The first day of February is probably the most depressing day of the year for me. Exactly four years and six days ago I began one of the most difficult periods of my professional life.
Putting the Pieces Together
Up until then, working within the Catholic Church’s internal legal structure had been a wonderful experience. While we canon lawyers do not usually make as much as our civil counterparts, we experience numerous other benefits. For example, we work a thirty-five hour week, bring home a stable paycheck, get twice as many holidays, and travel to new and interesting places for conferences.
More importantly, we help people. Most of the folks who come through our doors have had their lives torn apart by divorce. They feel overwhelmed, abandoned and lonely. Quite often they have experienced other problems such as alcoholism, abuse or domestic violence. Helping these people patch their lives back together and find the help they need is a very satisfying experience. To help them rediscover God is to return their sense of hope.
Never the Same
This changed four years ago. I was working for a diocese in Florida at the time. Our family lived within walking distance of the Gulf of Mexico, and being from Northern Ontario, for me it was a nice break from the ice and snow. If I recall correctly, my in-laws had flown down from Sault Ste. Marie for my wife’s birthday. So I was a little groggy from the previous evening’s festivities when I walked into the Tribunal that morning.
The phone rang. I picked it up. It was a friend of mine who wrote for a major US news outlet. He wanted to know about canon law and how it functioned. He told me that something big was about to break in Boston that involved canon law, the Catholic Church and sexual misconduct by clergy. I knew then that my professional life would never be the same. It wasn’t.
Beyond Human Ability
Our oldest was just over a year when this scandal broke. She had been born a few months after I passed my final comprehensive exam and obtained my professional credentials. Thus I was just settling into my role as a father and a professional. As a father, I wondered who could do this to a child; that such individuals were fellow Church workers was even more difficult to accept.
Yet what haunt me most are the victims. Their lives are destroyed because of the actions of a few people in authority who abused their power. This includes not only those who carried out the abuse, but those involved in the cover-up as well. And sadly, the Church will find it much harder to reach these victims at a time when they most need the Church to help them put their lives back together.
It is their stories that come to mind every time someone asks me what I do as a canon lawyer. It is their faces that haunt me every time someone asks me why the Catholic Church needs its own internal legal system. And it is for them that I offer my prayers that they may find healing in their hearts and peace in their souls. For theirs is a brokenness that only God can fix.
Pete Vere is a canon lawyer and a Catholic author. He recently co-authored Surprised by Canon Law: 150 Questions Catholics Ask About Canon Law (Servant Books) with Michael Trueman and More Catholic Than the Pope (Our Sunday Visitor) with Patrick Madrid. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.