Let me tell you the story of three women, Yvette, Sarah, and Rose. All have been impacted by the scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. All in different ways are grieving.
Yvette was a cradle Catholic. Born of baby boomer parents, the Church was an institution attended with rules followed. Her life was characterized by stability. In second grade when her parish priest was moved, and her mother said, “he was sick,” she thought nothing of it. When she learned in 2003 he was removed, sent to prison and later deported because he abused many, many boys, she shuttered thinking of the closed door to the confessional as she repeated the rehearsed words “I stole my sister’s hairbrush” to the Irish priest. Things were not as they seemed. The diocese went bankrupt and despite loving the Church, Yvette rarely trusted her priests.
Yvette’s friend, Sarah, was also raised Catholic, but in a home with emotional and physical abuse. Christ became the refuge, the strength needed to find a way out. Digging deeper into the faith and Spirit of God, her friend had the gift of discernment and was asked often to pray over people. Her priest became her spiritual director. He said he needed her. He isolated her. He gave her gifts, paid for her cell phone, then yelled at her or ignored her in public if she displeased him. After he tried to kiss her, she broke from him and he denied her communion. The Bishop apologized and told her to keep her distance. She did. She had no choice. It was impossible to breathe as she approached the consecration and communion following the trauma of having her one strength, her Lord, denied her. Sarah returned in time, and healing came, but she keeps her distance from ministry and watches her children like a hawk.
Rose’s experience differed. She grew up in a small town in the Midwest, with a good priest, a faithful flock. World Youth Day ignited her faith by introducing her to the Universal Church. She walked along, following the teachings, but at the reveal of the current scandal, she asked herself, “what is the point?” Who are these men leading, who never bothered her in her youth? Can any of them be trusted? How are they even relevant?
Something Must Be Done
The backgrounds of these three women differ. The need to face their emotions, process, and find healing remains the same. As the news pours out and each week reveals a new scandal, their reactions begin with shock, then alternate between rage and sorrow, sometimes despair.
Emotions themselves are neutral. To evaluate them, we must ask where do they come from? Are they black and white, crying “always” or “never”? Are they connected to the nuances of reality? This is a time of crisis, of scandal, this is a time of intense emotion. Will those enraged follow the Twitter cycle and move onto the next big thing? How can we turn these emotions into more than just the fleeting attention the internet encourages and grows?
By acknowledging something has been lost and something must be done…whether internally or externally. Something must be done.
Something Has Been Lost
Emotion is a sign that something inside of us needs tending. The anger and the sadness have a place in our lives.
The tasks of grief are 1) to accept the reality of the loss, 2) process your grief and pain, 3) adjust to the world as it is now, and 4) find a way to maintain a connection to the person whom you have lost. Usually written in relation to bereavement, the process of grief comes into play with any major change in our lives, even positive ones.
However the current crisis has hit you, I invite you to consider the change your heart undergoes in light of grief. Something has been lost.
For Yvette, the news confirmed what she has long believed about her local parish. For now, the strength is in the laypeople. She hopes there is more strength than that in the episcopate, but her experience precludes true optimism.
For Sarah, she wonders how long will this continue. She asks the innocent question, “why hide it?” knowing full well, we answer for the things we hide when all that is hidden becomes revealed in judgment. It does no one any good.
For Rose, she finds herself launched into a deep cynicism. Her focus will be on the local parish, but she no longer believes in the universal church as something functional.
What Drew Us to the Church?
Accepting the reality of loss will mean coming to terms with the shock of what we learned. One does not have to read the hundreds of pages of the Grand Jury report to face the problems honestly, to name the emotions we feel, to name the betrayal, abandonment of men who were supposed to be fathers. Sarah reflected and gained an understanding of the ways she was treated and how this undermined her dignity and freedom. “He taught me to enslave myself.”
What will we do with our anger or our sadness? We must also ask ourselves, “what have we lost?” What was our view of the Catholic Church before and how has that changed?
Rose never really questioned the goodness of the priests or bishops she encountered before. Her default was to believe them good. At the beginning of this process, she thought she would just have to assume the worst of them all. Now she sees she must evaluate the safety of a priest, the same as any person she encounters. Priests are fall human beings, too. It has not helped them or us to think otherwise.
To adjust to the world of this changed view, we ask where will we go from here?
Yvette intends deeper her involvement in lay ministries to accomplish the works of the Church, bypassing the clergy whenever possible. She is inspired to act by her generation’s call on social media to pray and fast in reparation for the sins of our leaders.
To maintain a connection, we consider, “What drew us to the Church in the first place?”
All three women answered: Christ, the Eucharist. No matter what, this has stayed the same.
Yvette offered one additional thought to her changed view as she processes her pain. She thinks of the image in “Revelation,” a short story by Flannery O’Connor. Grace works on nature, even a maimed nature. The limping and grotesque will enter Heaven. We will see grace act even though the grotesque. The limping and maimed may bring us the Eucharist. It is still grace. It is still God.