fast as we could. When the car pulled up, our priest friends jumped out of the car holding hampers of water balloons and immediately began pelting us with them. One of them even brought a white flag as a ploy to get behind our ‘enemy lines,’ at which time he overturned our baskets of waiting water balloons! Another priest calls every member of my family and me on our birthdays each year, regardless of the fact that we moved away from his parish when I was twelve. I shared a scene as a chorus member with the parish priest when I was in high school, and he and I used to laugh saying "watermelon watermelon" over and over again to simulate background chatter. My spiritual director five years back would let me talk as long as I wanted, regardless of how busy he was, and I would leave each session high as a kite on joy from his counsel.
The priests I know are community-builders, unifiers, strengtheners, clarifiers and consolers.
In the face of such grievous accusations and overwhelming numbers named in the Grand Jury report, let us not forget all those in the priesthood who have dedicated their lives in true service. If you know a good priest, thank him. I’m sure many good priests will experience anger, unjust judgement, and unwarranted suspicion from those who will judge the Church from the sexual abuse scandals.
I welcome thoughts and ideas. What can we do to love those who have been hurt? How are you dealing with this latest news? Is it hard for you to explain to people why you are Catholic? What kinds of actions and what parts of our history would help you not only cling to your faith, but be proud of it? Let’s get the discussion going.
Sending you much love in Christ and his Blessed Mother. Let’s make our Church a true reflection of Christ’s love.