This past week I’ve had more than a few emails, text messages and comments saying things like “I’m done;” “I’m out;” “With all due respect Father…” or “Why should I stay?”
With the publication of a list of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors by priests in the state of NJ on Wednesday Feb 13th… followed a few days later with Theodore McCarrick, a former Archbishop of Newark, who went on to become Archbishop of Washington DC and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church defrocked (which means he’s been thrown out of the priesthood) and now in Rome a summit of Church leaders talking about clerical sexual abuse with all kinds of dizzying headlines from every possible perspective weighing in – getting these types of messages isn’t surprising.
The whole damn thing is depressing as hell. Literally and figuratively.
Seeing so many people weighing in on this – some offering friends of mine links to their Churches as an option (wonder if they read the line about those being without sin casting the first stone? Because last I checked, sinfulness is a very, very human thing and affects every human being– myself included– not to mention every group that gathers humans together) Others arguing the numbers of priests/bishops involved in these scandals as being below the average for every other human institution (not sure if that’s true… but even if it is, I’m sorry, that’s a sickening argument to me anyway)… or others pointing out all the good that the Church has done and continues to do – (things that, yes, I can completely attest to, just working with the great people I do in Campus Ministry I see that daily)
But, none of the things I’ve seen or read has been helpful. At least not to me.
I don’t mean that to be dismissive of people passionately fighting for the Catholic Faith. There is something beautiful about that to me… particularly in this day and age. Not just in this time of scandal – but in this day and age where there seems to be widespread apathy, indifference about so many things. Seeing Catholic authors, and some really good priests who I admire passionately almost pleading with people not to despair, not to give up, not to lose hope on a certain level are beautiful to me.
But I think the reason they’re not helpful to me, and to some of my friends, family, former parishioners who made up the bulk of the responses I referred to, is that they’re missing something important in their writings or podcasts. They are trying to answer or fix a problem. And in most instances, they’re making a huge mistake. Not listening to people. Which sadly has been at the root of the scandal from the very beginning.
Someone was hurt by a priest and they weren’t listened to…
Someone made justifiable arguments why a certain man shouldn’t be ordained a priest or a Bishop, or a Cardinal and wasn’t listened to…
Now, in light of an avalanche of heart-wrenching stories, many are still not listening:
The people of God are angry.
The people of God are hurt, embarrassed and ashamed.
The people of God are grieving.
The people of God are depressed.
And a whole host of other feelings that I don’t dare to try to write an all encompassing, exhaustive list. Those are probably the ones that resonate the most for me right now so they come easiest to mind.
Something I’ve learned from therapy (thanks Dr. Greg Bottaro) is that I can’t simply make a feeling go away because they are unpleasant and I don’t like them. I need to listen to them. I need to be attentive to them. Figure out why I’m experiencing them. Sometimes they are a mystery. Sometimes, like these times, the reason for them is pretty obvious. And the healing for painful feelings like these are difficult, mysterious, and can be a lengthy journey and will be different for everyone.
So the reality is, to all those who’ve asked me some variation of “Why stay” – I can’t tell you why. I can’t tell someone not to leave – anymore than I can tell you not to be angry, or hurt, or embarrassed or any of the other things that I’m feeling right now. Because I can hear your feelings, and those all deserve to be listened to… But that being said, I have to add that the question doesn’t register for me. It’s not a question that I can seriously consider.
Because the reason I’m not leaving is that I know that my faith is bigger than my feelings. Quite profoundly, but for brevity sake, I’ll keep it simple an say that I’ve encountered Jesus Christ at moments of despair and aloneness as well as moments of great joy and connectedness. Jesus has walked with me through times of confusion and desolation and grief… as well as times of great growth and new life and miracles.
All of which makes me recognize that yes, He is here, in the midst of this very fallible and broken Church. Just as He’s been with me a very fallible and broken man who, for reasons that sometimes make sense, sometimes really really don’t and at all times still remain mysterious to me. Especially as He’s called me to share His priesthood. As a part of that priesthood, I know His promise that He would remain with this Church, His Church that He founded is true not only because I feel it, but because I’ve seen it. It’s something – my faith is something that engages the brain and the heart.
That’s how I’m staying. And I can only pray and share my testimony with the hopes that this will resonate with you, whoever it is that’s been thoughtful enough to read these ramblings. That you too can recall how Jesus Christ has impacted your life; the times and ways you’ve encountered Him. Not that it will make these days, weeks or months easier. It actually makes it harder. Seeing what has been done to His Church is infuriating. And there are sure a bunch of people who make it very difficult to stay apart of this Church, including the man who ordained me, heretofore known as “Mr. McCarrick.”
But in the end, it’s not about any of them… it’s about Him. And I’ll be damned if I let anyone – or any of their sins and scandals – drive me away from Him or His Church.