What does it take to keep the faith when your church is roiled by a child sexual abuse scandal that goes back decades and involves several layers of leadership?
Pope Francis released a letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics on Monday in which he condemned the sexual abuse crisis gripping the modern church, saying “we showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.” The letter follows the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania showing that Catholic leaders in that state covered up the abuse of at least 1,000 children by more than 300 priests over the course of 70 years.
Hundreds of our readers who said they are Catholic or were raised in the church have responded to the news this week in comments on our stories. Some have chastised those who continue to attend church, accusing them of complicity in the crimes of their leaders. Others have said that the scandal makes them want to remain Catholic in order to help shore up the institution from within.
Here is an edited and condensed selection of those comments.
We want to hear from other readers who are Catholic. Tell us how you are grappling with the news of the report.
Pride in Church Tradition
I am a lifelong Catholic who has many fundamental disagreements with the Church particularly in the following areas: the overall role of women, contraception, abortion, and those god awful princes of the church, the oh so entitled priests, bishops, cardinals, etc., that do populate the Catholic Church in numbers that are far too great for comfort.
So why do I stay? I grew up understanding that the Church was her people. I do believe in many of the great traditions of charity, of ministering to the poor, to the forgotten, to those encumbered by sorrow. This is not the responsibility of priests; as a Catholic, this is my responsibility, to make gentle the life of this world.
I believe in the tradition of education, particularly the worldly, intellectual rigor of the Jesuits and the Madames of the Sacred Heart. I vaulted from their little schools into the Ivy League.
But we need to let prosecutors in at the first whiff of trouble. Time’s up. Pope Francis, I am counting on you to deliver us from evil. Amen.
Faith in Pope Francis
When I read Pope Francis’ letter, what I hear is a frustrated man who is trying to marshal everyday laypersons, from the bottom up to stop kowtowing to priests & bishop “elites” & call them out. He talks about the clericalism as a “misunderstanding of Church authority.” He’s telling every seminarian, priest, nun and layperson to blow the whistle. His problem is the entrenched (“complicit”) local hierarchy and Cardinals. And subservient churchgoers, who he warns, “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
Francis’ letter is addressed to all Catholics, because he wants them on board with the defrocking, punishments and prison sentences that are coming to what he calls evil, corrupt and criminal (the latter three times) perpetrators of an “atrocity.”
Francis ain’t playing … Stay tuned.
Our faith teaches us to forgive, but what was done to these children, directly by action, or indirectly by silence and inaction, deserves no forgiveness. Many of these children have been damaged beyond repair and no amount of time or money will ever undo the damage, nor will they likely forgive the many people who failed to protect them.
I have great hope for the change that Pope Francis can bring about in the institutional church, but he is at a critical juncture in his papacy and must do much more than offer yet another apology and plea for forgiveness.
Actual or suspected sexual abuse must be reported to public authorities and failure to do so should, in the parlance of the business world, be grounds for “immediate termination.”
Likewise, consideration must be given to whether there should be a tolling of any statute of limitations in these types of crimes. And, if the law can’t reach any of the predators and enablers still living, then the church must take swift action to remove them from the church family.
Righteous Anger and Commitment to Change
I respect our pope. He is a good man. However, he is not doing enough although recent past popes have done even less. The damage that has been done to the Church is irreparable. In other words, too little too late. Words are meaningless, trust and even hope are all but lost. I call on my pope to make changes within his church.
The upside is that there is a chance for real change to be enacted, and that can be a model to the rest of the world’s faithful on how to police themselves and cast out the wrongdoers who give their religion a bad name.
Confidence in Specific Priests
We went to the 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday. During the homily the priest broke down into tears. After Mass we picked up the church bulletin. A letter from Bishop Gregory addressing the abuse was inside. He did not hold back, admitted the church failed, he failed, and knew that asking forgiveness was not enough. Action he feels needs to take will require lay people’s participation.
Gregory headed the Bishops Council in early 2000s that addressed sexual abuse. A document “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” was issued from that Council. Bishop Gregory is a good man, and our church here in Atlanta, though angry and sad, will survive.
I went to Mass this past Sunday at the archdiocesan cathedral in Indy, and not one word about this crisis from the pulpit. I was anticipating that I, too, would call it quits after that.
On the other hand, I received a generic email from the pastor of a church I intermittently attended in the Lexington, Kentucky, diocese inviting parishioners to contact him directly with any concerns. Attached to the email was a strongly worded letter from the Lexington diocesan bishop concerning this crisis, inviting people to enter into conversation and action about these serious abuses of power at all levels among the Church hierarchy.
I’m still hanging on to the last remnants of my Catholic faith, but don’t know how much longer.
God Comes First
Yesterday my priest read a letter from our bishop condemning the revealed child abuse (too late). Then my priest attempted to minimize the damage by rationalizing comparison with other faiths. Roman Catholic laity have been betrayed by the church’s leadership and their cover-up of massive mortal sinning by the priesthood. As a Catholic my faith in the Lord is undiminished; however — I no longer respect, submit, or obey the hypocritical predatory leadership of my church. Their leadership has sinned a great sin, not unlike the pagan priests that Moses destroyed in Exodus. Their worshipful acts sexually molesting children cannot and will not be forgiven by the laity.
I will not sever myself from my faith in God because of corrupt clergy; to do that would be to allow men I’ve never even met to kill my soul — and they’ve done that to enough other people already.
Catholics don’t abandon their faith, just the political machinery of Vatican City. One of the major problems is that the Church has taught that lay people, or the flock, are fallible and the clergy infallible, because their vocation transcended the human and supported only the spiritual side of man’s nature. Untrue.
Marie Tae McDermott contributed research.
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