The “smaller church” is already here
Yesterday morning over coffee I sat down and read a news analysis piece published on our site, and a report from the National Catholic Register.
Both left me with a roiling stomach and an aching head. I fired off a message to a coworker thanking him for his excellent reporting and also confessing that I would very much like to commit murder after reading it.
Just when I think I can’t be shocked any further by the level of depravity and corruption within some leaders of the institutional Church – within the human soul – I am naively shocked anew.
I was raging about this to my husband this morning at the breakfast table and he asked me, kindly but frankly, “did you really not think this existed? Does this really surprise you?”
No. And yes.
And each time I read about another child’s life destroyed and another diocese or parish deceived by and forced to endure a predator in their midst, the rage bubbles up anew.
“You have to understand,” I began frustratedly, “that for an almost pathologically self-disclosing choleric like me, this level of duplicity is unfathomable.” I made the point that to live a similar level of deception would involve, for example, my obtaining regular secret abortions and having an IUD while continuing to publicly blog about the sanctity of life and the immorality of contraception.
“Give me,” I said dramatically, “all the gay pride marchers in the Tenderloin over a single, closeted gay bishop committing child abuse or sodomizing seminarians. At least they’re living in reality.”
How someone can preach the Gospel on Sunday and destroy a young boy’s life on Monday is beyond comprehension. I feel such impotent maternal rage. Dave made the comparison to Mary Magdalene; I snapped back that she wasn’t masquerading as a Pharisee while making her living as a prostitute.
Give me all the St. Mary Magdalenes throughout all of history over a single Judas. (Also, aren’t you glad you’re not living in a household headed by two adults who both work for or around the Church right now?)
I have no idea the point I’m making here, just that every time I read a new report or hear about another facet of the scandal, the rage boils anew. I made my long-suffering husband list off with me the number of good and holy bishops we knew personally. Maybe there are lots more, we don’t know all that many in the larger scheme of things. It was a modest list.
For all my adult life I’ve imagined that then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s infamous line about “a smaller, holier Church” would involve social collapse and government persecution. Now I feel quite certain that here, in the US at least, the smaller Church has already arrived.
It consists of Catholics who profess, believe, and live out the teachings of the Catholic Church. And who get their asses to Confession when they fall short, again and again. Clergy and laity alike.
It’s tempting to stay here, in a self righteous pique of rage. Every time I read another story of a cover up, a failure to act, a man who was entrusted with representing the fatherhood of God acting like another satan instead, I want to throw in the towel.
Especially considering this: that even within the embrace of holy Mother Church, I am still basically a miserable human being. I would be dead without the grace of the Sacraments. Spiritually, yes, but possibly physically too. I was reflecting on this as I was alone in my car yesterday afternoon, a rare moment of solitude. I turned off the radio and forced myself to reflect in the silence; there is precious little of it in my life in this present season.
I’m being a hypocrite. I was Catholic in name only in college. I was a miserable, wretched, pharisaical sinner.
I’m still a sinner. But back then, if somebody held me and my selfish, sinful, degenerate lifestyle up as a model of what Christians are like, my God, they’d lose their faith in an instant.
It’s not a perfect comparison. I never took vows of chastity or poverty or obedience. I wasn’t presenting myself as the public face of the Church. Not institutionally, at least. But I was, just the same, a public witness to the person of Christ.
What would someone who encountered Jenny of 2003 think of Catholicism? Of Jesus? Of His Church? It makes me acutely nauseous to consider.
And yet in my wretched poverty, He didn’t turn His back on me.
People within the Church who were pursuing lives of holiness and integrity welcomed me with open arms and refused to be scandalized by my sin.
Who am I to judge now, then? (And I’m not saying that the sinful and illegal actions in each of these cases should not be judged and prosecuted when they do come to light – just that perhaps it’s not my particular job to do so.)
I have to put aside my natural rage and the deep, deep desire for justice to be served and submit these impulses over and over again to Christ. Everything I’ve dragged to the confessional for months now has been this, and almost only this: that I cannot stomach another abuse report, cannot stand to read about one more instance of inaction from Rome, struggle mightily to rein in my imagination from making leaps to judgement.
But I must not leave. We must stand firm no matter how dark the days become. And I do believe they will become much, much darker.
I read this piece from Elizabeth Scalia this morning with tears springing to my eyes in public, hardly caring if the guy on the treadmill next to me saw.
Yes, Lord. It felt like I was reading words from the depths of my own heart, spilled out in someone else’s words.
Strengthen my faith, Lord. Don’t let me turn away when it becomes even darker.
Maranatha, Lord Jesus.
Our parish is currently living this experience, our former Pastor having been removed by our current Bishop. Some have left and we miss them. Many have remained, and we embrace each other, ever hopeful, still faith filled and needing Christ in the Eucharist. We welcomed our new Administrator and Associate Pastor, but trust has been so damaged we may never be as trusting of any Bishop as in the past. We feel sick and beaten down.
