How This Began
Updated: May 2, 2019
In August 2018, my family went on our dream vacation to Rome, seeing amazing ancient sites, praying in beautiful churches, and eating lots of gelato. While we were there, I saw a few headlines about the Philadelphia Grand Jury Report and the scandal with former cardinal McCarrick, but I quickly clicked away. I desperately needed a vacation, and I didn’t want to spend my precious time ruminating about bad news.
When we got back from Rome, the real world came rushing back in. It was horrible. I stayed up late into the night, clicking on story after story, reading through the grand jury report, too horrified to look away. At the same time, I heard from other lay Catholics about their disappointment as they went to mass and heard nothing from the pulpit, as if the story that was dominating the conversation the rest of the week suddenly disappeared on Sunday mornings, where we continued with business as usual. The people in the pews were sad and hurt and feeling betrayed, and many of them faced a parish where no one seemed to care.
I was working in parish ministry at the time, and our churches were determined to be different. In September, I was one of several lay staff members who had the opportunity to give a short witness talk at masses in our parishes, as one small step in our response to the abuse crisis. (If you would like to read about all of the steps we took in Fall 2018, you can read this post I wrote for the blog “To Go Forth,” sponsored by the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Justice, Peace, and Human Development.)
It feels like the words from my witness talk were spoken a long time ago, by a very different person, but perhaps they’re still worth sharing today.
Good morning friends. I am here today to speak about the clerical abuse scandal. I have to say, I thought that it was a good idea for us to have lay ministers speak at all masses, but now that I’m up here, I’m not so sure. I have been pretty critical of the statements some priests and bishops have made, but now that I have to make my own, it’s actually pretty scary. I know there are no right words right now, and honestly, there are a lot of words that are causing more hurt than help. Please just know that I am doing my best, because I think that it’s important that we talk about this, and because I love you all and I care so deeply about the Church. It’s also hard to speak calmly today because I’m really, really angry. I’m not normally an angry person, but as I began to hear the news about former Cardinal McCarrick and read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, I was just furious - and disgusted and frustrated and so, so sad. As I was struggling to process everything, I was fortunate to hear a homily from a wise and holy priest. He acknowledged the anger we are all feeling and, more than that, told us that it was ok to feel angry - that there is a place for righteous anger, the kind that comes from caring deeply about the suffering of another, the kind of anger that leads us to take action. So, in case you need to hear it too, I say the same thing to you today: Whatever you are feeling - anger, frustration, betrayal, sadness - it’s ok. We feel these deep emotions because we care about our Church, and we expect better of our leaders. I also want to thank you. Thank you for being here today. I know it may not have been easy to come to mass today, or over these past few weeks. I know that it is a very hard time to be Catholic. So, thank you for your faithfulness to the Church and to each other. I know that we need each other right now, and I am grateful to each of you for being here to pray with me today. Please know that we at the parish are available to talk. You can always reach out to our priests directly or to any one of the staff members. I want you to know that you can contact me if you have ideas or if you just need to sit down with someone to process, yell, cry, or pray. We know this is hard. We are here for you. (Note: My original talk also included a description of some of the concrete steps our parishes were taking to respond, which I am omitting here.) As staff members were discussing what we should say in these talks, we all agreed that we wanted to end with something hopeful. I know it is a dark time in the church, and it may feel dark for a long time, but I also know, without doubt, that there is light. I don’t know where you are finding that light right now, whether it’s in recognizing all the good that the Church is doing for the poor in our city today, or in the way that this parish supports and prays for one another, even in tough times. It might be in remembering that the Church isn’t just the hierarchy, but the whole Body of Christ, or in recalling all the good and holy priests you have encountered in your life. Perhaps you are encouraged by seeing bishops who are taking a stand and forcefully insisting on systemic change, or by believing that Jesus knows the suffering of humanity and suffers with us. Maybe you are trusting that a God of Resurrection can always bring life out of death. Whatever you are clinging to, I encourage you to keep on clinging to it. For me, there are two things that are getting me through these days: The first is prayer - prayer for victims of abuse, for the universal Church, for our bishops and priests, and particularly for our own good pastors, who are heartbroken and suffering along with us. I am also praying for wisdom and trust and hope - because at this moment, for me, these things are only going to come from God. I am praying, over and over, Jesus, I trust in you. I am also clinging to the powerful calling of Jesus - who loves me and saves me and needs me here, to fight for the Church I love. Because ultimately, that’s why I’m here - and I hope that’s why you’re here too. I am here for Jesus, for his love poured out in the Eucharist, for his presence in this community, for his call to transform the world. I am here for Jesus, and I’m not going anywhere. Because this Church belongs to me, like it belongs to you, and I will not let anyone, no matter how evil their actions, tear me away from Jesus. Thank you for listening. I love you.
If I had the opportunity to speak again today, my words might be very different,
but I think I would land in the same place:
Jesus, I trust in you.