I am not a lawyer.
I am not a theologian.
I am not a victim of childhood sexual abuse (by a priest or anybody).
I am Catholic, and I am a writer. So I am going to try to put some thoughts down. I am going to write and mail some letters to the church leadership (much thanks to Twitter friends Katrina and Miriel, who both have given me scripts to use).
Ultimately, I don’t know what will happen to (in any particular order): the priesthood, Catholic churches, the Catholic laity, or anything else.
Primarily, of course, my thoughts are with all the victims of abuse at the hands of clergy. The crimes committed against those victims and their families is appalling beyond words. They have all of my prayers, and, frankly, I hope that when they come to the church leadership about things that need to change, they are heeded. The fact that church leadership compounded their suffering by moving priests around, settling cases with abuse victims and making their silence part of the payoff, and, even now, asserting how sorry they are without defining consequences for their actions is not helping or healing.
Yes, we know that a lot of this abuse took place a long time ago. That doesn’t matter. We know that many changes have been made so this type of abuse is less likely to happen going forward, and is more likely to be reported and stopped much sooner if it does happen — and that matters, but probably not to men, women, and families who have already been victimized at the hands of their clergy.
Yesterday was the first mass I attended since the news of the grand jury report broke in Pennsylvania (coverage here). (Yes, I know, I missed a Holy Day of Obligation — remember, I am a #badCatholic.) And I struggled yesterday, struggled in my heart.
My faith has sustained me through some very difficult things. And getting up and leaving the Catholic church — it’s not like choosing another restaurant or clothing store if I don’t agree with their views on stuff.
What happened was a great sin and tragedy, and I don’t condone it, and I want to see change. I honestly think any priest, bishop, and cardinal named in that report and still serving — looking especially to my own diocese of Pittsburgh — should be prosecuted and defrocked, statute of limitations be damned. Does that leave the Catholic church in Pittsburgh without a head; or the Catholic church in America rudderless, leaderless?
Maybe for a time it does. Maybe that is something that needs to happen. So that the good men and women of the church can step in and… resurrect it to a more holy institution. The church is fallen. Again.
The two central tenets of my faith are: the death and resurrection of Jesus, who was the son of God; and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, aka transubstantiation.
We are in a cycle of the liturgical calendar that is especially focused on the Eucharist — it is focused on God feeding the people. Manna from heaven, the loaves and the fishes, Jesus offering himself as the bread of life. Receiving the Eucharist is the most important thing I do every week. It sustains me; it gives me strength.
But I’ll tell you: I am struggling. I want to know what the victims need to facilitate healing, if that can be done. What they need from leadership, clergy, and laypeople. I want them to have that.
I am grieving, for the victims — and for myself. For my experience of my faith that is altered, that has a shadow cast over it. I don’t know how that will change in the coming days and weeks, if it will.
The church cannot offer us apologies and sorrow, and then close the door. Our bishops cannot offer us changes in processes that protect children — protect my children! — and think they’ve taken care of everything. I don’t know what the future looks like for the Catholic church.
But it’s got to look more different from its past.