This Advent will be different, and it’s almost like the question the youngest child at a Passover Seder traditionally asks “How is this night different from all others?” We view our Church differently through the lens of betrayal, but we know the ending to the story and believe as surely as the Son of God conquered death, we can rise with him above this filth and degradation. Perhaps one day those who’ve left will return, and in the meantime continue to love and pray for them, entrusting them to God’s care. We don’t pass judgement claiming they must never have been real or truly faithful to begin with – that’s just more of Satan’s whispers in the ears of our souls.
For my husband and I, as we light the first Advent candle this weekend, there will be a renewed effort to live in the present moment, trying not to fear for the future of our parish or Church as a whole, to recommit to personal holiness (read Jeanette’s comments in previous posts) and to continue on in as close to “joyful hope as we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” as is possible in the current climate. Perhaps the Church as we’ve known it will be renewed, perhaps reconfigured in ways we never imagined but we have certainty in Jesus’s promises to us and that will just have to be enough.
If I was a writer, I could have written exactly this. My faith in the Eucharist hasn’t faltered, and that’s why I stay. I can’t get that anywhere else. While I admit, suspicion re: the celebrant (no matter who it is) I am promised the Consecration is still valid, and I’m clinging to that.
I know exactly what you mean about suspicion. This whole thing has cast a light of suspicion over every priest, even the ones you believe in your heart are living their priesthood faithfully. You just want to point blank ask probing questions of each one, such as: You just offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for all of us today. Are you living a chaste celibate life? There’s a good question. What if we all asked each priest we encountered that question. Do you think it would strengthen them or humiliate them if that question was posed to them about a dozen times a day every day by various people? Imagine. Well, if their own consciences are not being examined daily with that question, then maybe they need some external prodding. (you know, Mom-like). Or maybe we could hang a sign in the sacristy.
Yesterday while in prayer I was thinking about these scandals and thinking about how Lent is not really that far off in time, it is actually quite close to the season of Advent and Christmas. And in thinking about that, I was thinking about how we spend time pondering the sufferings of Jesus, especially those moments when we are acutely aware of our sins being the reason He endured that suffering. And I was thinking how much of that must have been His suffering endured for the betrayal by his priests in our time. We have to suffer together with Jesus, not apart from Him.
In Luke 22:21-23, Jesus foretells his betrayal, and doesn’t that betrayal carry itself forward to our times among our priests who are “at His table” with Him:
“And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me on the table; for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed.” And they began to debate among themselves who among them would do such a deed.
Then, before He tells Peter that he will deny Him he says in Lk 22:31-32:
“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you* like wheat,
but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.”
And when He was in agony in the garden at Gethsemane, Luke 22:43-46, we are told, “And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him.
He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”
So, it is not just we who are suffering, we are suffering with Jesus. It is His Church. So, we need to heed His instruction: Get up and pray! Anyone can be subject to the test. We may not commit the same sins or with the same gravity, but it is sinfulness nonetheless and it has the same outcome: separation from God. So, we must not only pray for ourselves, but keep reminding yourself that we are suffering with Jesus right now.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this in #1851:
“It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world, the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.”
So we should not remain stuck in the mode of being scandalized over and over, but recognize that Jesus is also the source of forgiveness, and we have to draw very near to His heart if we wish to enable that forgiveness to take place in ours. Keep the scriptures about Jesus suffering and death handy. Whenever you feel scandalized by all that is being revealed, please take an equal amount of time to meditate upon the scriptures.
Yes to this.
It is tragic and devastating for all Catholics. What I personally fear is if I will have a local church to attend in the coming years. I live in a small mid-western town. If more people leave the Catholic church this will surely mean church closings in small communities. I may very well have to travel much farther to simply attend mass. I weep for the victims, the sinners and those who suffer the ramifications from it all.
I lived in a smaller town that had one parish and was near an area that was also urban enough to support several churches, however, I found myself going to 5 different parishes just to be able to go to daily mass, and 2 of them required a half hour drive there and were in an adjacent state. But it mattered enough to make the effort. I am currently trying to move to a fairly urban area where the demographics are undergoing so much change, that I worry about closures as well. The lack of available priests in dioceses also keeps the more rural areas at risk of loss. So this fear of yours is already a reality in many places, both urban and rural, for other reasons. Finances usually drive church closures, so if people leave and the income to support a parish goes down it does become a problem, and those who remain have to dig deeper to keep their parish functional financially, and often priests have to serve in multiple parishes and cannot offer daily mass at all of them. The young people who don’t stay with their faith is another area where losses occur. So, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to closures and will cause us to have to make sacrifices of going greater distances to attend mass. It is so important for all of us to be sources of encouragement to those who are discouraged, because we are the living stones of the Church and we need to stand firm in our faith. So, rather than fear losses, try your best to form supportive connections within your parish community during this difficult time. Share your firm commitment with others and you may save someone from walking away.
