Catholics Do What?,  Culture of Death,  Homosexuality,  Sex,  sin,  Suffering

When deferred maintenance hits the fan

Yesterday our sewer main backed up. I happened upon the grisly scene when I entered the basement. I stood transfixed, an overflowing basket of laundry on my hip and a stench in my nose. At first I didn’t realize what I was looking at. I got angry, my mind racing to assign blame to the horror I was beholding.

“JOHN PAUL!” I bellowed up the stairs, certain that the mess was a case of litter-box cleaning gone hideously awry.

Are my kids ever going to be old enough to be responsible for their own chores? Why would he dump the litter box on the ground down here? Why is it wet? Oh…

Once I realized that it was raw sewage we were dealing with, my anger melted away. First into disbelief and then to shame for having yelled at my poor 6-year-old, and finally to horror as I realized that I was the grown-up who was going to have to deal with this.

“Sorry buddy,” I called up the stairs to the wrongly accused, “there’s something wrong with the pipes. Tell everyone to go into the backyard until I figure this out.”

The rest of the day passed in a blur of phone calls and sewer technicians tromping in and out of the basement and the sound of many toilets being flushed over and over again. Nearly 8 hours and $500 dollars later I was crouched down scrubbing away at the horrific aftermath (using the cat’s litter scoop, appropriately enough) and willing myself not to vomit and add to my misery.

Dave and I laughed about the entire situation over drinks later that night, shaking our heads in regret that we had neglected to take immediate action on the results of the pipe inspection we’d had performed last August before we’d closed on the house. A main-line cleanout must have fallen to the bottom of our laundry list of things needing immediate attention once we moved in. So while we were tearing up dirty carpet and peeling back stained wood paneling, our pipes, the very guts of our home, were continuing to deteriorate. Every month that went by where we paid attention to some cosmetic detail rather than addressing a crucial functional problem, we were skating by on borrowed time.

In our defense, the report really did slip our minds. Or at least, it slipped my mind. I was so focused on making our house beautiful that I was not super concerned with anything of a more practical nature. When I did think of the less glamorous stuff that needed to happen – installing a radon system in the basement, having the asbestos popcorn removed from the ceilings, etc – I would brush it aside, telling myself we’d take care of it “someday.”

Meanwhile, it was really important that we install hardwood floors in our dining room. We scrimped and saved and stretched uncomfortably far to make it happen, and I told myself it was essential because the kids would spill food there! It had to be a hard surface! We didn’t want to waste money installing an inferior product that we’d just be updating one day anyway…

So we did it, and our house looked better and better. At least on the surface.

The thing with deferred maintenance is that it usually ends up costing you more, in the long run. Sure, you don’t have to take that initial painful hit by dealing with the problem when it first presents, but as the rot progresses, it often does more damage than even the initial discovery would have yielded. The $100 we “saved” by postponing a main line cleaning ballooned into a $500 emergency situation, draining our resources and making a disgusting mess that affected the entire family.

The Church finds herself in a similar situation today. Deferred maintenance which allowed evil to take hold. Rot spreading silently through the ranks, corrupting and defiling when it should have been swiftly and relentlessly exposed to the light. Horrific crimes plowed under and buried while the facade remained polished, presenting an attractive – and unrealistic – image to the outside.

Shame on Dave and I, as parents, for not taking action sooner and making sure our house was well maintained, safe, and reliable. Thankfully, our failure to act will yield nothing more harmful than some traumatic memories of mommy yelling unrepeatable words and dry heaving while carrying trash bags to and from the basement.

The damage the Church is suffering now, and will continue to suffer in the months and years to come, will be far worse.

I am horrified, as a Catholic, by the stories that are coming to light because of the now-Archbishop McCarrick situation. (Click here for a balanced assessment of the issue if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

I am horrified as a mother.

I am horrified as a mother of sons.

I am horrified as a friend to good and holy priests, and as a Catholic under the jurisdiction of a good and holy bishop.

People will leave over this. People will walk away from Christ, who has the words of eternal life, because of the failure of some of His shepherds. People walked in Judas’ time, and they will walk in Theodore’s time, and woe to those who cause these little ones to suffer. It would be better for them to be cast into the sea with a heavy millstone around their necks than to cause that suffering.

