Growing up I remember imagining the devil and demons being unable to enter a Catholic church; vividly seeing them shudder from the light, shrieking and cringing with every prayer. I thought everyone who entered our parish was instantly safe and no evil could be done within those walls. The priests and nuns I encountered seemed super-human, as if they didn’t struggle with temptation. They were like religious superheroes in my adolescent mind. As I grew up I realized this wasn’t entirely true, but there was still that sacredness of a Catholic church and the trustworthy faithfulness of those who served her.
When news first broke regarding the appalling behavior of Cardinal McCarrick followed by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, I sadly did everything I could to avoid hearing the disturbing details. Instead I tried to focus on my faith, grateful I’ve only known good shepherds who have faithfully served their parishes and communities. Yes, I was angry about the abuse, especially the incomprehensible manner in which leaders of the Church had dealt with these most awful of crimes for DECADES, but I didn’t want to face the individual victims. It was easier to generalize and not know specifics; to have the ability to hide from their horror.
Violating and abusing children is so difficult for me to wrap my head around. I don’t understand how a person could cause such harm to a child and feel… nothing…. or, even worse, “pleasure”. It is sick and twisted and I honestly don’t want to hear the stories as they only make me feel powerless and disgusted.
Then my mind was changed when I was given the booklet “I Was a Stranger; Meditations on the Innocent Unborn-Lost to Abortion” where I was confronted with the reality of the horrendous trauma caused by abortion through images of children ripped apart and discarded in garbage cans. I quickly realized how selfish it is to focus on my own pathetic discomfort when others face agony because of an evil that evaded justice and acknowledgement for years and in many cases decades. I cannot ignore the victims of clergy abuse anymore than I can ignore the victims on the pages of this booklet. To not know them is to, in some way, pretend they aren’t real. I feel ashamed of my attempt to simply move past it without hearing the victims; for not respecting them enough to learn more about their suffering.
So as my four innocent and beautiful children slept, I began reading the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and wept. Our brothers and sisters were betrayed, in the most horrendous of ways, by those charged with teaching them about the love of God. Every adult Catholic needs to take the time to learn more about these victims and what they endured. The accounts detailed by the Grand Jury Report are very difficult to hear, however, in order to move forward we must face this atrocity and stand in solidarity with the abused and acknowledge the presence of evil in this world.
I am of course angry about all of this; but anger will only lead to more pain. We need to morph our anger into passion, for passion creates progress. Progress toward changes that will ensure any and all accusations of abuse are met with the gravity they deserve and that predators will be removed from positions of influence and trust. Changes within the hierarchy of the Church that rids them of selfishly thinking of themselves rather than the victims. The Church created by Jesus Christ needs no lies to protect her; she needs light cast upon the darkest areas, revealing those causing pain to her faithful.
My fear was that I would feel powerless, however, we are not powerless in this situation. We need to make our voices and concerns heard. We need to pray without ceasing. And we need to become the saints we were created to be. Looking at my own life, I see so many flaws; it feels holiness is unattainable, but with God all things are possible and if individuals such as Saint Augustine and Dorothy Day could turn their lives around, maybe there’s hope for me as well. The world needs us at our best and at our holiest.
As frustrated, hurt and angry as we are, our gravest mistake would be to run from our faith. It was never to be placed in humans, but in Jesus Christ. We are his body and we need to fight the infection that has festered for far too long. As Father Mike Schmitz so eloquently put it, “Don’t leave the church; lead the church.”
I now understand how unfair I was to the clergy I have been blessed with in the parishes I’ve attended. They are not super human. They are just like us and they need our prayers and our support, especially at this time as they also experience the hurt and frustration we all feel.
Saint Catherine of Siena, Pray that we may possess your boldness.
Saint John Vianney, Pray for our Priests that they may follow God’s call and serve with your same zeal and faithfulness.
Saint John Paul II, Pray for our Church leaders that they may always seek truth, justice and love for God and his people.