I have never written on the topic of abuse within the Catholic Church ever before in my life. I sit at my desk dumbfounded as I read more and more about the shear depth and breadth of the scandals and indictments. I simply can't fathom it.
Generally speaking, I am a person who avoids having a "label" for the most part. I don't want to identify myself as being part of one political party or another. I am cautious to identify myself as being part of a "movement" or social agenda.
It's not that I don't have clear convictions or beliefs; far from it. It's simply that I don't always agree and am sometimes significantly opposed to certain viewpoints within any group, and often the more extreme the opinion, the less likely I want to be identified with that group. You see, I always feel like I can see both sides. Generally speaking, I believe there is truth on both or even multiple sides of life's scenarios.
Choosing to identify myself within a group is something I don't do for these reasons.
For some reason, I've never been troubled to identify myself as a Catholic. I grew up in a proud Irish-American family that was loyal to Catholicism and very faithful.
I found solace in going to mass weekly, praying to Jesus, participating in the traditions and sacraments, and listening to my mother teach me how each day shows us how God is involved with us. I was raised by parents who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, who went to Latin mass and saw the world through the eyes of a very traditional Catholic Church. The whole "Fr. Charles O'Malley" thing was real to them. That was their experience. They gave me a sense of respect and admiration for priests and nuns. Their understanding of their faith was one of strictness, but also the deep love they encountered as members of the Church.
Over time, I began to form some of my own opinions on life and its circumstances. I would reach out to other like-minded Catholics. My motto is to love all, and try to see things from their point of view. It's not my job to judge others – it's God's.
And Jesus said, "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You."
I never went to Catholic school, but I was trained in the sacraments and always found a sense of belonging and comfort in the churches our family went to: a quaint small church in rural southern Michigan where I lived as a young child; a much larger Chicago suburban parish when we moved to the Chicago suburbs, and after my widowed father met my stepmom, we became entrenched in the church her family went to. My husband and I moved and attended an older conservative church closer to the city, then became involved in an ultra-modern church, and then experienced two more parishes when we set up our home where we live now.
Through all of these differences – be the churches old and conservative, charismatic and modern or somewhere in between, I didn't feel touched by the scandals that started coming to the forefront in the past 20 years.
I have truly never known a nasty priest or nun, let alone one that was abusive in any way. I was never hit by rulers, or made to kneel on pencils and have never been admonished for anything by any clergy. I've only known good people who worked hard to do their jobs selflessly and lovingly.
None of the names of priests or nuns I've known in my lifetime have shown up on any affidavits. I have never heard anyone say anything bad about the religious folk I have known in any fashion. To that end, I feel confident that I have known good people.
But other people have had the worst, most traumatic experiences at the hands of those very individuals they were supposed to love, trust and admire. People who were SUPPOSED to be like the priests and nuns I grew up with and knew in my adult life.
I do recall a wonderful priest who gave a homily many years ago when the first wave of scandals surfaced. He tearfully explained how proud he had always been to wear the Roman collar and show the world that he was a priest. He was always so happy to show himself as a person who would be there to help those who needed it and act as an agent of God in the Catholic tradition.
For so many reasons, he said he disparaged his priestly clothing and didn't want to wear it when the scandals broke, and his heart was also broken for those who suffered. He said he didn't want to stop living his vocation and that he wanted to represent the faith in the manner in which it should be. He stayed a priest.
I can't get out of my head, however, the incredible extensive amount of cover-ups and scandals that occurred. And the amount of abuse itself – it turns the stomach. It's staggering to the mind.
Because of my good experiences with the faithful, I was also willing to look at statistics that say that priests are no more likely than the general population to be pedophiles. I don't believe that priests are abusers because they are celibate.
That means any person who isn't having sex can become a pedophile. So look out for your widowed uncle who isn't dating, right? Nope.
Pedophilia is a true sickness – and it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight. And it's not something that only males do.
I have heard that in fact, more pedophiles are married males than celibate priests and that there are unfortunately too many scenarios of those who spend time with children that are abusers – teachers, pediatricians, coaches, etc.
This is all bad enough. What makes the Catholic Church abuse scandal even harder to take is that it's CHURCH. It's a place of God. And that so many cases were covered up. Systematically. THAT is what is so mind-blowing.
I have raised one child who completed the Sacrament of Confirmation and another who is just beginning that training. He has played on Catholic football leagues and has been proud of that fact.
How can I possibly help my children to continue to believe in a faith where the innocents were repeatedly taken advantage of – and NOT helped. Where these victims felt trapped, and their stories were not heard, quashed.
It is a soul-searching question.
I still feel like I don't want to abandon my faith. Despite these ugly truths (and many others throughout history, I might add), it ALSO has a beautiful history. One consisting of sacrifice, diplomacy, education, art, missionary work, love and tradition.
And individuals within that history have time and again abused their power and made innocents suffer. Much like our own country – or the story of so many other countries. And I don't want to abandon my country just because I don't care for atrocious decisions and actions in its history. There are no excuses for man's inhumanity to man.
And yet, I believe in the inherent goodness of others.
Human beings mess up beautiful things. It was not the intention of Jesus' teachings or the original traditions of the church to be anything but loyal and loving to God.
When things go wrong, it's easy to blame God or say "religious" people are fake, destructive, heinous.
But those are NOT religious people. These are sick, twisted, mentally unhealthy people, and too many of them. And then there are those who were too scared or too self-serving to come forward regarding the abusers, or made decisions to keep the house of cards standing – for some greater good? Was that the reason? Is that truly justifiable? Will any answer actually make any sense when you get down to the pure basics of right and wrong?
What Would Jesus Do?
That answer is obvious. It wouldn't be what the leaders of the Church did, and it wouldn't be abusing children.
He would put His focus where it most belongs. On those who have been damaged – they need our outreach, love, prayers and whatever we can give them. And he was never afraid to call others out on the carpet.
I wanted to end my post with something incredibly encouraging. A wise quote of some sort. I looked around for one, but I couldn't find one. Then I decided that trying to wrap up a topic as heavy as this with a "meaningful" quote would diminish and invalidate the abuse survivors.
So I will wait. I will see if I can help in any way. I will see how the Church handles this. And I will decide what to do from there.
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