No, none of us should judge another but we can most certainly evaluate another’s actions.
James H Dobbins, PhD
Leaving the Church is never the answer, no matter how angry or disappointed one may be. The Eucharist is “the sum and substance of our Faith” as St. JPII taught us. Jesus said unless we receive the Eucharist we have no life in us. His life in us is how we get to Heaven. It is how the Father recognizes us. If we do not have Him in us, the Father will look at us and say, “I don’t know you.” As the Church grows smaller for a tine we have to keep finding good and holy priests. We will always have them because Jesus said so. He told us that our Church is His Church, and He will not leave us orphans, and He will be with us until the end of time. We have to have the faith that God will always provide for His people, just as He did for Abraham and Isaac. Faith in Him is so important, and is the key to our perseverance. On the road to Damascus, Jesus asked Paul, “Why do you persecute Me?”, not “Why do you persecute the Christians, or persecute the Church?” Jesus identified Himself with the Church, and still does. If we walk away from the Church we walk away from Him and from the only way He has given us to have His life in us. If we leave the Church we cut off our “branch” from the one “vine” that gives is life. It is the most foolish thing we can do, for it exemplifies that we do not have faith in Jesus, the Great Physician, to heal His own Mystical Body. And if you think wee have it bad now, go back and read up on Church history and take a look art the string of Popes we had during the life of St. Thomas More, and their corruption that led to the Protestant Revolution called Reformation.
“I’m still a sinner. But back then, if somebody held me and my selfish, sinful, degenerate lifestyle up as a model of what Christians are like, my God, they’d lose their faith in an instant.”
Have you considered that this is precisely what we’re watching play out? That these men are in that phase of life you were in once, and they just happen to be wearing Roman collars at the time?
I appreciate your rage. They are sinful men in need of mercy, like the rest of us.
“How someone can preach the Gospel on Sunday and destroy a young boy’s life on Monday is beyond comprehension.”
When 85% of couples have been contracepting…is it any different? Is this duplicity unique to priests? How can any of us present ourselves for Communion knowing what we’ve done the past week, or even before we’ve left the parking lot? How many sinners in pews have made business dealings that have destroyed people’s lives? how many of them vote to support Planned Parenthood with tax dollars?
These men just happen to be conspicuous for their sin because of the collar, but no different than you and I standing in need of mercy.
I welcome the mustard seed church.
I haven’t read many articles about laity responses to the current mess that touched my nerve but this one does. Well done, fellow INTJ. PS I believe that photograph on the bottom is from the Domain at Lourdes? May all the saints and blessed of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, pray for Holy Mother Church.
You think you know a few holy bishops. How can you know they’re holy? I knew Bishop Conley a little, admired him, attended his Mass, sat in his office and talked with him. I trusted him. Then, only a few months ago it came out he’s been covering sex abuse stuff up in Lincoln. Conley. Yeah, he apologized, etc. etc. etc. But why the heck did he cover it up in the first place? If I can’t trust a bishop I’ve looked in the eye and thought was good, I can’t trust any bishop.
So I don’t trust any bishop. And not many priests. Until they demand all gays get kicked out of the clergy, including the celibate ones (because we need healthy masculine men for priests, not unhealthy disordered men), I’ll assume they are not serious and are part of the problem. And in the meantime, my spouse and I have ceased giving even a dime to the ACA. We give only to our local parish and marked “parish use only” so the diocese can’t dip it’s fingers in it. That, and charities we can trust, not tax-dollar hungry Catholic Charities. They can take a hike.
And that’s just for starters. There are so many problems in the Catholic Church. It is broken , broken, broken.
I agree Theo!
Vincent Augustine D'Souza
Mary Magdalene should not be defamed as prostitute. Jesus drove out seven demons out of her does not mean she was a sinner.
If you have time (this is a long book), read Windswept House by Malachi Martin. The Satanic roots of the crisis are explained in this 20 years old novel.
I’m in awe of the fact that in my parish there is a very healthy sized group of people in RCIA and today our pastor introduced at least five new families to the parish. Im a cradle Catholic and I can’t fathom leaving the church, now or ever. But I’m so interested in what would induce someone to join the church right NOW. I’m grateful but surprised. I have to admit that I am also having a very difficult time trusting ANY of the clergy. Our pastor has always seemed upstanding to me, but there are also some key things that he and I do not agree on and it’s hard not to now read into everything. It’s a matter of faith and hope I guess? I don’t know anymore
A beautiful and well written essay, Jenny. Sums up this grandpa’s feelings very well. Keep up the good work!
Jenny, as a survivor of clergy abuse I found your words both painful and encouraging. Encouraging that you as a Catholic can see that the grave hypocrisy of our many bishops and cardinals have driven FAITHFUL CATHOLICS from the pews, I sadly among them. I won’t share here my story of physical, emotional and sexual abuse of me or that of my younger brother but I will say this. I was sexually abused for about 3 years from the age of 15, my younger brother even younger, he now beyond hope for healing, devastated by his abusive past.
At 17 I went off to a college seminary program (left after 2 years, after witnessing serious scandalous sexual offenses) At the age of 20 I gathered the strength to tell an auxiliary bishop of my abuse and what I had suspected might be happening to my younger brother. He instructed me to tell the Archdiocesan Vicar (but I was only told he was a psychologist, which he was not). The priest who molested us wasn’t even removed from our parish and he continued to pursue me.
A few years later he was actually promoted to serve as then Archbishop McCarrick’s personal secretary. He served as a pastor in a parish with a large school and later as a hospital chaplain, all after I had told them of my horrific abuse. For years I tried to tell many clergy …from the time I was 17 or 18 until the age of 37 I had told my story to 3 bishops, 2 vicar of clergy, 5 priests, 1 priest who was later assigned to “treat” my abuser and 1 deacon. Not one of them reported my abuse to the authorities, as required by state law. When I was 38 years old I wrote every US Cardinal, the papal nuncio and the Vatican Secretary of State about our Archbishop who promoted and protected an known child abusing priest…5 of them wrote me back, including the Vatican…each directing me back to Archbishop McCarrick stating only he could deal with this problem. Through all of this I attended mass regularly with my family and now married with children, they attended Catholic school. Not any more, just a few years ago when Benedict was Pope, on the eve of the Easter Vigil (my favorite religious holiday and the mass we always attended on Easter), Cardinal Angelo Sodano told the Pope not to listen to petty gossip regarding clergy abuse. That was the final straw, for years I sat through Sunday mass and on occasion had to listen to priests in the pulpit speak to DEFEND accused clergy, while decrying the claims of abuse victims. They blamed, minimized, excused, blamed therapists (who were often clergy themselves) for bad advice…but NEVER did they admit they were wrong.
In church, the place where I once found safety and solace, as a youth where I spent many quite hours in before the blessed sacrament, or praying to the blessed mother for help… this was the one place I was not abused, I felt safe and secure there. I cried as I walked home, knowing what awaiting me when my abuser came to visit (which was many times a week) I could no longer experience that peace I once sought in quite solitude, nor during the mass as I heard all the poor excuses for why children were abused by clergy. Only a few years ago, I stopped attending. I miss it I do and I want to go back, but we just aren’t there yet and I am not ready to be hurt yet again. I almost went to church this morning…knowing it is advent, that meaning is not lost upon me but it did not happen I just couldn’t do it.
My hope rests in the Catholic faithful who, like you see this for what it is, who won’t walk away but want to see real change and reform. That will ONLY COME about when the people in the pews demand better from our bishops and priests, when all clergy speak out instead of remaining silent. In fact I believe it will only change when the bishops, cardinals and the Vatican realize THEY MUST RELINQUISH their absolute power and control bring the laity (including woman) into the operational church. Our current line-up of bishops cannot, will not do it for far too many are far to compromised. I want my church back, but only when it is healthy, the festering wound of child abuse is still an open gapping wound in the body of the church and these men are not willing to take the bitter medicine needed to heal it.
You mentioned that they never reported the abuse you experienced to the authorities. Did you ever do that at the time? Did your parents back you up?
You have much grace working within you to resolve your struggle to return. I will pray for you tonight that God will enable you to return to the peace of heart you long for. Keep working to be among us. There is a prayer, the “Anima Christi” which you may know. One line is “within your wounds, hide me”…and a reflection I read on that once explained it this way: we can become the salve poured into a wound to heal it. So, perhaps, God will “hide you” within the wounds of Jesus which are in the Church. For it is necessary to draw close to a wound to heal it, not to draw away from it. Next time you attempt to draw near, remember that you have the ability to be the salve.
Jeanette, please don’t take this the wrong way but I am posting this response so you and others who ask such questions understand why perhaps a young victim may not go to the authorities, or tell their parents at the time, as I did not. I ask, should your questions be for the victim of abuse or should your questions be for those who perpetrated the abuse and for those who failed to act?
As a young Catholic, I too at the time felt I did not want to cause “scandal” by having my perp arrested, I had very mixed feelings, as he was, at first was very much like a father figure to me. My mother would walk on water for any priest and telling her would cause her great distress, further may dad was suffering from a terminal illness. But probably the greatest reason was this priest repeatedly told me that he could not go on living without me, he needed me and believe it or not as I tried to avoid his presence, there were times when he became physically violent, so I was scared of him and scared that perhaps he might even resort to taking his own life/and or mine. So, I had hoped that those clergy I had approached to tell, would in fact do something to ensure this man didn’t harm other children. It never happened…in fact while in my first year in the seminary I was teaching CCD at a local parish and the priest I spoke to regularly happened to be one of my abusers best friends, they were in the seminary together. One Sunday after class I asked to speak with him privately, I told him what his good friend had done to me years earlier and suspect that my younger brother might be the one he was now abusing as he was taking him on trips as he did with I when I lived at home. He turned white as a ghost and never spoke to me again…avoided me every Sunday thereafter. I later learned a few years later he to had plead guilty to abusing 2 young brothers himself. I just read about him in another CNA article, his name is Father Bill Cramer of the Paterson Diocese. Anyhow, I did try to tell others and I did want them to help, no real help ever came…not for many years, it was clear that some of these men, did tell other clergy yet the main concern was not what happened to me or my brother but what to do with this priest.