We should never defer the maintenance. Bring it out into the light, all of it. Let us once and for all drag everything out into the light and put our houses in order. That goes for the clergy as well as the laity. The pornography. The child pornography. The homosexual behavior. The pedophila. The copies of 50 Shades of Grey and the innocent online affairs that “don’t hurt anyone,” really.

There is no such thing as a private sin. There is no injury done to the Body of Christ that does not affect all of its members.

Lord, have mercy. Help us get our house in order. No matter what the cost.


  • Judy

    I’ve been, literally, sick, over this. I suppose it hurts more because it’s closer to home (converted in the Washington diocese, lived in the neighboring diocese of Arlington for 30 years. )

  • Katie

    I coudn’t agree more with this. My 10 year old son has always wanted to be a priest and for the first time I am not excited about it. Instead all I can think of is what sort of awful things might happen to him as a young seminarian and I am afraid. It is infuriating and devastating and painfully sad.

  • Jenna

    I have felt livid, betrayed and repulsed by this scandal. When I attended World Youth Day in 2002 in Toronto, we had daily catechesis sessions and ours were led by none other than Cardinal McCarrick. It completely sickens me to think he was given a platform at WYD when he would have access to so many young people…

    The article you linked was eye-opening. Especially that he was instrumental in creating the Dallas Charter, something I was not aware of until I read this piece.

    God have mercy on all of us.

  • EAW

    This is a really great piece and I would really love to share it; I won’t, because you’ve listed “homosexuality” right next to “pedophilia.” Homosexuality itself is not a sin and science and the church both tell us this. It is damaging to gay Catholics when we speak as though their very existence the way they were created is a sin. You can uphold church teaching without ignoring that painful truth.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      changed it to homosexual behavior – great and important point! The McCarrick situation and many of the cases of abuse deal with homosexuality, but you are right to point out that it is the behavior, not the inclination, which is sinful. Thanks for reading!

  • Kathleen

    As a lifelong parishioner in the Archdiocese of Newark (the largest diocese in NJ and top 10 in country), this is indeed horrifying. McCarrick confirmed me and my 8 cousins & 2 siblings in the 90s. My husband and I are dismayed. It’s hard to believe that all the priests we know in this Archdiocese didn’t know about McCarrick. I’m certain they did, and we feel betrayed and mislead.

  • jeanette

    It is important not to look at the personal sins of one (or the many in a cover-up) and paint all priests as victimizers. It is really hurtful to innocent and holy individual priests as well as the priesthood as a whole to then despise the priesthood or the Church.

    We should not be shocked that human sin exists in people who hold positions within the church, nor should we expect that Satan will not be actively tempting those people. What better way to destroy the Church than to lead a leader into sin? That is why it is so important to pray for all priests, especially those with whom you have contact as well as your own bishop.

    We can and should temper our disgust with these horrid situations so as not to paint everyone with the same brush. So those who would leave the Church for this scandal also need our prayer that they will discern the difference between what is good in the Church and what is evil, and not see all as lost because of the actions of a few, regardless of their status in the Church. The Lord instructs us in the “Our Father” to pray that God will forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. If we keep this in the forefront of our mind, we will be more just in our reaction when scandal comes to light.

    Humans are weak and sinful. That’s who Jesus put in charge of His Church, and then called them to live holy lives, not to persist in or cover up sin. And there are more who strive for holiness than there are who are steeped in sin. If there were only one holy priest in a hundred, the Church would suffer greatly, but it would be Jesus calling her to repentance. And that one holy priest in a hundred would be doing the work of a hundred, because he would be the faithful one whom we would entrust ourselves to.

    In addition to prayer for priests, we can also make acts of reparation. If we really believe in what our faith teaches, these are not meaningless responses to such scandals.

