I grew up a Catholic. I attended 11 years of Catholic school. We send our children to Catholic school.
I say prayers for strength in times of need. I say prayers of thanksgiving in times of joy. I say prayers outside my sons’ rooms every night.
I keep a Bible on my nightstand. I believe in God and in Jesus, yet I never shout all that out from a mountaintop and even writing it here has me feeling a bit …I don’t know, I am not sure of the word. Embarrassed? Vulnerable? Silly? I am not sure exactly what the feeling is, but I do feel shame in feeling whatever that feeling is. However, now seems to be an important time to speak out about my faith in time of crisis for the Catholic church…my church.
And that shame does not compare to shame I have in the leadership of the Catholic church, especially here, in Pennsylvania, where I have spent most of my adult life in dioceses that have been rocked by the evil they are suppose to fight against. The betrayal that I and many Catholics feel is palpably and painful, which is obviously nothing compared to the pain these children of our church must feel. These priest, these men of God, were suppose to protect these children but instead they hurt and traumatized them. Then the leadership of the church turned their back on these young victims. It is devastating to even just think about it. It is rage inducing.
It almost makes you want to, in turn, walk away from the Catholic Church.
This past weekend, a friend of mine showed me this article titled The Body of Christ Must Reclaim the Church. It reminds us that the Catholic Church is not the priests, the bishops, the Cardinals, the Pope, the cathedrals, the chapels, the schools, etc. We, the community that shares the Catholic faith are the church. We are the Body of Christ.
The Catholic Church is not the buildings we spend an hour on Sundays in. The Catholic Church is the people we turn and extend a sign of peace to just before receiving Communion together. It is the people we say hello to and exchange smiles with as we enter and leave the building of worship.
The Catholic Church is not the schools that some of us send our children to. It is the friendships formed between those children and the principles they learn. It is the prayers said as teams followed by the spirit of fair competition on the fields, courts and tracks of the CYO programs. It is the tearful smiles of their parents who have come to watch them sing their Christmas carols.
The Catholic Church is not the Bible. It is the principles within that Book that we share out into the world, regardless of how they worship. It is in the simple acts of kindness and charity that we share Jesus’ messages of faith, hope, and love that is the Catholic Church.
It is THIS Catholic Church that must hold not just the priests who committed these awful crimes accountable, but the leaders that tried to hide their sins. We must demand transparency and holding these people up to the Christian ideals that they failed to live by. This is a defining moment for our Church and we, the Body of Christ, must demand change.
What these men and our leadership have done does not define us. It does not define the Catholic Church. Faith, hope and love define us.
One of the many sad sides of all this is how the good, innocent and blessed priests, the vast majority of the priest in this world, must suffer the suspicions of both people within the church and outside of the church. They have become the butt of jokes and the targets of unfair generalization. I know many of these men and consider a few friends and my heart breaks for them, as well.
In my life I have been blessed to have had three priest who have had an enormous positive impact on my life. The first, welcomed me into the Church through the sacrament of Baptism. He had married my parents and was a close, personal friend of our family. He guided all of us through hard times and celebrated with us in happy times. He was one of the sweetest and kindest men I have ever known with a laugh that could shake a room. He was there for me, to guide me, when I had felt I was being called to the priesthood myself and helped me through a confusing time of my life. He was ever-present in all of our lives and, I believe, he is still there. He passed away a few years ago, but I find myself thinking often about him these days and wonder what he would have to say during these times.
The second I met and became friends with during my first year in college. He was the college chaplain and adviser to the Newman club. He was there for me during some of my most difficult spiritual times when I struggled with the guilt and loneliness when I realized that I was not being called into the priesthood. We had a number of long conversations that year and his subtle laugh and a gentle smile always made me feel as if everything was going to be okay. He has moved up the ranks of the church and is now a Bishop looking to lead his flock through these dark days. I watched him address his congregation on this crisis and I could hear the hurt and sorrow in his voice. I often find myself saying prayers for him.
The third priest I met a few short weeks after the heart break of learning he was replacing the previous college chaplain. I met him with skepticism and pain in my heart. He would become one of my dearest friends. A man who gave me a recipe to cook for Andrea on our first date, lent me his car when I needed to go on job interviews and who I spent many long hours discussing everything from the church to the White House. His friendship always provided a retreat for Andrea, friends and myself when we needed it the most. He even welcomed my two sons into the Catholic Church when he baptized them.
This past weekend, we had a chance to catch up with him. After 26 years as the college chaplain (boy, did I feel old – I was there to welcome him on his first day), he retired a couple of weeks ago. In the same kitchen that we would spend talking when I was a senior in college, I sat with him and my sons and we talked again about so many things, including this crisis facing the church (he is the one that shared the article above with me).
As I sat there, with my friend, my wife and my sons, I realized THAT was the Catholic Church and all those other moments that bring people together through that faith.
I am utterly devastated at how the leadership of the church has betrayed those children and all of us. However, my faith is unshaken and proud, and I pray for God to give strength to this Catholic Church, this One Body of Christ, to move forward from this. And most of all, I pray for all those children so that they may find peace and comfort.