That said, I have a very good friend who I know to be an outstanding priest, there aren’t enough…why do so many remain silent when they learn of another priest who is harming a child? That is my heartache, where are the good priests and why are they so afraid to speak out?
With all the recent revelations, knowing the McCarrick abuses in particular might cause me or others to relive some awful memories, I have heard much talk about putting the victims first…but to me I must say…not one member of the clergy has called or reached out to me or any other survivors I know of, to simple ask…”hey are you okay”. Do I expect too much? Perhaps, the bishop or Cardinal is much to busy, much too important to try reaching out personally to victims. Yes, the local Cardinal had a healing mass to which he invited (generally, all survivors of clergy abuse), a guess that is much safer, much easier as he wouldn’t have to hear personally, someone’s anguish or grief. I still have my faith, I am not ready to spend time at church listening to empty words or promises of reform when I know our church is simply not there yet…No, I think my God understands me very well…I just wish the people who often proclaim to represent Him did as well. There are some…but far to few. Yes please do pray for me.
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply in detail. My apology for not clarifying that I was seeking your reply so as to help parents understand how to help their own children to be empowered. You answered exactly what we need to hear, that is, why it might be hard for a son or daughter to approach their parents. The information shared to parents here about the complexity of the situation for the child being abused to reach out for help is important. I have read similar accounts as yours, and it seems there are several ways where parents can be of more help to their children in responding to abuse through prevention training (which is what I hear Jenny saying in her previous remarks about conversations to have with one’s child, and really those conversations need to happen at various stages, not just one time, because what you say to a 6 year old is not the same as what you say to a 13 year old etc). I also especially take note of the common expression by those who suffered abuse that the relationship of parents to priests also gives the child a conflict in trying to report the situation. I think that signals to parents that we need to be clear with our children that ANY person, no matter who they are, is not allowed to bring harm to them, and to define what we mean by harm, and to assure them that we are the ones to turn to for help. Parents need to let their children know that God expects parents to protect them, and they cannot do that if they don’t know what is happening. Children need to know they will never hurt their parents by telling on someone, even if it is someone close to them.
I think you really do have a helpful role to play here, even though it might sound a bit intimidating to you to consider. Identifying ways that within the family a child can understand that their parents are their number one advocate, and a child should feel safe sharing even the most difficult things. Parents usually believe we have that kind of relationship, but kids do look at the world in a different way, and while we may feel we are conveying our support to our child, when a situation such as yours arises, it can overwhelm the child to the point of creating too much anxiety to take action. As in your case, you were old enough to know there would be consequences to telling, and as you say, that worked against you seeking help because you felt threatened. Parents experience great sadness when their children don’t turn to them, because parents feel like they were helpless to protect them. So, in your process of healing, perhaps coming up with ways to be a resource to parents in understanding how to open that door for a child might be something worth considering. Maybe even considering being a speaker to youth at parishes about ways to prevent such situations from occurring in their lives, as well as reminding them of the role their parents can play in helping them.
I had a teenage son at the time of the last scandal breaking out, and he was an altar server, and we attended mass daily and had close connections to the priests, etc. At the time, it really was mind-boggling to realize as a parent that these kinds of things were even happening in the Church and that we had to look at the situation differently than we did before we knew of the scandal. This time around there is a much greater amount of attention to the problem, but as you say, where are the good priests in this?
There is an article I just read yesterday written anonymously by one priest asking where the bishops are in defending their faithful priests, and you can maybe draw some conclusions to your own question about why good priests are not speaking out (even given the fact that he felt compelled to write anonymously):
May you find ways to allow your painful experience to help others, and in helping others, come to your own peace. Also, you really should consider contacting the local Cardinal who held the healing mass that you referred to, and let him know that you would appreciate his personal time in listening to expression of your own suffering, and let him know that it would be a bigger step towards healing others if he did that as a prerequisite to the actual healing mass, so he would know first hand the truth of the pain of the individuals he is bringing to the Lord for healing at the mass he offers.
Don’t be hesitant to approach him with that request to either meet personally or by telephone. You cannot really know what is in his heart anymore than he can know what is in yours unless he asks. Under public scrutiny, the swiftness to offer a mass for healing obviously overlooked the simple act of listening, and he should have that made known to him, not just for you, but for all of those for whom he intended to offer healing. Realizing that not all people would want to personally meet with him or be able to share their pain, being invited to share your pain is certainly important. Even if he doesn’t reply to you, he cannot ignore the truth of what you are telling him about what was missing in his approach and perhaps he will amend his error of omission in some other way, possibly in offering people a context for sharing with him at some future time.
