We often sit toward the front in church. It’s easier to hear and see and partake. Occasionally, someone very tall will sit directly in front of us and block our view. Most times we can compensate, swaying left and right while trying to catch a glimpse of the messenger. Sometimes, the guy can be really big and there’s just no seeing around him no matter how hard we try.
I can’t very well ask him to move or to slump down, because he’ll eventually just sit back up and block our view again, bless his heart. So I guess the only polite way of dealing with him is to move somewhere else, even though we’ve never done that and probably never will. So, I’ll continue to just sway right and left as if suddenly stricken with vertigo, causing everyone in the pews behind us to sway left and right, too.
We have come to that dreaded week on the calendar when Catholics across Texas will learn if someone who baptized them or gave them their first Holy Communion or has heard their confession or confirmed them or presided over their wedding or gave a family member the anointing of the sick has taken on a new name: Credibly Accused. This is a week that many have dreaded. A week that some have no doubt tried to figure out how they can just skip over and pretend won’t happen.
The Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse scandal is like the really large guy that blocks our view. The Church’s long-lasting shame has made it difficult for many of us to see and hear and properly celebrate the Mass. So I write this not to condemn the Church but because it has made such a profound impact on my life.
A pastor in the Houston area wrote in his parish bulletin last weekend that Thursday will be a dark day for our Church. But Thursday will just be the darkest day. As the news sinks in and the names are read and the “Who again?” dawns on us, there will be more to follow. I have a fear that the darkness will continue as February comes and goes and the bishops of America meet with the pope and nothing will change and it will all disappear slowly, shoved back under the rug from whence it came. Again. Some very discouraging advance reporting reveals that there doesn’t seem to be a plan that will bring real change. I hope for the sake of my Church and its future that those reports are wrong. If nothing real is accomplished the anger will only heighten.
On at least three occasions in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus got mad. Once, in driving out the money changers desecrating the temple, he was especially ticked off (I find that story to be particularly ironic this week). Anger is OK but only if it is used to bring constructive change, does not hurt others, and does not consume us or separate us from God.
Here is a point that must be made: Catholics in the pews should all be angry while acknowledging and thanking God for the priests that have brought goodness to their lives. These men exist in the Church in plentiful numbers. My life has been enhanced by scores of wonderful clergy who have changed me for the better. Men who have counseled me, made me think, smile, cry and serve. I do not write this because I am trying to divert attention away from the Church’s crimes, I write it because it is simple fact: The good far outnumber the fallen, the ill, the criminal.
Please don’t confuse your anger with a crisis of faith. To lose your faith over these horrid abuses, the protection of those who are guilty, the seemingly endless cover-up and the falsehoods that have followed, is not fair to you as a child of God and it is not fair to those who have been victimized. This is a crisis of trust.
Many have lost trust in our leadership and it is time our leaders lead us. It is time they comfort us, acknowledge our anger, and encourage us to talk about this without fear that we are bringing up a forbidden topic that many either won’t address or talk about only in the most hushed tones. These things must happen for the church to go forward with integrity.
Do all that is necessary to retain your faith. But grapple with trust until you see reason to believe positive steps are being taken. If they are not, change seats and come out from behind the large imposing presence that blocks your view of God.
Pray for the victims and for the families of the victims. Pray for parishioners once served by men who are now among the credibly accused. Pray for the credibly accused. Pray for the victims. Pray for the church to pray for itself. Pray that the church gives you reason to trust again. And pray for the victims.