My wife and I recently attended a showing of the film Spotlight. This film portrays the staff of the Boston Globe and their investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests of Boston as well as subsequent efforts by Church hierarchy to cover up these incidents. The film is excellent and unsettling, especially at the end when a listing is presented of cities in the US with documented cases of clergy abuse. El Paso is in the list.
It was my response to these issues as they unfolded in West Texas that had me labelled as an “enemy of the Church” by El Paso diocese officials. When that official left, I was invited to participate in the committee that evaluated cases of inappropriate behavior by priests. I resigned after involvement in a case in which the priest received what I considered a slap on the wrist. I then did a TV interview in which I expressed concern about El Paso diocesan response to the crisis and stated my belief that “my Church is dying”. This did not endear me to those diocesan officials.
I have treated a number of victims of clergy abuse. Beyond the trauma of such incidents, these men and women suffer from a profound sense of betrayal not just by the perpetrator but by the Church in general. Without exception, each person suffered at least a crisis if not a loss of faith. Most found spiritual healing in other ways not involving the Catholic Church.
What I continue to believe is that both the acts of abuse as well as the hierarchy’s response has its roots in pride and an abuse of power. The belief seems to have been that, because these men were/are priests, they are above the law. The sickness in the Church has to do with a corruption of power, not lust.
Nowadays Church officials are running scared, fearful of lawsuits. There has always been an undercurrent of tension between clergy and laity which is now intensified. Who does one trust? say parties on both sides. Pope Francis is trying to promote healing but most Church officials seem more motivated by damage control.
Back in 1997, I wrote an article for America magazine titled “My Church is Dying”. I noted then in regard to my Church that I needed to “let go and let God”, noting “I need to give my Church back to God for it is only from God that we can hope for the grace and enlightenment necessary to renew the Church.” Some 18 years later, I am still waiting. And hoping.
Reflection: Whether or not you are Catholic, what has been your response to that crisis as well as to incidents of abuse of power common to all world religions? How has that reality affected your own spiritual journey?