The recent disturbing revelations by the Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania are having the effect of shaking the faith of even the staunchest followers. How such disgusting travesties were allowed to continue for decades without guilt is almost beyond comprehension and right up there with some of the most heinous crimes of our time.
As a lifelong Catholic, this has greatly disheartened me. Yes, the church has repented. But why are they only repenting now? Where was the repenting when thousands of innocent children were being victimized? It almost feels as if the repenting only happened because the church leaders were caught. That’s so often the case with things like this. Is the person or entity sorry for the crime, or are they sorry they got caught?
More disturbing, the heinous numbers only involve Pennsylvania and only the people who reported the incidents. Imagine the numbers that are likely to come out when other states start following suit like Pennsylvania. For a religion that is having a difficult enough time keeping people in pews, this scandal is sure to not make pews any easier to fill.
How can the church recover from this? I don’t even really know. This may be too big to recover from, especially if the other 49 states continue to follow suit.
One thing the church cannot do, however, is play the persecution complex that “the liberal media” or other religions are against them. Boo hoo. You do horrible things; you pay the price.
I’ve heard all sorts of absurd theories like a “conspiracy against the Catholic church” and the “sexual revolution” of the past half century being to blame for the crisis. Sure, like we’re supposed to believe that these instances only started in the 1940s and 1950s. Sadly, this has been going on for centuries. Thank God for that “sexual revolution” that we now no longer tolerate things that may have been “overlooked” in the past. Those “good old days” people always talk about weren’t always so good.
How self-righteous that many of the bishops who moved pedophile priests around to other assignments were some of the loudest and staunchest preachers who condemned “sins” of abortion, gay marriage, and birth control. And how ironic that some of the more labeled progressive voices of the church were the ones who often blew the whistle on crimes like these but, over time, it has been those progressive voices that are often shunned as undermining the precepts of the church. It’s all so ironic and hypocritical.
Putting the scandal of recent times aside, it is this self-righteousness of the Catholic church that, upon prayerful meditation, I think is one of its biggest downfalls.
I’ve been paying attention to the topics of homilies, sermons, and official statements from notable national and local priests and deacons over the past few years. Here’s what I have heard: numerous comments condemning the pro-choice movement, numerous comments condemning gay marriage, a comment mocking a Hollywood celebrity over the cloning of her dog, and a comment referring to Democrats as “Demoncrats.”
(Side Note: Regarding that last comment, so much for the church staying out of politics. Those “Demoncrats” have successfully fought to save the Children’s Health Insurance Program that my children are enrolled in, instituted strong environmental legislation to limit harmful chemicals in my family’s food, single-handedly saved the American car manufacturers which employ thousands of people and feed their children, provided health insurance to those with pre-existing conditions who were forced to sell their homes to pay for a dying relative’s health care, and many other life-oriented accomplishments, many of which are now being overturned under the current administration).
Back on topic: I’d like to propose that if the Catholic church ever hopes to become a respected institution again — besides, of course, condemning the tragedies of sexual abuse in their midst — that they should start with the seven Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead.
Imagine going to your local Catholic church over the next year and instead of hearing from the pulpit about condemning two loving people of the same sex being in a union, we heard about ways to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty. Maybe provide some suggestions on how the faithful can help at a food bank or a soup kitchen or support Meals on Wheels.
Imagine going to your local Catholic church over the next year and instead of hearing about a Hollywood celebrity who cloned her dog, we hear about clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. Maybe provide some official instruction on how we, as Catholics, can reach out to those in need and help provide basic necessities.
Imagine going to your local Catholic church over the next year and instead of hearing about the “Demoncrats,” we hear about visiting the sick and imprisoned. Maybe remind us of local hospitals or nursing homes who need volunteers. And here’s the key to all of these ideas: not as announcements at the end of Mass after communion but rather as part of the sermon! (I sat in amazement at one Mass where the entire sermon was dedicated to criticizing gay marriage, followed by a 15-second “announcement” after communion about a fundraiser for a local shelter. Why wasn’t the shelter worked into the sermon, which could have easily been tied back into biblical passages about helping and feeding your neighbor?)
Imagine going to your local Catholic church over the next year and instead of hearing ad nauseam about how the pro-choice movement is the most evil thing since the beginning of time, we heard about the Pope’s climate change encyclical or about his strong words against the death penalty or in support of gun control. It’s like the Pope’s climate change statements, his statements against guns, and his strong words against the death penalty didn’t even happen. Crickets.
(Another side note: Most logical people are not “pro-abortion.” They just believe that due to a very slippery slope, abortion must remain legal. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said it best: “Abortion should be legal and rare.” When abortion becomes illegal, it sets the stage for all sorts of governmental overreach. There are case studies in some very strict countries where women have been denied life-saving procedures after a missed miscarriage and have wound up dying. The church needs to change the culture of what makes people consider an abortion instead of just outright wanting it banned. Also, many self-identified “pro-lifers” are only “anti-abortion,” but once the baby is born, they’re on their own. You are not “pro-life” if you support the destruction of the planet, do not support gun control, support the death penalty, or don’t support children’s healthcare or healthcare for pre-existing conditions. I am “pro-life” on all these issues).
Now let it be known that some Catholic churches do a good job supporting local food banks, shelters, and other such entities. My point is those topics are touched on rarely or as “announcements” after communion or before the opening hymn, while the “easy” topics like abortion and gay marriage that pastors know will drum up nods of affirmation and donations from the pews are pounded on weekly. Are pastors afraid to touch on the other topics I mentioned because they know those topics will result in disagreement from half the congregation and thus risk losing the audience? I fear so.
Circling back to the sexual abuse crisis of the past few weeks, it’s a good first step that the church is now extremely proactive in preventing what happened in the past from happening again. But I’m thinking now beyond that and to the future of the church as a whole. If the Catholic church is to regroup, reboot, and come back from the severe crisis it finds itself in, it has to step away from getting involved in politics and the unhealthy focus on certain “easy” issues and start focusing on the works of mercy and simple precepts that we have all been taught since day one like “love thy neighbor as thyself,” which are all too often forgotten and the reason why churches are becoming emptier and emptier each week. (And yes, I said “easy” issues. It’s easy to sit and make comments against abortion. But it takes a little effort to actually do works of mercy.)
But despite my concerns, I’m not about to abandon the faith my parents proudly brought me up into. I’d rather work to hopefully get it back on track. And we can get it back on track by getting back to the basics of helping and loving one another.