This isn’t an easy post to write. I wasn’t going to do it, but I feel like I must. I just can’t write about spiritual matters and reflect upon my faith without first addressing the elephant in the room.
I’m a Christian, a member of the Catholic Church. And I’m appalled. I’m appalled that any Catholic priest who professes faith in Christ and celebrates Holy Mass could sexually abuse a child. It sickens and disgusts me. And I’m further sickened, disgusted, and appalled that any good priest, who would never dream of harming a child, could repeatedly hear allegations against another priest, or even hear another priest admit to abuse, and not do everything to make absolutely sure that no child would ever be abused again. I don’t understand how bishops could decide to keep investigations into abuse in-house and to secretly “treat” those discerned to be guilty, not like the criminals that they are, but as people making regrettable lapses in judgment (!?!) without any concrete safeguards to protect possible future victims, caring more about avoiding scandal than upholding morality.
In other words, I’m appalled that those in the Catholic hierarchy who caught wind of priests doing these kinds of things weren’t as outraged and appalled as I am.
Before I go any further, I do want to remind myself, and you as well, that it is a small percentage of Catholic priests who are accused of molesting children. The vast majority of priests are good and decent men who are as disgusted as I am.
If only one priest did just one of the heinous things being reported, however, it would still be too much. Christ Himself would still be sickened, disgusted, and appalled.
Some Catholics are so outraged by the continual revelations of abuse cover-up that they have chosen, or are choosing, to leave the Church. I understand this reaction. But it saddens and troubles me deeply. We wouldn’t walk away from a loved one who is sick, would we?
Our sick loved one is the Church — is Christ. In the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul described the Church as the Body of Christ, with Christ as the head and every member of the Church as a member of Christ’s Body.
Let’s follow this mystic reality with an analogy for the horrors we’re facing today.
The priests in the Catholic Church who sexually molested, raped, and tortured children are like cancerous cells, malignant growths in the Body of Christ. Over the decades, sometimes this cancer went undetected. But whenever the cancer was detected and it went untreated, the cancer spread through those members who were in positions to stop it, and did nothing to stop it. The direct victims of this cancer, those who have been so horribly abused, have been in agony, tortured by the pain. Some of them have died in misery because of the pain.
St. Paul says in another letter, the first to the Corinthians, that when one part of the body suffers, all the parts of the body suffer with it. This is true. We are united in faith as one body in Christ’s Church. And right now, we, the Church, are suffering from this cancer of sexual abuse and cover-up — wounded deeply, painfully, gravely. We all feel it in some way, though some, of course, much more than others. We all suffer from it every time we hear new reports of the horrific damage that has been done. And we cannot be well again until every malignant tumor is removed — every shred. Some surrounding tissue that has become affected will also have to be removed, not hacked away, but thoughtfully and carefully excised.
That means serious changes are going to have to be made, and changes are being made, firstly in the Church’s way of handling priests who are accused of crimes. Investigations will have to dig deep in order to find the full extent of the cover-up so that all traces of the disease and mortally damaged tissue can be eradicated. We may all feel unwell and exhausted by the healing process, like the Body of Christ undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to make sure that the cancer is gone. And stays gone. But this is necessary, because the Church needs to be healthy in order for us to live as we are meant to live.
As many do when dealing with a deadly illness, let’s start the healing with prayer. I pray for leaders in the Church, and any affected institution, that they may not be like the blind Pharisees who care more about the outward appearance of the cup than what is within the cup itself. And I pray for the conversion of every human being who thinks that it’s okay to sexually molest a child, while wondering How in God’s name that can be. This prayer for conversion is for people within the Catholic Church, yes, but also within all of society, for we know that this kind of terrible abuse isn’t only committed by priests or Religious.
While we are praying, we also need to take action — action to cure this cancer, and action to keep predators as far away from their intended prey as humanly possible. We need to increase and strengthen our actions to protect children in churches, in private and public schools, in Olympic training facilities, in recreational and social organizations and functions… everywhere.
In the Catholic Church, some think that the action that needs to be taken is to allow priests to marry. But that’s not the answer to the problem of sexual abuse. Sadly, we all know that married men do terrible things too. Think of the heterosexual, married men who have been recently accused of sexual assault and rape: Harvey Weinstein, Dr. Larry Nassar, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer just to name a few. Some men even sexually abuse their own children.
The real solution will be much more complex and more challenging for all of us. Systems and procedures need to change, certainly. We also, each and every one of us in the Church, need to adopt a healthier lifestyle to improve the wider culture and prevent future diseases, which will involve true appreciation for the goodness of being human and the courage to speak out when that sacred goodness is violated; a more integral spirituality and dedication to lives of wholesomeness and loving-goodness — to holiness; a thorough commitment to the sacredness of every human being and so a real understanding of the sanctity of human sexuality; the cherishing of chastity in all walks of life, which means upholding both the procreative and unitive powers of sex, without perversion or infidelity.
Sadly, some Catholics think that the Church is too sickened by this cancer and is beyond help — and they walk away. But we won’t get healthy and grow in understanding, goodness, and holiness if we walk away and remove ourselves from the Mystical Body of Christ.
What we need to remember is that, because the Catholic Church is the living of Christ Himself here and now, Christ Himself is suffering. He is crying out in agony from the criminal, excruciatingly evil, painful sins committed by those who claim to serve Him. During His short lifetime on earth, Christ endured the cruelty, perverse brutality, heartlessness, and stupidity of human beings. He identifies most profoundly with every victim of abuse, knowing the depths of suffering. He cries out in agony with all of us, from our pain that He infinitely feels.
Will we walk away from Him in His suffering? In order to vent our frustration and rage — and avoid the difficulties of curing this terrible illness — will we walk away from Christ?
Though this healing process is difficult now, and may get worse before it gets better, I believe it will get better when we give the victims, their families, and the vast majority of good priests the loving support, honesty, and changes that they need — that Christ needs.
Though tempted, I will not fall away to simple rage and serve only indignation. I seek the face of the Divine and I will not walk away when it gets difficult, when God needs me the most.
© 2018 Christina Chase
Further reflections on the subject on my YouTube channel: click HERE for first of two videos
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.