Stone Angel

In The Face Of The Abuse Scandals, What Can You Say To Restore My Faith?

DEAR FATHER JOE: I am sickened by the news reports I’ve been reading about the clergy abuse scandals. It makes me ashamed to be Catholic – what can you say to restore my faith?

A. Your question seems to summarize the innumerable other questions I have received on the topic of the recently revealed scandals in the Church. To be clear, by “scandals,” I mean the crimes and sins committed by some priests and covered up by some bishops. Person after person has written me, sat down with me, called me and asked what to do in the face of such abject evil. They are dismayed and disillusioned that some of our leaders not only don’t seem to “get it,” but worse, may have actively covered up illegal and immoral behavior. As a priest, I find myself unable to communicate my anger and my sorrow about this. I’m sick of it. I’m weary. I’m heartbroken. And if you are someone who has been abused by a member of the clergy, then I am so sorry that happened to you, and I share your pain. I have been filled with doubt in the people God has appointed to lead us, guide us and show us by word and example what is right.

As a priest, I am not perfect, but dear God, I haven’t committed any crimes – and the fact that I even have to type that sentence shows how far we have fallen. I’m sick of it.

I love children. I love their smiles and their joys and here I am, hesitating to type that for fear that it will be misinterpreted.

I have no power to change the system. No pope or bishop has ever asked me for my ideas, and I can’t imagine one who would. But I can share with you what I am doing to work through it all:

First, I’m praying and I encourage you to do the same.

Pray for the victims of abusive priests. Pray for the victims of neglectful shepherds more interested in climbing a ladder than being holy.

Pray for the clericalism in some of our clergy that seems to be at the root of a lot of it.

Pray for the people who want to take this evil and use it as an opportunity to advance their own agenda.

Pray, fast, call out to God, ask St. Michael to help, do whatever the Lord calls you to do in order to purge from our Church the abusers and the protectors of abusers.

Pray that our bishops listen to the voice of the Shepherd over that of the attorneys.

Second, reach out to help the abused.

If someone comes to you with their story, pray with them. Take them to the appropriate civil authorities and walk with them as much as you can.

Encourage victims to contact the victim assistance coordinator in their diocese. Every diocese has one, and they are there to make sure victims get the assistance and counseling they need.

Finally, do not let this go.

We’ve done enough of that. Don’t accept “rules” as the newest answer to this crisis. Hammer at this until it is addressed in a real way that focuses on the major problem here – the priests and bishops.

Don’t tell people this is all in the past because it’s not. The report may be detailing old information, but people are just finding out the depth of the cover-up now – and that is a new hurt. Don’t tell people “this isn’t the Church” because it is and it will be until we do something to clean this up.

Don’t ignore a priest’s actions if you know they are not keeping their vows or are being abusive. Do not tolerate in a priest behavior that is abusive on any level. You have the right to push us to be saints.

Most of all, do not give up. Jesus has already won this fight and I am proud of how many people have affirmed their love of and commitment to him, and not any specific person. This is a Church by, for and about Jesus and he will guide us, protect us and help us be the people God made us to be.

We currently live in dark times, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Church has weathered other dark times. For this generation of Catholics, a lot has been and is being asked of us. I urge each of us in our heart to ask ourselves this question: Why Am I Catholic?

If, like me, you discover that the answer is "because it is true," then we have nothing to fear. No lies, no cover-ups, no darkness can obscure the Truth.

I conclude by assuring you all that I love you, that I am committed to you and that I will continue to pursue holiness with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength.