I recently visited with a pastor friend who chairs a regional committee on ministry in his denomination. A part of his job deals with clergy misconduct. After we shared our concerns about this unspeakable tragedy – one which plagues all Christian denominations, not just Catholicism – it became clear that maybe there is one way we could move forward together through these difficult times as a Church body. It’s not a move that would lead directly to a solution, but it seems a positive step that is doable now. It is logistically easy but not necessarily comfortable.
The Church would do its people a good service if it would simply allow parishioners an opportunity to simply come together and talk … while pastors and ministers, priests and deacons just listen. Allow those in the pews the opportunity to voice their frustrations and fears, their anger and lack of trust. Privacy concerns could be addressed beforehand and security would deter any unruliness, however unlikely in most settings.
Many parishioners would like to have an opportunity to make even a small difference. Ten reasons why an open conversation with the people in the Church could mean a positive step forward for the Church:
1. People want to be heard. Being denied an opportunity to express their concerns can lead to a silence that can be harmful to the body and lead to further ill feelings.
2. People want to know their Church leaders are listening to their concerns. The clergy sexual abuse scandal is real and troubling. Regardless how small the percentage of credibly-accused, or whether it has directly affected your parish, we are all touched by it in some way. In the Church’s own words, the only acceptable number is zero.
3. Many need to vent. To be able to sit in a room with others and say, “I AM SO FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY!” is all a lot of people need.
4. Others need to cry. This kind of dialogue can bring positive shows of emotion by those who may not have any other avenue for channeling their grief. Seeing others with similar emotions is an important part of community.
5. Some need to listen to others. Many battle shyness in a group setting. Hearing others voice shared concerns can help two people. And likely more.
6. People want to see Church leaders lead. Watching them listen can be a wonderful example of compassionate leadership. Pope Francis has told his priests to bring the grace of God to their people and said his shepherds should take on “the smell of the sheep.”
7. Everyone wants to see a church moving forward. These town hall meetings may not solve the core problem or the root cause or the prevailing evil of clergy abuse, but they would be a tangible example of transparency the Church talks so much about.
8. People want to feel good about the Church again. This step would provide parishioners the opportunity to know they are part of a caring, healing church.
9. Perfection not needed. People don’t expect their leaders to have all the answers on demand. Leaders may respond, “I don’t know,” and that’s OK. Questions can be answered later with a follow-up.
10. People often feel strengthened when given the opportunity to share and pray together.
Matthew 18 makes it clear that burying conflict is not the answer. The Church, the body of Christ, should be included in conversations of how to help each other through the darkness until the light of healing is visible. Church leadership can’t do this alone. They need the help, the input, the ideas, and the honesty of the people.
“Courage is the mother and father of every great moment and movement in history. It animates us, brings us to life, and makes possible what has always seemed impossible.” – Matthew Kelly.