For years now, we've seen the headlines. Constantly new details have been released regarding sexual scandal and abuse innately intertwined with the very structure of the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world. Most recently, we have been made aware of some of the very most egregious of these abuses, coming from Pittsburgh. The world has been shocked and horrified by the horrible atrocities of abuse against children and other members of the laity.
These atrocities impacted children. Perhaps most of all.
I'm what you might call a "cradle Catholic". My parents grew up in a predominantly Catholic town and met at a Catholic high school (aptly and affectionately called, "Catholic High"). My grandparents met at that same high school a couple decades earlier. One of my earliest memories is kneeling around my brother's bed praying the Our Father with my family, and saying the special prayer we said for our family. My First Communion was almost certainly the highlight of my elementary school career. Throughout high school, I altar served at least one Sunday per month, and was a part of the altar serving team our priest affectionately dubbed "the dream team". We did a lot of funerals, because we were very well put together. Its always been a part of my life, and a very significant one at that.
These atrocities impacted children.
I teach Sunday School for K-8 students at the Newman Center here on campus. I do not really know how to face these kids. I grew up very sure that my priest was somebody I could trust, right up there with my fourth grade teacher and my gymnastics coach. My priest knew me, I knew him, and he loved me in a completely appropriate, let the little children come to me way. The priests at the Newman Center Parish are wonderful, and certainly reflect my childhood experiences with priests. But these kids aren't dumb; these kids are seeing these headlines, and they're hearing the news. These kids know that this happened, that the Church hasn't dealt with it strongly enough, and that it affected kids just like them. So how do I answer their questions?
I am a lifelong member of a Church that seems to have forgotten the children it is meant to serve. I do not know how to explain to them why that is, because I myself do not truly know. I prefer to believe that it's all just a simple matter of corruption, of human nature getting the best of people who should be trustworthy. But that's far too simple an explanation, and it does not go anywhere near far enough to make me feel comfortable with what has happened.
In Pope Francis' letter to the 1.2 billion Catholics dotting the globe, he addresses all of the points I'm making. But it is still hard to reconcile where the Church has been (and even where it is in some cases) with where it is going. I am not proud of the way in which these issues have been handled, and I am not proud of the Catholic Church right now. It is a hard time to be Catholic.
That being said, I remain proud to be one. I do not condone, but rather condemn, the egregious and revolting actions of priests and the bishops who defended them. I am proud, however, to see that our pope also condemns these actions, and that he places his hope in the laity, those with the power to answer the questions, to keep the children safe. I'm proud to be one of the people helping to teach the children positive interaction with faith and faith communities. This means showing children what a normal interaction with a leader should look like. This means teaching children about the intended role of a priest. This means, most of all, holding leaders accountable.
Authority does not warrant abuse thereof. It should not ever have warranted abuse. If the Church is unable to hold itself accountable, the laity must be able to do so.
I am proud to be part of a community set on effecting real change in the Church, so that I, along with so many others, can finally be proud of the Catholic Church in addition to being proud of being a Catholic.