In the Face of Scandal

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

I was 16 when the 2002 scandals broke out. With limited internet access and no newspaper subscription, I was kept blessedly ignorant, for which I'm now thankful. Maybe it saved my faith.

I'd still heard about it, though. I was relieved it hadn't happened in our diocese (although years later I would learn that our diocese wasn't without its own sordid tales). When Jehovah's Witnesses encountered me at home later that year, their eyes lit up when they found out we were a Catholic family.

"So what do you think about the scandals?"

"Well," I answered tritely, "Priests are humans, too. We're all sinners. I think we can extend forgiveness." They never did return, which was probably a wise decision.

Now let's imagine 16-year-old me giving that response to an abuse victim.

Half a life later, I realize what a trite, inadequate response that was. And yet somehow it's a response I'm seeing from adults who should know better. There are quite a few sentiments I'm seeing expressed insensitively regarding the current news of still more scandal, coverups, and overwhelming sin extending to the highest levels of Church hierarchy. None of them helpful. Here are some:

1. This all happened so long ago!

Yes, yes it did. That doesn't make it any less horrifying. Particularly since it all happened so long ago and we're only hearing of it now. If this is a sentiment that comforts you, that's fine. But it does nothing to help any victims who still live with the pain of being groomed, abused, and silenced for years. Many of the priest-abusers never saw earthly justice, as they passed away before the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was published. Many will never see earthly justice, given the statute of limitations on their crimes.

Don't tell us we should be comforted by the fact that these crimes occurred "so long ago."

2. It's just too "convenient" that all these "victims" who were abused so long ago are suddenly remembering these crimes. It's all a smear campaign against the Church!

By now I truly, truly hope you've realized that, in fact, many of these victims did come forward, only to be silenced, told that "it wasn't really abuse" or "you're just being too sensitive." There are victims who still desperately love the Church and want to see reform, but who are told their accusations will hurt the Church as a whole.

3. The secular mainstream media is just sensationalizing all of this because they hate religion!

I'm honestly seeing far less mainstream media coverage of this than I would expect. I think they might just not care anymore. This is old news. The Church is doing enough to hurt itself without the mainstream media needing to do anything to misrepresent the institution.

4. This is a problem everywhere - public schools, Protestant churches, etc. Why don't we focus on them? Why just the Catholic Church?

Because we're uniquely invested, emotionally, eternally, in our Church. Let's clean house here, where we can. We're all horrified that these same abuses are occurring in other areas as well. That doesn't diminish the fact that our priests, bishops, and cardinals, who should be beyond reproach, have shown that the trust we placed in our shepherds was twisted for diabolical purposes.

So what can we even do?

This takes different forms with different people. As with all things, I think we begin with prayer. Consider this Novena of Saints for a Church in Crisis. Add a daily rosary. Open your Bible. Read the daily readings (they've been extremely relevant lately, let me tell you).

Pray for the victims of abuse and their families. Pray that, even in the midst of crisis, good and holy men might be inspired to answer God's call to the priesthood. Pray that the laity might have the courage to speak truth to our leaders and inspire them to make the necessary changes to ensure this never happens again. Pray for the purification of our seminaries. Pray for the softening of hardened hearts. Pray for those who feel their only option is to leave the Church. Pray for justice.

If prayer is hard for you right now, please reach out and ask others to pray for you - we will help you carry that weight.

Do not abandon the sacraments. If it's hard for you to get to Mass because you hear nothing but silence from the pulpit, bring your rosary, plug your ears, and pray during the homily. One thing that has comforted me is the knowledge that despite any imperfections (or, let's be real, horrifying sinfulness) on the part of the priest, the sacraments are still valid.

Consider concrete action. Join the #sackclothandashes campaign and invite others to join you as well. Allow your small sacrifices to allow you to "stand beside Christ crucified and whisper, 'I'm sorry for what they did to you, Jesus. But I love you. I'm here.'" (just read this whole post)

Write to your bishop. Write to the bishops who are making strong statements that you affirm and appreciate. Write to the USCCB and demand concrete action. Write to your parish priests. Thank the good priests you know for their service and their loyalty. And pray for them.

Be prepared for spiritual warfare. If you feel a push back, an intangible resistance to your efforts to pray more to root out this pervasive rot, double down. And pray for your fellow spiritual warriors. Pray the St. Michael prayer often. Invoke the saints who were spiritual reformers.

If you are hurting, if you are angry, if you are numb, we are here, praying for you and with you.

I know I have a few non-Catholic readers - if you are a person of prayer, please, please join us in praying for all those hurt by these scandals, and for a purification of the Church to ensure this never happens again.


  1. I think we can also advocate in our own parishes. Be the one to talk about the safety of children. Ask to see how Virtus training and background checks of those working with kids are implemented and monitored. Is your parish in compliance with best practices? Are volunteers and staff interacting with children with another adult always present? Are altar servers alone with adults? There are many ways to make sure that the parish is a vigilant place.

    1. YES. And I think an overhaul of the Virtus training would be in order - I've heard pretty terrible things about it even giving future abusers ideas :(

  2. This non-Catholic reader says: what an insightful, honest, enlightening post. Thank you.

  3. I appreciate your article. I have a comment on this comment, though. I’m a former Virtus trainer. I’ve never hear of abusers getting ideas from it. Participants generally walk away with many more tools to understand warning signs and to create safe places for children and vulnerable adults. I’m an advocate of constant improvement in general, but I desagree that Virtus is so flawed to begin with.

    1. Thank you, Paula! Maybe I'm hearing about it from a different program, not Virtus? But there was a pretty heart-wrenching comment thread on a friend's Facebook post about a family member who subsequently became an abuser after going through a program designed to prevent abuse :(


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