Anyone who genuinely prays for an individual knows from experience that the fervor of prayer, the love that is joined to it, becomes a real prayer of the heart if we take a share in that person’s actual experience by listening to them, looking them in the eye while face-to-face if possible, and allowing them to show us what is inside of their heart so that we may enclose it into our own heart, and from the depth of our heart we can then bring it to our Lord. Realizing that we have bishops and cardinals that seem to behave as administrators instead of shepherds, this might be outside of their experience, and they have shallow hearts. We just cannot know that, only God can. Only God can help them to grow, but we are the instruments God uses to accomplish that, and it is only by their will that they can receive what God gives to them.
The mass of healing still calls forth the grace of healing, whether or not he took a personal approach, but it is in the personal approach wherein his own offer to heal in the name of Jesus will materialize as a true act of genuine love and care for you by one who is acting as the face of the Church and asking forgiveness.
Jeanette, I believe if you have read my earlier post (or re-read it) you will note that I had written many Cardinals and bishops of our church and yes even the Vatican, Secretary of State. I told my story of abuse, I explained that after having told my story to many clergy including 3 bishops at that point yet my abuser remained in ministry. Not one apologized, they offered prayers and re-directed me back to Archbishop McCarrick, who promoted my abuser AFTER the diocese had been notified. Why, because they knew I was a devout Catholic who didn’t want to bring harm upon the church. It took many years, but I now know that thinking was very unhealthy…not just for me, but all the faithful. Our bishops and cardinals are well educated men, these are NOT MISTAKES but intentional acts believing somehow that they are serving a greater good. THAT IS FALSE, the safety of our children must NEVER be fodder in the name of some greater good. Healthy institutions would never knowingly put children at risk, tragically within our church that has been the case.
My story has been written about (if you search on-line you can easily find my story and you may also see that I have advocated for both male victims of sexual abuse and clergy abuse survivors for years. I have spoken at many colleges and universities throughout the North America and I have participated at National Round table discussions on sexual abuse and violence in America for 2 days at the White House and at other government agencies within our nations capitol, I am proud of the fact that my collaboration lead to the redefining of federal law that would now recognize the fact that men could be a victim of rape. Would you believe that only happened in 2012. Just yesterday I spoke as an invited guest speaker to my states Commission Against Sexual Violence to which I also serve, appointed years ago by our governor. In fact we discussed they very topic you mentioned above, why child victims will not immediately disclose, how to respond when they do and actions parents take (maybe inadvertently) that send messages that will either encourage a child to speak out, or remain silent for years to come. That said, on more than 1 occasion I have offered to speak to our clergy, was told that would happen by the bishop, but of course that was only an empty promise…they had no real intention of letting me do so. I was once invited to become a member of this diocese review board for sexual abuse allegations bought against clergy. The attorney for the Diocese knew who I was and my advocacy efforts but when the bishop learned that I was offered that position, it was rescinded and I was just ignored, my placement on that committee never went further.
I will continue to do what I do and walk where I know that I am welcome…I have tried to reach out to our church leadership many times now, my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. I now talk and walk where the ground is fertile and the seeds of truth and hope may be able to take root in good soil. Again, sadly, I have not found that to be the case among our church leadership. I do pray that one day that will change, clearly, we are not there yet. I encourage the faithful and any good clergy that have been clearly marginalized by such actions to find their voices and speak out, regardless of the cost, for your efforts will bring about, one day, a healthier church. Recently there have been a few and I hope more will continue to speak to truth, long hidden.
No, Seth. This is not about garden variety sin. Of being selfish, greedy, or self absorbed. This is about lives being destroyed and the shepherds permitting it. It is different.
Unfortunately, the “smaller Church” has been here for decades.
We never talk about it, but mass attendance was 80% 50 years ago. Now it’s 20%.
3/4 of practicing Catholics have evaporated…and probably half of those remaining are lukewarm at best, nearly uncatechized and uninvolved. We’ve been boiled down to 10% over 3 generations…and even that estimate might be generous.
When will we wake up?
“For all my adult life I’ve imagined that then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s infamous line about “a smaller, holier Church” would involve social collapse and government persecution.”
We, in the institutional Church are products of the world at large. The same problems, perversions (which are now mainstreamed) are found in those of us who shepherd. So you’re thinking the Church collapsing, with a “bang”. I have always thought Pope Benedict referred to the gradual loss of faith, and the “paganizing” of society which we’re seeing. I see it collapsing with a “whimper”.
Throughout history, in the darkest times, when the Church was most in need of reform, God raised holy saints. When Christ was crucified, John stayed at the foot of the cross. I want to be not Judas, who got rich off of Jesus, or Peter, who ran. I want to be John.
