Why it is important to shine a light on dark things
I think this is a great piece from Steve Skojec at 1 Peter 5. It starts by presenting Steve's experience as a Catholic, an experience which does not involve any knowledge of abuse or inclination to abuse:
Never in my life has any priest made a pass at me. Never have I been touched inappropriately or even given a hint that a priest I knew was so inclined. Neither have any family members disclosed this to me. Nor have any friends.Thank God! And thank God this is the experience of many of us. It is important to remember and affirm that the majority of us do not have any experience of this sort of horror within our Church and that the vast majority of clergy are good, hard-working, honest men who have dedicated their lives to the service of others.
Steve expresses his own disbelief and desire to defend the Catholic Church from the first accusations of abuse:
In 2002, when the sex abuse crisis broke, I did not believe it at first. I thought it was exaggerated. I reacted with outrage at what I thought was just another attack on the Church. A couple of years later, I met a Catholic man through my job who had been involved in the investigation of the Church abuse accusations. He managed to convince me that there was truth to it. That it wasn’t just anti-Catholic bias.This is a sentiment I also recognise and admire. You see, anyone who is truly following Jesus would fundamentally abhor these sins, because that's the whole point really - we are trying to confirm to Christ, to improve, to grow, to change, to turn away from sin and to recognise that even though we may have sinful inclinations, with the help of grace received through the sacraments, we can master concupiscence and temptation and be free of the chains of sin.
Living happily, comfortably in the bosom of the Church, this is the experience. That experience being as life-affirming and fulfilling as it is means that you would naturally fail to recognise a set of accusations to at odds with that fundamental message. But it seems ever clearer that it is a reality and you can recognise certain patterns of behaviour that warn you of its' presence. As Steve explains:
this culture of secrecy and perversion is...inextricably intertwined with the overarching problems with heresy, doctrinal error, and general ecclesiastical corruptionThis culture exists where you see clergy seeking to change doctrine, manipulate it, or hide it. It exists where the false message of "mercy" is preached - where the pastor tells you that Jesus accepts you "just as you are" you are "perfect, valuable", where sin is never mentioned, where change and growth are not discussed, where you are not to blame for your actions and there are no consequences for anything. Where Christ is hidden (this is common in my own diocese). This tends to be coupled with a cult of personality. You find individual priests are worshipped by a small group of individuals. If you're not part of the clique, you're cast out. The majority of lay people today have no formation and tend to build their theology on what they are told by someone they like. Whether that is accurate or not doesn't matter a whole lot. As you can imagine, this in itself is hugely open to abuse and a manipulation of what the Church teaches into something much more subjective.
This has been something I have experienced many times. The result I always see is confused lay people who tend to ultimately feel hugely let down.
So what is the answer? A wise priest once told me not to follow ANY man, follow Christ. We get to know Christ through developing a familiarity with Sacred Scripture. I don't mean reading it cover to cover necessarily, but maybe choose a Gospel and read it, or an epistle. We get to know Christ through the Sacraments: by receiving Him in Holy Communion and by sincere preparation for that reception in Confession. By developing a prayer life and praying with our families. By reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and learning what the Church teaches: informing our consciences. But centring our lives in the richness and beauty of our Catholic faith and letting it become who and what we are, how we raise our children, how we conduct our friendships and relationships.
To me it seems that as difficult as these crises are in the Church, it is important that we shine a light on them and call them out. We need these men to recognise their sin and repent, we need that so that we have no more Catholic victims of their evil predation, and also so men who enter these positions of great responsibility start to recognise that we will not accept any other than the Catholic faith from them.