This started out as a rant/post on a friend’s FB, but she asked me to write it up in a way she could share. So here goes. This is in response to a linked article – I didn’t even read the article.
One commenter wrote: “Honestly, it depresses me. I think that Catholicism has a lot to offer other Christian faiths, particularly in its rich philosophical tradition and the aspects of Catholicism that go beyond “sola scriptura.” But, I could not raise my daughter in this faith, I could not be a part of the blindness to child abuse, I could not be a part of so many unfortunate things the Church does or condones. Depressing to leave the Church of your youth, though.”
Yes, it is depressing that a person’s integrity, belief in God, and embracing of church teachings would lead them to leave the church in which they were raised. It was a necessity for me.
I used to be Catholic. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. I am no longer Catholic. Seriously – I have gone beyond “former Catholic” to “recovering Catholic,” to “Holy shit these people are so wrong” to “why does anyone listen to these haters anymore?” to “I will not be drawn back in, you assholes.”
Then I meet people, some of the good ones, like my former seminary professors, and certain Catholic luminaries I just love in Spokane, and they stay in the church. Why, I wonder? For their own reasons. For reasons of justice and mercy, and I guess to show that not all the good ones have left the building.
I left the RC Church when I was in my twenties, but the divorce process had started many years earlier, when my Sixth Grade Religion teacher, Sister Leonila (one of the good ones), was explaining all about God. I looked out and saw a tree in the schoolyard. I remember thinking, “That tree makes more sense to me as God than what she’s talking about.” That simple rebellion opened a door in my psyche, that was widened when my 8th Grade Religion teacher, Mrs. P. (not even close to one of the good ones), asked, “And what is God’s punishment for homosexuals?” And Charlie, the red-headed kid who sat in front of me, raised a tentative hand and said, “AIDS?” Mrs. P. said, “Yes, Charlie. That’s right. AIDS is the wrath of God against homosexuals.” This was 1983, and they didn’t even know enough about AIDS to know how it was transmitted, except sexually, but the prejudice against homosexuals was firm in place and it was easy, then, to blame them.
My parents left the Catholic Church when I was in my early thirties, after the child sexual abuse scandal firmly rocked the foundations of the church in America. There were three sins, each as serious as the other: 1) the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, and 2) the refusal to acknowledge this behavior as a problem by the bishops and church hierarchy, as well as 3) the cover-up of the crimes, and subsequent relocation of priests who should have been censured (at the very least, counseled and had their access to children removed).
Here’s what I remember about the sacrament of Reconciliation: Reconciliation is the process by which injured parties reconcile with their injurers. It is considered a sacrament by the Roman Catholic Church. I learned about the sacrament of Reconciliation at Catholic school, from a nun, Sister Leonila. It used to be called “Confession,” but some person along the line decided it needed a new name. For once, I like the new name better – Reconciliation is a more thorough acknowledgement of harm caused, and the need for a new relationship. A renewed relationship, especially including the presence of peace with the past, is what marks the difference between an unreconciled person and a reconciled person.
The sacrament of Reconciliation requires that if a person (even a priest, even an institution) has done something wrong, they need to admit it. They need to admit it, ask for forgiveness, make recompense, and try to live life free of this sin (to live renewed and to not do it anymore). The Church can’t or won’t admit mistake, which is the first step of the Reconciliation process. It is this process that the Catholic church has more or less abandoned, therefore the whole institution is in sin. By this word “sin,” I mean the whole institution is out of right relationship: with each other, with God, with the victims of child sexual assault, with the outside culture.
What the unwillingness to enter into the process of Reconciliation implies is that when a victim of child sexual abuse is a victim of a Catholic priest, the Catholic Church is more important than the Reconciliation process. That the priest is more important than the victim – that the institution and its reputation are more important than the cessation of suffering and the quest for justice and reconciliation.
The irony of this (which should be lost on absolutely no one) is that in cherishing the institution of the priesthood, in cherishing the good name of the Catholic church – over and above reconciliation, over and above the honoring of the victims who suffered real harm – what the church has done has, in fact, ruined the credibility of both the priesthood and the church itself, up until the highest levels. This institutional posture, also, has required secular organizations to pick up the unhappy job of prosecuting offenders, as well as jailing them, as well as demanding accountability from the higher institution. This is not a case of a few bad apples: this is a problem across the whole institution.
What is the moral lesson? Practice what you advocate. Live a life of integrity. When you make a mistake, promptly admit it and seek to assuage the harm done to the victim/recipient of your mistake. Don’t sexually abuse children. Don’t require other people to clean up after your mess.
My personal stance is that healing is always possible: it is rarely too late to begin a healing process. I have compassion for the church – and I don’t have to be in a relationship with it.