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