Two things. As someone who has been abused I would like to respectfully ask you and anyone reading this not to say that someone who has been abused’s “life has been destroyed.” I know it’s not something you’d think of, so I’m telling you that it does a lot of damage when people around you are saying things like that. My life wasn’t destroyed but I felt like I couldn’t work through and let go of what happened to me as a child because of messages like this. You really have no idea whose life has and has not been destroyed by what so please don’t talk like you do. What happened to me God allowed through his permissive will and he eventually allowed me to heal to some degree. The experience is part of who I am now but it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me or my life has been destroyed. My life is hard at times, but wonderful.
Second, I have a book recommendation. The Power and the Glory. Very powerful.
Amanda, please forgive me, the last thing I ever want to do is disrespect or cause additional pain to anyone who has been abused. My emphasis was on the gravity of the crime, not the “ruined” status of the abused. Please forgive me for not speaking more carefully. I have family members who have been abused and it has been life ruining. I was enraged while reading the account of the seven year old boy I linked to – I have a 7 year old boy, so it’s too close to home for me to think rationally sometimes. I’ll second the book recommendation, Graham Greene is powerful medicine in these dark times.
Amanda, tragically some lives were destroyed, some victims bore such pain that they felt they could not heal, some are no longer with us, certainly that is not the case for most survivors, I among them. My younger brother was also abused by the same priest who abused me and I can tell you (and I think it important that all the faithful know…that lives HAVE BEEN destroyed. My brother will never heal as he has had emotional breaks. I think I may understand your point and it is never my intent to take the HOPE OF HEALING from any survivor and most can and will experience healing. Yes it’s a long hard road but it can be done. You and I are such examples, but I can never shrink from telling my truth ever again. Remaining silent itself has been a burden for far too long…how does the old adage go? The truth shall set you free. Survivors need to tell their stories, that will only occur when they feel safe enough to do so. I also know that my own healing cannot depend on what others people think of me but what I think of myself. Children are sexually abused because they are seen by their predator, and often spend years of their lives thereafter believing they POWERLESS. They bare the burden of shame and guilt that does not belong to them but to their abuser. It takes many years for a victim to transition to survivor as we try to “untangle” the notion that a man who may have once been what we saw as someone who did good, as someone who genuinely loved or cared for you, only to betray that trust when he then becomes the predator, sexually abusing a child.
Here are some disjointed thoughts which are nevertheless deeply connected.
Yesterday our pastor spoke at Mass, after the gospel-based homily, to explain his new fundraising drive. He cited a long list of repairs needed, and he touted his plan to remodel the sanctuary to give people a more spiritual experience. He acknowledged that some people thought this project was inappropriate, considering the scandals rocking the church; he said he answered those objections in an earlier letter; end of story. He also noted some objections that his new design was bring us back to pre-Vatican days. He dismissed this, too, with some sarcasm: if we were really going back to pre-Vatican, he’d be installing an altar rail and the priests would be celebrating Mass with their backs to the congregation; end of story. At the end of his fifteen minutes of outlining structural needs and expenses, some of the congregation applauded. Others sat sullenly without as much as a smile.
I, like you, am a revert. In my time away I attended several different Protestant churches with my husband who has no use for the mysterious Catholic rituals. Every time I entered a Protestant church, someone greeted me. They offered me coffee. They offered various small groups and study groups. I went to one small group for years. We studied specific books of the Bible. I volunteered at an Alpha program for two or three series. I still go to my group of senior ladies; we studied the Holy Spirit in the fall; we will study the parables starting in January.
The Protestant churches, of course, do not have the Real Presence, nor do they have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As I get older, I feel a deep need for these. I started going to Catholic Mass at my local parish. I went for over year and no one spoke to me. I went in, I prayed, I went home.
When I returned to the Catholic Church officially via confession and attending a complete RCIA series, I began to meet people and feel less like an alien. Following RCIA, I’m still looking for a regular way of studying and discussing the mysteries of our faith and how to live it. There’s not much going on. Certainly, there is not a wealth of Catholic study materials for small groups.
Connecting the dots:
Does anyone else ever feel the loneliness of the Catholic Church?
Does my pastor ever think about bringing people together into community, rather than creating the architecture that might or might not enhance someone’s spiritual experience?
What about the loneliness of priests? We put them on pedestals and call them in for our moments of high drama. What do they do all week? Couldn’t they be teaching and leading small groups? they have the education for this …
And why does my pastor, an educated and ordained priest, have to talk to us about the air conditioning repairs and the software that doesn’t properly lock and unlock the front door. Couldn’t he be leading some prayer and study groups? Protestant churches tend to leave the infrastructure to lay committees. And these lay committees, in turn, become dedicated, reliable members.
I don’t know what clericalism means, nor how it might affect the current scandalous events. But the Catholic Church does seem to have an enormous bridge between the laity and the clergy, with trolls sitting beneath it guaranteeing that the laity stays on its side.
