Sunday, September 25, 2005

My Catholic Lament: Failure of My Faith

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office this week released the results of a lengthy, indepth investigation into previously alleged charges of sexual abuse by priests of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The grand jury findings proved to be shocking and abhorant, showing dozens of priests over a multi-decades span sexually molesting and abusing young children.
To further compound the scandalous findings, the Church leadership and their representatives appear to be trying more of the same recipe that has proven disastrous to the victims, and to the Church body: deny, deny, deny.
No, there is no denial that molestation and abuse has gone on, that would be ridiculous in light of the now incontrovertible proof. The denial aspect comes into play when Church leaders, particularly Cardinal Justin Rigali, put out vehement defenses for Cardinals John Krol and Anthony Bevilacqua, his immediate predecessors.
In the grand jury findings, the two Cardinals are specifically singled out for a failure of leadership. They are accused of handling the problems as they surfaced over the years largely by sweeping them under the rug. As the allegations would come to light and be found credible, priests were shuffled from parish-to-parish in a sort of shell game that did nothing to solve the problems, only serving to expose even more individuals to the predator priests practices.
It is long past the time for the Church to stop playing the same old game of denial, and instead it is overdue that the Church and it’s leaders take on the full measure of their responsibility for these grave sins against it’s own membership.
I am a lifelong Catholic, and from what I can gather from speaking with and observing my own family and friends, a fairly typical one. I go to Mass many weeks, but not every week. I donate funds to my Church, but probably not as much as I could, and certainly not as much as the Church would like me to donate. I consider myself a good Christian, but sin continuously, only infrequently turning to the Church’s provisions of Confession/Penance to make my amends.
But the fact is that the Church expects these things of me. They expect me to live a Godly life. They expect me to resist temptation and the occasion of sin, that act of continually putting myself in potentially sinful situations, let alone the commission of sin itself. They expect me to follow the Church teachings and leaders, to make appropriate donations to the Church causes, and as much as possible to evangelize on behalf of the Church by my words and deeds, particularly with my own children and family.
And you know what, I don’t mind. I don’t mind one little bit. In fact, I have come to expect all of these things of myself over the years. I have come to know that the Church is right in all of these expectations. I don’t do it all, I don’t make the grade. I often fail, sometimes miserably. But the point is, I never give up. I never throw in the towel. I never throw up my hands and say that it’s all just too hard. I never abandon the Church.
And I won’t now either.
But the fact of the matter is, the Church owes me now. It owes us all something now. It particularly owes those who have been directly victimized by it’s priests over the years, and those people’s families.
The Church now owes every one of us it’s own transparency. For far too long, the game was one of cover and conceal within the Church walls. If a priest had a problem in St. Gabriel’s parish, transfer him to St. Christopher’s parish, for example. Rather, every single priest who was found to have molested and/or abused any child should have been immediately removed from the priesthood. Period. And the authorities should have been notified of any charges, allowing a full and proper criminal investigation to take place.
Church leadership has tried to make the argument that it’s previous leaders, including Cardinals Krol and Bevilacqua, acted in the ways that were most appropriate for their times, saying that things we now know about conditions like pedophilia were not known back then, and that the previous leaders handled the situations appropriately based on what they knew at that time.
That previous leadership did not recognize the obvious, outlandish, soul and life-destroying evil in the act’s of it’s dozens of pedophile priests is the biggest piece of lying garbage that the Church has tried to spew this past week.
It doesn’t matter what any current psychology or psychiatry of any particular era knew at that time. If you have a priest who is having sexual relations with a child, that is wrong, that is sick, and that is evil. Period. The Church knows it now, it knew it then. To say otherwise is hogwash, and shows that the current leaders have a long way to go before winning back the full trust of it’s own faithful, let alone the good will of outsiders who don’t share that faith.
The Church needs to immediately take a number of steps to begin to turn around. It first needs to fully acknowledge it’s own sinful past as an entity. It’s priests are it’s direct representatives to it’s parishioners, they are supposed to be direct representatives of God Himself.
Next, the Church needs to spell out exactly what steps it will take to handle any future accusations of this type. These steps must include immediate removal of accused priests from the care of children, a full internal investigation into any allegations, and a reporting to and full cooperation with law enforcement agencies. And when charges are substantiated, priests must be defrocked. All of these steps in the process, when allegations are proven true, must be public and fully transparent.
Also, the Church must not stop at pedophilia. Any type of sexual activity by a priest or nun should be cause for removal from their position. The Church teaches that these individuals, it’s shepherds to the flock, are to be chaste. That covers both homosexuality and heterosexuality. You can’t live up to those expectations, don’t be a priest. Period.
My Catholic Church, Catholic meaning “One”, is supposed to be one full body, the one directly descended group of followers of Jesus Christ Himself, it’s leaders the direct descendants of Peter. We are one body as a group, the one anointed Church. As such, we are all culpable in this dark period. We all have sin to lament, atonements to make.
One morning this week, immediately after the grand jury findings were released, local Philadelphia talk radio icon Michael Smerconish related a story of how his children had made their Sacraments, and had received congratulatory letters from the Cardinal, and he asked “What am I to think now?” He previously had looked on these letters, and they meaning behind them, with pride in his kids and respect for his Church.
I would say to Michael Smerconish that you should continue to look on those letters, but more importantly look on the attainment of these milestones of faith by your children with both love and pride. I would say to him that you should continue to teach your children the positive messages of Christ. I would say to him that you should remain faithful to the Church and all of it’s teachings.
I would also say to him, and to all Catholics across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and around the world, that you should, while continuing on your own sinful journey through this life, realize that the Church is led by men. Wherever there are men trying to spread the Word of God, wherever there is that shining light, there will be a creature of darkness trying to snuff it out, using the weakness of man to accomplish that task.
Forgive yourself and your Church. Stay true to your faith. Never turn your back. Never
surrender to darkness. And don’t allow your Church to do it either. Hold the Church, and it’s leaders, accountable for their actions and inactions. By your own demands and expectations, show the Church that you support it’s demands on yourself.
May God fully heal the lives of the victims of this dark tragedy. May He heal those who have perpetrated this evil on those victims. May he enlighten our current and future Church leaders to change. And May He heal us all as one body. May he heal His, our, Catholic Church.

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