  • Abby

    I have been thinking about this post ever since I read it a few days ago. Three of my five children are boys, and the thought of them falling prey to someone in a position of religious authority and power sickens me. But even more sickening is that this is not an isolated incident; but rather, a common occurrence within the church that has been repeatedly covered up for decades upon decades. You may have also read the news about the 71 priests accused of child sex abuse in my home diocese of Harrisburg, PA, whose names have just been released ( I know, and once trusted, several priests on this list. I believed them also to be “good and holy”, and would have undoubtedly trusted them with my children – a thought that now physically sickens me. We are foolish if we think this type of behavior will suddenly cease simply because of the recent attention it has garnered. We all know that the early church (as ordained by Christ) allowed priests and even popes to marry, and our current requirement of celibacy asks that modern-day priests suppress sexual urges that are a natural part of humanity. (Did you know that the part of the brain that controls sexual desire is co-located in the hypothalamus, along with our primal desires for food and water? And that by suppressing these sexual desires, humans become emotionally stunted?) The celibacy mandate effectively invites individuals who have not reached mature psycho-sexual development to have access to impressionable and trusting young children.

    We can make excuses all day long. We can pray for the souls of these pedophile priests, and for the victims of this heinous abuse. Or we can accept the reality that the church is wrong in its mandate for celibacy, and refuse to return until this requirement is changed. Beginning this Sunday, my husband, my children, and I will be attending an Anglican church, where we will pray for the broken Catholic Church, and the many lives that have been broken by it.

    I simply cannot believe that a priest can rape young boys in the sacristy, and then walk onto an altar to transubstantiate the Eucharist.

    Enough is enough.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      This breaks my heart. I don’t fault you for leaving. I beg you to stay for the Eucharist, but I understand with my whole heart, as a mother, your choice. We do not trust our children alone with anyone outside our immediate family in any kind of compromising situation (sleep overs, overnight school trips, camp outs, scouting, Church functions, etc.) There is simply too much sexual depravity in our culture – yes, even in “good” families and with “holy” priests.

      Personally I am much, much more concerned with the scourge of closeted homosexual predation in our seminaries and parishes. These incidences of abuse are very often post pubescent boys – mature teens and even young men in seminary – who are being groomed and preyed upon by active homosexual priests. I think from the 60s forward many, many seminaries became a refuge for men with homosexual inclinations to live an outwardly “virtuous” life and to delve into depraved sexuality out of sight of the public eye. But no more.

      I’m not sure what my thoughts are on rescinding priestly celibacy, but I do no there is no way in hell a man struggling with lust for women is going to suddenly turn to homosexual behavior because he isn’t allowed to get married. That doesn’t follow. The biology and psychology of it isn’t sound. Men who struggle with same sex attraction are battling a different demon than men fighting against concupiscence and resisting (or not resisting, as is the case with priests with mistresses) lust. I remember going through Virtus (our dioceses’ safe environment training) 7 years ago and asking the woman running it after the horrendous video “why are we not talking about homosexual predation in this class?” and she shushed me and said there was no correlation between pedophilia and homosexuality. And I was like, lady, you just showed me a video of convicts telling us from their jail cells how they groomed and offended on 17 year old boys and sometimes followed them into their mature teens and twenties. You’re telling me that’s not homosexual behavior? Then why not offend on 17 year old girls?”

      Something ain’t right. God have mercy on us all.

  • Abby

    Jenna, you are absolutely correct in your assertion that the church has become a safe haven for homosexual men to live an outwardly virtuous life. My father-in-law left the seminary forty years ago because he was tired of being “hit on” by gay priests. He later married (thankfully, allowing for the birth of my dear husband!), and stayed faithful to the Church until two years ago, when he and my MIL could no longer turn a blind eye to this ongoing scandal. We mourned their departure when it happened, but now find ourselves – reluctantly, yet confidently – following in their footsteps.

    With no celibacy mandate, the church would surely attract more stable, heterosexual (and hopefully, married) men to the priesthood, weeding out the “scourge” currently contaminating its ranks. The priesthood would no longer be a refuge and hiding place for those looking for easy access to immoral and criminal homosexual behavior.

    We clearly share heartbreak over this situation, despite the different ways we’ve chosen to deal with it. I love your blog, and have been reading for years. I plan to continue reading going forward; though henceforth, I will be doing so as an ex-Catholic.

    Yes, God have mercy on all of us.

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