Today was a beautiful day. I biked to Mass, a beautiful peaceful Mass, and enjoyed the warm sunshine that had finally appeared in this valley. I was happy.
Then I got to work and picked up the paper.
This was the headline: Anguish has never healed for Natives physically, sexually abused at St. Ignatius mission.
A gut wrenching reminder of that horrible past.
I know a lot of people would wonder why I choose to stay in a religion that has awful blemishes on the history (enter obligatory mention of the Inquisition and the Crusades). On the one hand, it makes no sense for me to leave my religion on the basis of something that happened before I was born. I was never abused, never taught that abuse was okay, never knew any priests who abused. It is not part of my world, not part of my experience of Catholicism.
But it sure makes your heart ache, doesn’t it? I work at transitional housing facilities, one of which supports families. Many who live here have been abused, either as children or as partners. It is my faith that got me involved with homelessness in the first place, and it is deeply troubling to know that there were teachers of that same faith who abused or perpetuated abuse. How can you teach love and social justice and not live it out?
Statistics can tell you that the rate of pedophilia and abuse is no worse in the Catholic Church than any other religion, denomination, or in the general public. They can tell you the abuse of the ’60s and ’70s was part of a pattern playing out in the rest of the country at the time period. But I can’t imagine statistics and studies are of much comfort to anyone who has experienced abuse. And they certainly don’t explain why the we weren’t better than average; why we weren’t more committed to protecting the minds and bodies of our youth. Maybe Catholic priests of the ’60s and ’70s were just like everyone else. But they aren’t called to be like everyone else.
To answer the question I posed earlier, I remain Catholic because of the beauty and truth I find in the religion. Because I want to follow Jesus, serve God, and love other people. Not because the leaders are good or bad people. They are people; they are not God.
And so I am still part of the Church. Christ’s body on earth. And I am no less part of that Church than all the priests, deacons, bishops, cardinals are. Because of this, the duty to make sure this Church reflects who God truly is rests upon my shoulders as well.
So I must ask myself, “what do I do to contribute to abuse?”
I am not a pedophile, but it doesn’t stop at that. Do I shop at stores that employ children in sweatshops? Do I take a stand against child labor? Do I ever wonder if the blueberries I’m eating were picked by the daughter of a migrant worker, working instead of attending school? Do I listen silently to sexist or derogatory remarks?
Do I take my responsibilities as a mandatory reporter seriously? Do I speak up when I see a friend who is in an abusive relationship, and remind them that they do not deserve what they are getting? (Do I know the signs of an abusive relationship?) Do I roll my eyes when I have to sit through Virtus training? (Church-mandated abuse prevention training for all those who work with children). Do I pray for children who are abused, and (gulp) even the abusers, too?
I could do better on all of these. We do not have to let a group of people who committed evil acts determine what our Church stands for. We do not need to sit silently and avoid eye contact when people rail against the abuse scandal, mumbling under our breaths, “well it was a long time ago, a different era…” No, we can rail with them.
We can stand up against abuse as well. Announce to the world not just through out words but our deeds and actions that we do not tolerate misuse of power, of privilege, of trust. But let us not have a narrow focus. Let us remember all those who are hurt by abuse, in our parishes, our families, our offices, our country, our world. Let us be a people, whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, or any combination thereof, who fights for justice.
‘Cause this is our Church too.