A friend recently asked me to talk to him about how I’m able to stay Catholic despite the sexual abuse scandal that has reared it’s ugly head in Ireland and soon in Germany.

I thought it was a good question and I’m sure it’s one that many have pondered, especially during lent when more attention seems to be on the Catholic Church.

So here’s my response:

I stay Catholic because well…first of all, I am Catholic. I can’t really change that about myself just as I can’t change my DNA. It’s part of who I am and has contributed to much of my own worldview, moral development and personal prayerlife.

Now that being said, there’s a lot that I find troubling about the church too. I find just as many troubling things about fundamentalism (a lot more here actually), mormonism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. All religions are man-made developments of what they think God is about and being less than God they are inherently flawed. We just need to admit and deal with that.

Tip O’Neill once said “all politics is local” and the same is said about the church in many ways. Part of my life as a Catholic has been being able to find parish communities that give me life, feed me spiritually and allow me to use my own gifts and talents to serve others. More importantly, I’m able to find those communities or help build them when they don’t exist. Sometimes they change and sometimes I feel the need to move on.

I’m not a mere consumer though. I tend to think beyond the parochial and believe strongly that God is saddened by the sins that are committed by local bishops and priests. But isn’t God just as sad at the sins that I commit as well? So while I’m not a child abuser, I’m sure I have my own failings and so I try to remind myself that I often don’t think I deserve God’s forgiveness but it’s offered to me anyway.

Secondly, we need to remember that human beings are sinful and that includes priests and bishops. Perhaps we’ve placed our expectations of them way too high and when they disappoint us even in small ways (as well as in horrifying ways) we quickly throw the entire church to the wind for a small faction of people who did a lot of bad things.

When it comes to those who enabled the abusers, I tend to put myself in the bishops shoes and realize that the systemic problem is that nobody has trained them in administration. Priests simply get promoted to pastor and bishop and very few know how to do the job and fewer have the gifts for it. That’s a stupid way to run a billion dollar organization, even one that is spiritually based. And it is something that is slowly changing. It’s up to the lay folk to call for greater lay participation in the more temporal affairs of the church.

Secondly, some have scapegoated gay priests when it’s actually the closeted straight priests that have caused the major issue. Pedophillia really isn’t the issue. It’s ephebophilia, which means the following:

There are priests who haven’t integrated their sexuality in a healthy way. Some didn’t deal with the fact that they have same sex attraction (probably during their teen-age years) and thus, they have stunted their sexual development at that level. Which psychologically speaking, means that they remain attracted to that age group and can’t get past that point in their lives. Their sexual development stopped at that age, if you will. It’s a serious problem and while most of the abusers have sought out young boys to act out with, they also for the most part, claimed to be straight men while doing that. There are many good priests with a homosexual orientation who are integrated in a healthy way and remain true to their vow of celibacy. And just as sure as there are married men who cheat on their wives there are also priests, straight and gay, who fail at remaining celibate. We far more forgiving of married men, however, than we are of priests who “cheat.” (not in reference to child abuse here of course, which is indeed different).

I refuse to let people hijack my faith, scapegoat others, or simply stop serving the needs of the poor and the spiritual needs of parishioners.

We are the church…together. And that means that things are often messy. I know I’ve made a bunch of mistakes that I wouldn’t want the Ny times to know about too. So I do my part and hope it’s enough.

I stay because I am part of a family. And at the Thanksgiving meal that happens each week that we call Eucharist, we are sure to find disagreement, horror stories and dysfunction. It’s who we are, warts and all.

And somehow God loves us anyway. Perhaps, it’s too hard for all of us to stay. That’s understandable when it comes to those that have been abused. But it’s not going to help anyone spiritually to simply close the door and turn our backs for good. We need each other and it’s time for all of us to reach beyond our pain, our anger, our disappointment and instead reach out to heal, to welcome, to reconcile and most of all to pray together around the altar where God gives us all of his pain, disappointment and anger and still remains with us…

Even though we hung God from a tree.