The bishops have an instant way to change this: immediately expand the permanent deacon program … bringing reliable married men into teaching and preaching and leading positions … bringing lay people into the management of the physical structure, freeing priests to do priestly things, bringing some wives’ wisdom into the activities and presentations (“You’re going to talk about altar rails? Really? Now? Here’s how this will sound to people …”)
I have a friend who is a convert to the faith. She converted from an evangelical church, but her husband did not convert. She has teenaged children who have come to mass with her. She commented that her son liked the Catholic Church because he could go to mass and not be forced to be engaged in the kind of hospitality you referred to at some of the churches you went to! Which is to say, some people want to be unknown…but that is not what it means to be part of a community. The welcome signal goes in both directions, too. Some people through their own behavior cut off the welcome of others. But Catholics don’t tend to reach out to evangelize or socialize with newcomers, partly because in larger parishes it’s hard to know who is new and who is not, and most parishes are not “competing” with churches for members: you are there usually because you are already Catholic and that is your parish by geographic location. So, it is a different approach, but yes, Catholics usually could do a better job of interacting with the community by doing more than coming to Sunday mass, such as trying to get to know better the people you see at mass (as so often the same people choose to sit in the same general area and there are familiar faces with no names attached…it takes personal effort). Usually meeting others comes about through engagement in the life of the parish, either in apostolates or other group activities like bible study. There are also a lot of materials for small groups, and even if you don’t know what those materials are, they are around. There are lots of initiatives, like Bp. Barron’s “Word on Fire” ministry. There is Lighthouse Catholic Media. They have materials specifically developed for parishes. You might look up ENDOW, since it is for women, and is the kind of thing you might be looking for, and you yourself can get the training to be a leader if your pastor approves of you forming a group at your parish, or you can seek an existing nearby group to join.
As for priests and how they engage in parishes, they have a whole host of duties that differs from other Christian ministers, due to the sacramental nature of our faith. Daily mass. Baptisms (sometimes handled by deacons instead). Confessions. Sick calls, sometimes in the middle of the night. So, they are busy, especially if they are the only priest on staff. Most priests don’t receive much administrative training and/or have a hard time delegating responsibilities to others, especially if people are not willing or able to carry things out according to his direction (as unfortunately there are agendas that people have sometimes and they run counter to what the priest has in mind). Other times, priests have people who express opinions about what the parish ought to have or be like, yet they are never willing to give their time to help realize those ideas. So, there can be a lot of reasons why things are different from how other Christian ministers engage in their work. Some priests pour themselves into their ministry with great generosity and you may not see all that they do, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t using their time. I don’t think you can really talk about this except in the context of your own particular parish, how big it is, who is there, etc. You really would have to talk to your own priest(s) about ideas for the parish. Usually there is a pastoral council that acts as a consultative body that meets with the pastor, so you can also bring ideas to them.
The pastor is the one who is responsible for the parish and is the one who gives approval for anything you may wish to see happen in the parish, so you cannot work apart from or outside of that. To tell a priest, “we should do this or that” is less likely to be acted upon than saying, “here is an idea and here are the people who would be willing to work on it”, and it is important that ideas match reality…i.e. funding/cost, interested people, available facilities, etc. I’m basing these points on conversations I’ve had with priests I know as well as my own parish experiences. Hope that helps you.
Thank you, Jeannette. Your comment provides a helpful viewpoint. Yes, certainly there are times when I want to go to a quiet Mass and not be social. Fortunately, a neighboring parish offers those every day. Your suggestions are helpful.
James H Dobbins, PhD
There is nothing wrong with talking as bout infrastructure, but you’re right about needing more substance in the teachings and promoting more catechesis. Our pastor does teach, he also leads a book discussion every Friday night. The Patricians have a talk and discussion once again month on a topic of interest. The Young At Heart group has activities of some sort going on daily, and organizes two cruises a year. Every Sunday morning I lead an adult discussion group after the 9am Mass. We cover scripture, spiritual growth, doctrine and liturgy.
The parish can be very active if the people want the activity and connections with others. But it won’t happen if you sit as n wait for someone else to do it. You also need a good pastor who supports such activities.
I have re-read Jenny’s original post and the many thoughtful comments provided by my fellow readers. I share the anger and indignation over this situation not only out of sorrow for victims of abuse, but also because it seriously damages the Church’s ability to evangelize in a world that so badly needs it.
But I also grieve for the majority of priests and bishops who serve honorably but must now live under this cloud. I understand when someone says, “I won’t trust priests or bishops anymore” but I can’t go that far. Nothing would give Satan greater delight. Prudence and vigilance on the part of the laity is most certainly warranted. But the data clearly show that as bad as this problem is, the vast majority of priests deserve our prayers and support.
The Church is indeed in need of reform. God grant me the grace to begin with myself!
James H Dobbins, PhD
Your comments are well stated and very thoughtful. As the father of a very good priest I appreciated your input.