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?
Thank you for returning to this subject. I too watched “Spotlight” and was riveted. I kept waiting for one of the reporters on the case to get threatened or physically harmed, but that didn’t happen, and they succeeding in shining the spotlight on massive abuses of power. I am not Catholic, but I am a survivor of sexual abuse, and I know with certainty that the same abuse of power taking the form of sexual assault takes place in other religions and in the halls of political power as well. Although sexual misconduct is the outlet for this abuse of power, it isn’t a sexual issue and should not be responded to as such.
While you are waiting and hoping for a cordial response to your protest, I am waiting for Francis to do a thorough housecleaning of the church. An audit of the Vatican Bank is in progress, and we’ll see how that goes. At the same time, he could start with demoting Cardinal Law (such an ironic last name) who was the Boston cardinal referred to in “Spotlight” as the top church official there who looked the other way during the scandal then got promoted to go to the Vatican. After getting rid of Law, Francis could set in motion an enormous investigation of clergy sexual abuse worldwide. My fantasy and my fear, however, is that both the financial corruption and the cancer of sexual abuse in the church are so widespread and involves so many church officials that Francis may not be able to open those cans of worms without endangering his own life.
The biggest reason I am not in jail is because of the Catholic church. They are the ones who taught me that Jesus was laughed at and ridiculed (King of the Jews) and thus allowed me to forgive the Count Attorney who laughed at my deposition when I said that Jesus had forgiven Dismas. If Jesus could be laughed at, I reasoned, then why not I too? Having credited the Catholic church with transmitting that knowledge to me I must say this. I really make the Catholics angry and without even trying. Two Catholic priests have eye pierced me in a most hateful way, in church, mind you. For the longest time I tried to figure out if I had done something wrong and if so what it was. Finally I asked myself if Dr. Patterson had ever given me such an evil look and I realized that he had not and concluded that the eye piercing was not my fault. Let me tell you this. Do not try to think outside the box with these people. It will not work.
It is so heartbreaking: the terrible wrong so deeply hurting the young and the vulnerable, the loss of trust and regard for Church leadership due to those who covered it up, and finally, the turning away from the Church and faith by those so scandalized.
One Sunday, about three or four years ago, an 85 year old, wonderful Jesuit said to the assembled at Mass that like us he some times wondered “why stay?” Then he said he looked at all our faces and knew we were why he remained.
I know many of the clergy are good men. Some are indeed holy in the humble and loving ways they minister to others. And then there is Francis!
I pray for our pope as he overhauls the Vatican and admonishes the bishops who wear their power on their sleeves.
Meanwhile I have faith in the Church, the holy people of God. I remain because of their faces and the light and wonder and love they hold.
I am heartbroken whenever I hear of anyone in the Church sucumming to sin without repentance. Espexrily if it is in the limelight and causes others to stumble or lose their faith altogether. “It would be better to have a milestone tied around ones neck ..” No one is immune from temptation, including Jesus. What Jesus teaches us is to rebuke the enemy with scripture. And when we fail and give into sin, we are to ask forgiveness and repent and sin no more. I agree with you that this is an abuse of power as a result of the sin “pride”. When leaders in any church sin and do not repent and instead do damage control as in the Cathikic Church’s example, true repentance does not take place nor does healing. Nor does anyone watching learn how to do this which religion is supposed to be teaching us. Granted these abuses are occurring across all religions, it has occurred to me that the Catholic Church may be modern-day Pharisees. Thank you for speaking up Rich and staying strong to what is right. They may react negativity but as you know, persecution is an honor when you are speaking truth in the name of Jesus. Pope Francis brings love and hope and I will continue to pray for him to weed out the tares.
Reblogged this on WRITING STRONG WOMEN and commented:
Guest blogger stands up for what is right. Women and men have been sexually abused by ministers and priests and gotten away with it. Thank goodness for men like Dr. Patterson who isn’t afraid to take a stand. I stand right beside him.
As Popes go, Frances is a one of the best. I like him.
Still, let’s stop worshipping one person who was appointed by a group of other men. He is a human like the rest of us. It’s time for the church to consider more deeply it’s true power … the laity.
The scandal is appalling, but as a cradle Catholic my faith is not in the all too human beings who are in charge, but in Jesus. The “Spotlight” needs to be on the church, and although it is difficult to process this kind of information, it is necessary in order for things to change.