Today let us pray for the abused and let us pray for the abusers. Let us pray for our bishops and for our communities of faith. Most of all, let us pray that we notice God in our lives and that we can bring the healing that God offers to us into the lives of others.

Photo credit: Sr Jeremy Midura

38 thoughts on “Despite the Sex Scandal, I Remain Catholic”
  1. I wish I had more time to say something, but I am at work. I do leave you with this great quote from Fr. Ron Rolheiser, which is not an excuse, but does say it well for me in the midst of my sadness and yet from the perspective of a local church that is not what we hear about.

    “”To be connected with the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers and hypocrites of every description.
    It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul of every time, country, race, and gender.
    To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of soul because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves”. – Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing

    1. Fran…

      Thanks for reminding me of Fr. Ron’s great wisdom. I was lucky enough to share breakfast with him and we share a love of baseball. I have to get him to come to a game with me sometime.

  2. Jesus too expected his apostles to stay with him and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane and they disappointed him. But he did not just give up on them and today we venerate the apostles as saints. I think we have to support rather than slam the door. After all, like you said, “We are the church” Not everyone is the same. Everyone comes in a different shape and size and with different baggage too.

  3. Great article,Mike. When controversial things come up, I often think of how Jesus experienced similar incidents, and that’s why I stay too.

  4. Via Facebook
    From: Maggie Stahl

    Thanks for the post, Mike. I agree with almost all of it, but for me, the frustration and disgust is not that priests make mistakes–of course they do. Rather, it is in the way that the bishops have handled the situation — with secrecy and no accountability at all. And, it seems, that they wish to continue on with very little accountability still, if any at all. I find it very hard to have any trust in our hierarchy simply because of the way it is structured, but with these scandals tacked on, it is almost impossible. I have yet to be convinced that they even think that they were wrong to cover up abuse and shuffle abusive priests around.

    1. Maggie–

      I hear ya. But hindsight is often 20-20. A friend put it to me this way.

      What if at one of our jobs where we were the head a friend came to us and mentioned that another close office friend had done something horrible but that they were going to voluntarily leave and then seek help?

      The company would then support the person after treatment at another “branch” and would pay reparations for the victim.

      What would we have said, say 10-15 years ago?

      I’d like to think that I’d have the response that is now mandated by the USCCB, but frankly, I think I’d have trusted my mid-management friend and sent the person away for treatment and then transferred them afterwards.

      Now that being said, if it happened a second time, I’d be less than forgiving.

  5. Mike, thanks for this thoughtful and timely reflection on an emotional, complex and multi-layered issue. I, too, CHOOSE to remain Catholic. And I am more conscious than ever about what that choice means. The church is my home…warts and all.

    Having said that, my head is hardly stuck in the sand. It saddens and angers me to think about the pain and suffering endured by the victims of clergy sexual abuse. In addition to the complex emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual damage thrust upon these victims, the manipulative, selfish, sick, criminal behavior of some of our “pastoral leaders” has served to undermine and significantly damage the moral authority of the whole Church. Indeed, there is much heavy lifting ahead for the Vatican if trust and credibility is to be authentically rebuilt. I pray that our spiritual leaders embrace right judgement and truth – the real path to redemption. Lies as a strategy from church leaders is certainly an abuse of power…and (of course) totally unacceptable. If continued , such abuse of the truth by leaders will only serve to perpetuate the abuse of victims, the faithful- and their own moral authority.

    Like always, as Christians we are called to “discern the signs of the times” and the movement of the Spirit. God’s Grace has saved the Church from it’s own corruption many times. I believe that God’s Amazing Grace will allow healing and transformation yet again. … See More

    Like St. Francis and St. Clare 800 years ago, all Christians of goodwill and conviction are being called anew to transmute corruption and “rebuild my church.” I wish to try…and pray for good company on the journey.

    1. Oh sure bring the Franciscans into it! =)

      If they could just stop breaking themselves up into little groups, they’d run the world!

  6. Via Facebook: From Sue Bacon Ballew

    Mike, first I agree with everything you said in your article.

