Remember believing in Santa? Shhhh, my kids still do. Maybe that’s a bad analogy. Maybe you never believed in Santa. What about this: maybe you believed your mom or your dad to be invincible. Kind of superhuman or untouchable. And then you weathered your first big blow up between parents and an adult child. Or a shocking cancer diagnosis or the revelation of some kind of massive failing. I’m reaching for that feeling of deflation and just raw sorrow, of sort of coming unmoored and feeling unrooted. That has been the past 5 months for me, as a Catholic laywoman.
The Church whom I trusted implicitly, all my life, has broken my heart. Every morning there is a new story about some scandal, a message in my inbox about a parish whose pastor went on “administrative leave,” was arrested following – or at least incriminated by – some new allegation come to light.
The weight of it has ceased being a conscious burden; now it just feels like a sort of lingering heaviness, not unlike the way a clinical depression blurs the edges of reality and tamps down the colors and delights of daily living. I don’t mean exactly that I feel depressed about the Church, but that my perception of the Church has been shattered.
Even writing “the Church,” I’m not longer entirely sure what I mean. Do I mean the Roman curia? The Pope? The local bishop, who is technically my reference point for the authority of the hierarchy? Do I mean the parish down the hill where we worship? Our wonderful priests there who hear hundreds of confessions a week?
In many ways living here in Denver with such a vibrant Catholic community we have been isolated from much of the pain and scandal on an immediate level. In another sense, this makes things very strange when I feel “safe” in my own parish but feel utterly ill at ease in “the Church” at large. The Universal Church.
Our time in Rome this Fall, however beautiful, was also painful. Walking on a tour through the Vatican gardens, for example – what should have been a thrilling opportunity – was marked with sadness. “Here is the monastery where Pope Benedict retired to. There is the place where he used to like to pray, when he was more mobile.” My heart clenched painfully as I wondered, not for the first time, why God has allowed this season in the Church to come to be.
Why are we here? What does God, in His Providence, plan to accomplish with this wreckage and chaos?
And what can I possibly do, a mom with five kids, a little bit of internet real estate, no theology degree and no real position of influence within the Church?
Pray, obviously, which I have been. But I want to be transparent with you guys about how much I’m struggling with this. Every other week or so I try to make it to confession (see above: amazing parish) and one of my predictable recurring sins right now is one against charity towards the Holy Father, towards the bishops.
My choleric and justice-oriented mind does not comprehend that while I have been hustling and doing my level best to hold up my end of the bargain with God (and failing over and over and over again, naturally, bc sinner) there have been predatory priests preying on children. Homosexual bishops grooming and raping seminarians. Company men more concerned with promotions than with the people whose souls they signed up to shepherd. (And yes, I know there are good priests. And mediocre priests. And priests who are struggling manfully with heavy habitual sins. These aren’t the guys I’m thinking about.)
Priests hearing the confessions of ordinary Catholics who come to the sacrament of absolution struggling to live chastely, who are wrestling with any kind of addiction, who are trying to get their temper, their lust, their appetite for whatever in check; who are failing, crying out to the Lord for mercy, asking for absolution, who are coming back again and again and swimming upstream in this miserable culture of death, priests who meet up with an illicit lover later that same night, who shuffle an abusive priest to another assignment, who turn a blind eye to the failings of their brother bishops and keep on keeping on…
It boggles the mind.
And so while the surprise has abated and the rage has cooled, the lethargic sorrow remains. I thought I knew what the Church was. I never believed the clergy to be above reproach or without sin, but it didn’t occur to me that there would be priests leading double lives. Why not? I don’t know, I guess I’m an idiot? An idealist?
I don’t have a good wrap up. And it’s not like I’m over here wallowing in sorrow and questioning the existence of God or anything. But I am wrestling with what it means to be Catholic right now. Not because I would ever walk away, but because I am so angry that none of these guys did.
I know so many good priests. Good bishops too. As a parent, this is probably the most frustrating part of the whole crisis: are my children safe in the Church? Can we trust the men who we do know and love, going forward? I trust our bishop, and our parish priests. I love and respect and believe the religious community who we share so much of our lives with. Is a personal relationship going to be the necessary litmus going forward? Trust but verify?
I hate this place for our family. And I hate it for our Church, even more. There is no such thing as a personal sin. All sin is corporate. And everything that is done in the darkness will be, eventually, revealed in the light.
(p.s. This was written last Friday. How much more appropriate it seems today.)