A Catholic Girl & the Sexual Abuse Scandal

I posted the following on my Facebook page the other day along with the announcement of Cardinal Justin Rigali’s resignation.  It was reported that Cardinal Rigali was resigning over his involvement in the coverup of the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese.  Here is what I said:

Okay, I am a lifelong Catholic who continues to be disgusted by the hierarchy of the Church’s inability to adequately address this issue. Our pastor asked that we stop criticizing our priests because the abuse of some by a few is akin to the sin of asking about why women cannot be ordained.  Really?  Like we have this overwhelming problem with women.

Now, the “company line” on Cardinal Rigali’s resignation was that he was retiring and that it was not due to the latest in the now decades long sexual abuse scandal.  My post generated some interesting dialogue.

So, Cardinal Rigali’s resignation prompted my post, but I referenced information from a letter from the pastor of our parish that was published in our weekly bulletin over a year ago.  Can you tell that I’ve been stewing about it ever since?

For the record, in the early days of the Church when services were held in the home, women had a much more prominent role in them.  Women, such as Priscilla, were teaching the faith and leading the early congregations.  When the Church moved services out of the home and into separate buildings, the religion became more institutionalized and women’s and men’s roles became defined differently.

As I said, my post generated a lively dialogue and in a follow-up comment I said:

It’s a difficult situation and one with which I am struggling, but we haven’t stopped donating. The Church does a lot of good works, and there are a lot of good people. But for our pastor to try and shift blame and diminish the victims was almost too much for me. And I think a lot of them have this attitude. Many just do not seem to get it.

My husband and I are lifelong Catholics.  I refuse to use the term “cradle Catholics” because that has taken on a pejorative meaning these days – one that suggests that if you were born and raised Catholic you do not have a full understanding of your Church and your faith.

Now, I understand that to a degree.  Our parents, grandparents and other ancestors, too, were taught to accept our faith blindly.  What they were taught, they believed without questioning why.  The Catholic Church is not and will never be a democracy, but I believe that many people today believe that you should never accept things blindly.

That is why we, my husband and I, have made a conscious effort to continue to learn about and understand our Church and our faith throughout our adult lives.  We also felt it was very important to practice our faith with our children and to raise them within this moral framework.

When we talk about the hierarchy of the Church, we are referring to the men, because they are all men, starting with our parish priests all the way up to the pope.  These men are a close fraternity of brothers.  But they are not only a family with each other but also with those of us who sit in their congregations.  That is why we refer to them as “father.”

And therein lies the rub.  We expect our family members to protect us, to care for us, and to keep us from harm.  The sad reality is that most cases of abuse, sexual and otherwise, occur at the hands of family members and others whom we trust.  That makes it an especially egregious crime.

For many years, priests who committed these types of acts were simply “treated” and then moved around from parish to parish.   And victims and their families kept quiet mostly out of shame.  But then we became more knowledgeable about how sexual abuse affects the victims and how to handle the perpetrators of these crimes.

The current “scandal” involving the sexual abuse of minors by priests has been going on since the mid-1980s.  That is over 25 years.  We aren’t talking about just a few cases here.  We are talking about hundreds of priests and thousands of victims.  And in a close fraternity of brothers, it’s hard to believe that others were totally unaware of the problem priests.

So, for our parish priest to act outraged that he and his brothers aren’t being supported is one thing, but his words seem to imply not only that the problem is overblown but compares it to a (virtually nonexistent) problem with women.  This reeks of misogyny to me.

If the Holy Spirit can reveal to us that God became man in the person of Jesus – an incredible notion to be sure – then it is in the realm of possibility to me that the Holy Spirit could someday reveal to us that women can have a greater role in the hierarchy of the Church.  And there is precedence for this in Sacred Scripture and in the early history of our Church.  But I find it impossible that the Holy Spirit might one day reveal that it’s okay to sexually abuse children.  So to position the two things side-by-side makes me feel angry and sad and alienated.

I am outraged over our pastor’s outrage.  Where is the outrage against these grievous acts, against the perpetrators, and for the victims?  Why isn’t there more outrage within the hierarchy over this?  They may have their talking points down pat, but I truly believe that the good old boys just do not seem to get it.  If they did, the problem would be resolved and virtually eliminated once and for all.  Unfortunately, I believe that this sin and stain on the Church will continue for many years to come.

Perhaps there is a problem with women in the Church.  One where we are so outraged and alienated that we abandon all but the most minimal participation in the Church.

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