    Second, this topic always reminds me of a show I saw on EWTN with Fr. John Corapi several years ago. In it he said the something like this (not word for word, mind you):

    As a priest now, I cannot be seen alone with a man else others may think I am gay; I cannot be seen alone with a woman else others may think I am engaging in a non-celibate way; and I cannot be seen alone with a child else others may think I am a child abuser. How far we have come, through the child sex abuse scandal that a priest cannot be seen alone with ANYONE lest he be a homosexual, fornicator or pedophile.

    Truly I feel bad for the very good and holy priests that are out there. The ones that do sin very badly make a bad name for the bunch. And that is something that cannot be undone, at least not for a long time.

  7. Via Facebook
    From Connie Lane Neuman

    Fr.Sal Criscuolo, pastor of St. Patrick’s in the City DC and chaplain to DC fire, police, EMS, and Secret Service said the lawyers cautioned the priests not to hug the kids. When a bunch ran at him across the school yard, he told us he said to himself “This is who I am” and opened his arms. So did Jesus.

  8. Via Facebook: From Connie Lane Neuman

    “The U.S. Catholic Church has done a great deal to heal the past and protect children now and in the future. The scandals being revealed in other countries mean that this will be in the news for years to come. The church in the U.S. and the Vatican have got to stop blaming the media; it…is… news. We need to support the victims with prayer and brother and sisterhood. The lawyers have already been paid. “

  9. It’s been a bad week and the news makes me angry and sad. But I stay with the Catholic Church because it is my faith; it is the paradigm within which I worship the divine.

    I was born and raised a Catholic–as you say, Mike, “I am a Catholic.” I am hopelessly, irreparably Catholic. For me, everything always has a surplus of meaning.

    It is my hope and prayer that we will eventually be a better Church and that the pain of these revelations only leads to healing and more openness.

    Thank you for a thoughtful post. Peace.

  10. Via Facebook:

    From Connie Lane Neuman

    I came back. 23, 24. Just moved to California. Naive. Confession. The priest did not say: Loneliness is not a sin. He said: Come to dinner. Drank. Made a pass at me. Slugged him. But how could hands that consecrate the bread and wine to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ come after me? My little brother in Wisconsin hopped his motorcycle, ran to help me. My faith was shredded. 12 years later Pope Paul offered to help Aldo Moro, kidnapped by the mafia. I saw Jesus again, willing to give up his life for another. No one will ever have power to make me leave again. It’s mine. To share.

  11. Via Facebook

    From: Cindee Case

    Connie, sorry you had to go through what you did, but so glad that you calimed your faith and won’t let anyone take that away! With God all things are possible!

  12. via Facebook:

    From Connie Lane Neuman

    Thank you for your kindness, Cindy. I was not physically hurt as some are but my spiritual reaction was volcanic. My prayer is that those who have been hurt and then hurt again by silence can find true healing in Jesus’ love.

  13. Via Facebook:

    From: Tracy Garrison-Feinberg

    Mike–a beautiful post. Thank you. And thank you to Connie, for sharing your story with grace. It helps to know that a bruised faith isn’t an irreparably damaged one, something I need to remind myself time and time again, especially when this church continues to find ways to disappoint me.

  14. Via Facebook

    From: Mike Young

    As a Christian I forgive the sinners, and pray for those abused. Those who assist the accusers appear to have a financial incentive or a bigotry. Do not forget there are those who have hated Catholics and the Church their whole lives.

  15. via Facebook

    from John Sorrentino

    “Thanks for sharing your story, Connie. You are a brave and gracious person who clearly has a forgiving soul. I wish I could say that my faith wasn’t shredded, but it is. And I’ve no intention of ever going back. “

  16. Via Facebook

    from Connie Lane Neuman

    “Me neither, John. What did I care about Aldo Moro (who’s he) or Pope Paul VI (turkey)? The Holy Spirit afoot with the Spirit’s foam-rubber baseball bat, never hurts, but always astounds. I will keep you in my prayers, and please keep me in yours too. “

