Anyone who has heard the recent news coming out of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania is rightfully outraged. It wasn’t just that possibly thousands of people were sexually abused, but what’s especially revolting is the way these perpetrators exploited their priesthood to take advantage of their victims. Worse still, was the way many bishops appeared to have either trivialized allegations of abuse, ignored them or covered them up.
If you’re like me, then you too are battling strong emotions.
Our hearts go out to the victims, while our blood boils, enraged at the clerics who preyed on their flocks and the prelates who protected them. We love the Church, but we’re torn because some of the very men who represented the Church to us, violated their positions to commit extremely serious sins that devastated the lives of so many people.
What keeps me going is remembering where the Church came from and where she is going. The Church was born from the pierced heart of Jesus as he hung on the Cross. The Church is headed for heaven, though till then she journeys here on earth, amidst the trials of this world and the sinfulness of men, knowing that she will only receive perfection in the glory of heaven. The Church is a complex reality that comes together from a human and a divine element. The Church is at one and the same time both the organization with its hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ. Right now, there’s a lot of attention on the former aspect, but not as much focus on the latter.
To put things in some perspective, the Boston Globe reports from 2002 that exposed the systemic problems that allowed clergy abuse to thrive, resulted in the Church, at least here in the United States, implementing several reforms. The grand jury report from Pennsylvania itself recognized that much has changed over the last fifteen years, with the Church now advising law enforcement of abuse reports more promptly, establishing internal review processes, and so on.
However, clearly, there’s more that can and should be done.
Even with all these systems in place, there were still a few clergy abuse cases unearthed in Pennsylvania dating from within the last decade or so. Not to mention similar news stories from other parts of the United States. A case in point being the allegations against the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, which if proven to be true, show that the Church’s actions to rid herself of cases of clergy abuse and their cover-ups still have a long way to go.
Yet, I love the Church, for all she is and all she’s done for me, a sentiment I’m sure many others share as well. The struggle right now is to distinguish between the men ordained to serve the Church who acted in detestable ways and the Church herself.
The question is: Amidst all this chaos and confusion, what can you and I do?
Here are some of my thoughts. Obviously, there’s a lot more that can be said and done about this issue, but in any case, I hope you find what I’ve written below to be helpful.
- We need to stay faithful to the Church. The Church is more than an institution and certainly far greater than a few dishonorable clerics with their secrets and cover-ups. She is the means by which we receive the grace for holiness and salvation. The way I look at it is that if a teacher or a group of teachers are found guilty of molesting students, we don’t ditch the whole educational system. We recognize that the educational system in and of itself is good, necessary and valuable. We change what needs to be changed to protect our children, we hold the offenders accountable for their actions, but we don’t walk away from the whole educational system. We should have the same attitude towards the Church.
- We need to rally together and make sure Church leaders know that we will not stand for clerical abuse or any cover-ups anymore. We can and should make our voices heard about policies and reforms being put forth to tackle the issue of clergy abuse. Write letters to your bishops and don’t be afraid to ask for a reply from them. Help create a culture in your local parishes that makes it alright for victims to come forward through the awareness/formation programs for youth groups, parish altar-serving associations, etc, as well as by ensuring that the parish bulletin board/website has a notice in a prominent place that tells people where they can lodge a complaint, if needed.
But we have to act. We are certainly not responsible for the problem of clergy abuse, but apathy or a lackadaisical attitude will mean that we are not being a concrete part of the solution either.
- We need to pray, a lot! We need to pray for the victims of sexual abuse and their families. We need to pray for the predator-priests and their families. And we need to pray for all the holy priests and bishops out there, whose image and good work gets tarnished because of the abhorrent actions of their brother priests and bishops.
Back in June, I was at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, attending its annual Priests, Deacons and Seminarians conference, when the McCarrick news first broke. I won’t easily forget the sadness and disbelief on the faces of many of the men present at that conference, as they recognized that their ministries were about to get a lot more challenging. And I speak for myself here too. I need prayers as a seminarian as well. It isn’t easy being a seminarian at a time when the very notion of the priesthood is considered repulsive by some on account of the many clergy abuse scandals
- And finally… If you were a victim of abuse at the hands of a priest, please come forward to the appropriate civil and diocesan authorities. Don’t stay invisible anymore. You don’t have to be alone and you certainly don’t need to carry a heavy burden of shame and guilt because of someone else’s actions. The Church is made up of the people of God, and we, your brothers and sisters in the Church are here for you.
The Church is being purged right now and light is being shone in places where darkness once thrived. The Church will emerge from this crisis stronger and holier. But we, as Catholics, need to show the world why we love the Church that our Savior established, and show them that the Catholic Church is not defined by the predator-priests who once stood among her many shepherds.
It isn’t enough to bemoan the problem of sexual abuse by members of the clergy or have endless debates on social media about this matter. We love the Church, but we hate sexual abuse, and even one case of abuse is one too many. To help the Church, we need to stand together and work together. We need to be a solid part of the solution so that abuse at the hands of clerics doesn’t happen again.