Our Hearts Are Broken, but the Church Must Rebuild

Like just about every Catholic in the Anglophone world, I felt every emotion possible while reading the Grand Jury Report on the priest-abuse in Pennsylvania. Three hundred priests had sexually assaulted numerous souls in their care. I wanted to vomit, I wanted to toss my computer against the wall, and I know I wept bitterly at different points. As I was flying, I didn’t have much room to react.

The word that occurred to me over and over, however, was satanic. No, I’m not implying that anybody was worshipping the devil, but the lord of flies is certainly delighted by the actions of the wayward bishops and clergy. If you recall, the 80’s and 90’s experienced a hysteria known as the Satanic Panic which saw many innocent people be accused and sentenced for seemingly fictional crimes. It was supposed that there was a vast network of devil-worshipping pederasts who sacrificed numerous children to their dark master.

For good reason, it seemed outlandish. I’m not so sure it seems outlandish, anymore, but we now see that the real monsters were in our chanceries and rectories, not hanging out on the street-corners or in satanic covens.

Heartbreak and Anger

Our bishops have betrayed us and left the faithful brokenhearted and furious. It wasn’t enough that they enabled and allowed unspeakable cruelty to occur in their own homes, they now stubbornly stand behind their PR firms and complain how we angry faithful have ruined their vacation. These are not the actions of a father whose children have had enough. These are the actions of idiot CEOs who got caught blowing their shareholder’s cash on drugs and prostitutes, but somehow even worse.

 

In writing the above, I’m not calling anyone to remain in anger or to allow bitterness to overtake them. But if you believe that charity rejoices in the truth, it is time to speak bluntly about what has occurred. And you all have every right to be angry. Your hearts are not only broken, you have found yourselves possibly feeling duped or sold a bill of goods.

If you are a fellow convert, you probably found yourself in the awkward position of explaining the Catholic teachings on sexuality to long-time friends. While you were trying to be obedient and loving, a bishop in your state enabled the sexual abuse of minors.

While you were trying to be authentically pro-life, a successor to the apostles covered up for a rape and abortion.

While you were fundraising to help your parish, the shepherd was using the money to cover up the most abhorrent abuse and hire public relations spinners to make them look good.

You have every right to be angry. Being Catholic is no easy task, but our leaders couldn’t even shoulder the burden of being a halfway-decent person. Your anger and pain is a sign of some grace that still remains: you believe and love the Church and you want the priests and bishops to live up to their calling. It can seem to be cold comfort, but your tears and anger remind all of us that there are still Catholics who care and that can mean more than you realize.

What Next?

You have a right to anger and heartbreak, but it can’t stop there. The task ahead of us seems large, and we still are unsure what to do next.

Dear reader, your love for the Church and her people moves you to anger and pain. If you had stopped caring, you would have left the Church a long time ago. Give thanks to God that you still feel that intense love and want to hold your Church to the standards of Christ. You have not given in to the bitterness that lurks in the background of this scandal.

I wish I had a 10-step program, TED talk, or book here that would help, but I’m not sure what we are called to do next in a systemic way. In whatever we are called to do, we must begin in prayer and love. No doubt, that sounds trite, but I am not suggesting we only offer “thoughts and prayers” but truly begin to pray and seek God’s grace.

Most importantly, the victims of this scandal need to feel love, prayer and support. Numerous victims were silenced, called liars, and pushed out of the Church. While our pain is real, it pales in comparison to these innocent children who were harmed in what should have been the safest place. Where they needed love and support from the church fathers, they found themselves getting attorneys and PR firms (at best).

There will need to be some great works to be done. Bishops will have to resign and some clergy will need to be sent to prison. It’s not going to be easy and it’s going to be a generational struggle, but we will get nowhere if our motivation isn’t first love.

Make Your Voices Heard

Our struggle to rebuild the Church will begin in prayer and it will not end within my lifetime. In between, there is much to do. I suggest that everyone reach out to their priests and ask about the scandal. Does your pastor have a plan to protect youth, even if his bishop is dragging his feet? If not, he needs one. Has your pastor spoken of this scandal? He cannot be silent and you must encourage him to begin speaking. If the Church is a family, no great family resolves anything by playing nice and singing saccharine songs while the house collapses around them.

You can also call and write your bishops. Heck, if the cathedral rectory is in town, there’s nothing wrong with dropping a note off in person.

Beyond that, talk to your Catholic editors and writers. If Catholic media remains silent, it is complicit. We editors and writers are here to serve you, the faithful Catholics who are willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work that needs doing. Serving you means that we need to begin tackling this issue, to the best of our ability.

The time of patient silence is over. Ask questions, demand answers, and don’t put up with silly responses that don’t resolve anything.

Reach Out to One Another

The next few weeks are going to be rough. I’ve seen the most committed, faithful Catholics begin to struggle with their faith, including a few priests. This is when we will need to actually function like the Body of Christ. We need to support and be there for each other, loving until it hurts. Especially reach out if someone you know has been directly hurt by sexual violence.

This is not excusing anything, but all estimates put the number of monstrous priests at about 6% and that means some good, holy priests are suffering. Their sufferings will only get greater as a cloud of suspicion begins to hang over them and they have to answer for the crimes of their bosses. Chances are, your local priest is experiencing a dark night of the soul and needs the encouragement and love of his parishioners to speak up and begin to root out the dark infection that torments the Body of Christ. So, if you are able to, reach out to your priest. If your priest is part of the problem, we must also begin to pray for him and protect the vulnerable from those who betray their vocation.

And don’t be afraid to talk about this with your fellow Catholics. We should not overly-speculate, but truth must be brought to the light if we are to even begin our next steps.

Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way

Catholic Exchange is a robust site that manages to do a lot with our meager resources. But we are also rather small in the media world. We cannot fix the Church by ourselves, but the great assembly of saints is with all of us and we can begin to heal and rebuild. We must begin at this moment.

Your hearts are hurt, and I can only offer these handful of words. In the coming months, the pain and frustration will be excruciating but we must press forward. Each revelation will sting, but we cannot remain in ignorance and must now ask that all things be made known.

Pray, readers, for all of us here who now have to contend with a strange, new world and let me pray for you as you bear your own struggles with this scandal. We here at CE will address this to the best of our ability, but please join me in calling for all Catholics of every station to pray and work to rebuild.

Michael J. Lichens

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Michael J. Lichens is the Editor of Catholic Exchange. When he's not revising and editing, he is often found studying and writing about GK Chesterton, Religion and Literature, or random points of local history. He holds an A.M. from the University of Chicago Divinity School and a BA from The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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