  17. […] Let me make clear, however:  as lapsed of a Catholic as I may be (can’t remember my last confession, and haven’t been to Mass in a while, and I should stop discussing this in public lest my mother read this and grow an ulcer), I still loyally remain a Catholic.  Because I can’t quite articulate my reasons quite as well as Mike Hayes, a former colleague, can, allow me to quote liberally from his piece addressing the recent Catholic sex uproar: […]

  18. Mike thank you for your article but I am on the fence. It does not seem like the Vatican is doing anything to make amends to the people of the church. I do not feel their crushing sadness of how they enabled abuse when it would have been just as easy to put these priest away from kids. It just seems pure evil to know what these priest were doing and not at the very least place them in a place that they could not do harm. I also don’t understand why the police have not become involved. Even in prison child abuse are not accept but they are protected and enabled in the church? I think the church has to listen to its people and have be accountable for its crimes.

  19. I am and always will be Catholic it’s just who I am. Funny but despite what’s going on I’ve been more drawn to the church remembering that the apostles were not perfect, they betrayed Jesus, sold him over for silver. Perhaps Jesus wanted to teach us a lesson in that we are only human and subject to sin. Hopefully our church will learn to handle things differently but in the meantime I pray for the wonderful priests, bishops and all who have dedicated their lives. We cannot forget most of the clergy are not guilty of these sins. Let’s all remain together a pray.

  20. I have thought about this question many times in the past few months. How good of you to reflect on it, Mike, so early in this latest wave of revelations and arguments. I thought later: I should have asked John Sorrentino, and I ask now: John, is there anything I can do for you? You stay in my prayers. / I’ve had more clarity about who in the church speaks for me (my bishop, my pastor, other genuine shepherds) and who does not (the arrogant and cowardly). The small things of my faith leap out at me in comfort — father blessing the kids with crossed arms, not old enough to receive Jesus in the Eucharist; a parishioner writing a really good job description for a special needs position in the parish; our music; good and sincere homilies. The news story’s time has passed; the media did not much treat the Holy Father’s recent apology. (If I hear one more bit of media bashing, I’m gonna shriek.) I remain shocked and saddened that but for my parish, where we pray each week in the Prayers of the Faithful for healing for all from abuse…our Church is not praying as church about this. We still wish it would just go away.

  21. HI. Its New Years day and I am sitting reflecting on my prayerlife and faith. I was
    born into a long line of Catholics and was baptised a catholic. I have always been
    a Catholic. I have been proud of being a Catholiic. Up until recent years that is.
    I still go to Mass and pray but I am moved to really question the Catholic Churrch
    as a massive organisation. For such a massive cancer to grow in the Church points
    to their being a need for serious and honest and far-reaching examination to be made.
    Other wise the cancer will grow back again. I dont have the answers, i just seem to have
    a lot of questions.

  22. Nicely written. Sadly I suffered abuse, horrendous abuse. It wasn’t a priest but I can tell you that it’s not so simple for us victims. It’s totally destroys and decimates our lives, our ability to trust, to have relationships, to have a health view of sexuality (whatever that is), and to feel love. I cannot trust anyone especially the Church who I see as ignoring justice. OK so the statute of limitations cannot always jail these scum. But surely they should be defrocked and outed so that we are warned and the victims given counseling. Throwing hush money at people is not helping them feel anything but isolated and ashamed. I am 51 and while I’m managed to fight like hell to have some good times and happiness, I will say that most of my life has been toasted by a man who moved on like nothing happened,

    You become suicidal, depressed, and end up being a guinea pig for multiple medications that never really can fix your damaged soul. Miracle cures are not going to fix this violation of your spirit and I am on the verge of leaving the faith.

    I had a spiritual experience in Adoration that showed me Jesus is truly in the Eucharist and that it is real so leaving Him is so painful. But when Mass becomes depressing, anxiety-ridden, and causes more emotional turmoil than good, what can I do? I am so broken hearted and after 11 years of therapy decided that this bank book is broke and I just have to try to live my life the best I can.

    So this “we’re all sinners” falls a little short for me. It’s too pat and doesn’t take into consideration the massive destruction and many commit suicide. There is no way that a priest should NOT be defrocked and most are not–unacceptable.

    How can anyone NOT be upset?


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