My aunt called me a few weeks ago. The conversation went something like this:
“Hey sweetie, I was wondering if you’d like to be Noah’s Confirmation sponsor.”
Unhesitatingly I responded, “Of course!”
“You are the best. Although with all of this stuff going on with the church… I don’t know. I’m sure he’s safe now.”
“Yeah, well, I mean he’s a football player too so ya know that whole Sandusky thing. It’s not just the church.”
Foot meet Angela’s mouth. I was trying, and failing spectacularly, to be reassuring. My aunt asking me to be my cousin’s confirmation sponsor is an honor and it makes me feel proud to be chosen as the one to help guide him in his faith. I was raised catholic and went to catholic school until 12th grade. My parents are catholic, my grandparents are catholic, as were their parents. I was raised by a catholic community comprised of amazing teachers, priests, nuns, deacons and a church that has supported me from my baptism until this very day. Who I am as a person and the contents of my character I owe very much to my faith and my upbringing.
The fact that the community I was raised in, that made me feel so loved and supported, was also a community where children were molested, taken advantage of, manipulated and forced to experience a trauma that no one should have to endure makes me sick to my stomach.
And it happened in the same community and very churches that I grew up in.
The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on my hometown church, located in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, was released in 2016. I now live and attend church in Pittsburgh which is one of the diocese that was covered in the Grand Jury report released back in August. Before the report was released, the bishop of Pittsburgh sent a letter to all of the parishes in the diocese. I sat in the pew one Sunday morning at the end of mass as father read it aloud to us. I looked around at the gorgeous Church with its stained glass windows and religious artifacts. I looked around at my fellow church community shifting uncomfortably in their seats or staring despondently into their hands. Church has always been a sacred place where I sought solace everywhere I’ve ever lived when I was feeling lost, hurt, broken or just needing to be in the full presence of God.
And I wasn’t sure if I felt Him there during that moment.
Sexual abuse of any kind is abborhent. We live in the age of the #metoo movement. I am struggling to reconcile my faith with a hierarchy of priests, deacons and bishops that abused, knew about abuse, or actively covered up abuse and put countless children in harm’s way. This has been on my mind and on my heart for some time. I cannot understand allowing this to happen. The 10 Commandments and the tenants of my faith would never allow such a thing, but it happened systematically all over the world by the people who are supposed to be the leaders and teachers of the Catholic faith.
I typically don’t speak on my religion or politics, because they are deeply personal. But I am utterly at a loss. I do not know the answer to this question. Advice I have received from my friends has often been to find a new church or adopt a new religion. The thought of getting married someday anywhere else than a Catholic church, of having a family and not baptizing my child in the Catholic faith makes me sad; but the thought of someone sexually abusing my child infuriates me.
What I have made up in my mind is this; the pope, the archbishops, bishops and priests have a lot to answer for. The fact that the abuse has finally come out into the light, while horrifying and shocking, is paving the way for it to never happen again.
The way the Church handles abuse accusations now are totally different than the “sweep it under the rug” mentality of the past. If Jesus has taught me anything, it is the story of redemption. And while the hierarchy of the Church mishandled something to a degree that seems almost unforgivable, they are not the Church.
The people who suffered the abuse and had the courage to come forward to help ensure it never happens to anyone else again are. The journalists who tirelessly researched and exposed the abuse are. The lawyers who spent years creating a report to tell the world and hold the perpetrators accountable are. I realize many of these people may not be catholic, or even christian, but we all have a moral code that we abide by, and I know we have all seen the divine (be it God, the Universe, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster) in one another.
I am not sure what the future holds for the Catholic church. But I am certain about my faith in God, my faith in people and I live on the hope that we are all working together to make the world a better and safer place for every person regardless of our religion.
Things like this and the #metoo movement give a voice to the voiceless. They create a world where victims are empowered to share their experience and the perpetrators of sexual abuse are held accountable for their actions.
The Catholic Church must do better. We must support the victims. We must rebuild the catholic community and its reputation in the world in the light of the events that have happened. We must not condemn every single priest for the horrible actions of some of their peers because I am certain they are just as heartbroken, shocked and shaken as the rest of us. We must carry this cross, fall down, and rise again just as Jesus did.