Both left me with a roiling stomach and an aching head. I fired off a message to a coworker thanking him for his excellent reporting and also confessing that I would very much like to commit murder after reading it.
Just when I think I can’t be shocked any further by the level of depravity and corruption within some leaders of the institutional Church – within the human soul – I am naively shocked anew.
I was raging about this to my husband this morning at the breakfast table and he asked me, kindly but frankly, “did you really not think this existed? Does this really surprise you?”
No. And yes.
And each time I read about another child’s life destroyed and another diocese or parish deceived by and forced to endure a predator in their midst, the rage bubbles up anew.
“You have to understand,” I began frustratedly, “that for an almost pathologically self-disclosing choleric like me, this level of duplicity is unfathomable.” I made the point that to live a similar level of deception would involve, for example, my obtaining regular secret abortions and having an IUD while continuing to publicly blog about the sanctity of life and the immorality of contraception.
“Give me,” I said dramatically, “all the gay pride marchers in the Tenderloin over a single, closeted gay bishop committing child abuse or sodomizing seminarians. At least they’re living in reality.”
How someone can preach the Gospel on Sunday and destroy a young boy’s life on Monday is beyond comprehension. I feel such impotent maternal rage. Dave made the comparison to Mary Magdalene; I snapped back that she wasn’t masquerading as a Pharisee while making her living as a prostitute.
Give me all the St. Mary Magdalenes throughout all of history over a single Judas. (Also, aren’t you glad you’re not living in a household headed by two adults who both work for or around the Church right now?)
I have no idea the point I’m making here, just that every time I read a new report or hear about another facet of the scandal, the rage boils anew. I made my long-suffering husband list off with me the number of good and holy bishops we knew personally. Maybe there are lots more, we don’t know all that many in the larger scheme of things. It was a modest list.
For all my adult life I’ve imagined that then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s infamous line about “a smaller, holier Church” would involve social collapse and government persecution. Now I feel quite certain that here, in the US at least, the smaller Church has already arrived.
It consists of Catholics who profess, believe, and live out the teachings of the Catholic Church. And who get their asses to Confession when they fall short, again and again. Clergy and laity alike.
It’s tempting to stay here, in a self righteous pique of rage. Every time I read another story of a cover up, a failure to act, a man who was entrusted with representing the fatherhood of God acting like another satan instead, I want to throw in the towel.
Especially considering this: that even within the embrace of holy Mother Church, I am still basically a miserable human being. I would be dead without the grace of the Sacraments. Spiritually, yes, but possibly physically too. I was reflecting on this as I was alone in my car yesterday afternoon, a rare moment of solitude. I turned off the radio and forced myself to reflect in the silence; there is precious little of it in my life in this present season.
I’m being a hypocrite. I was Catholic in name only in college. I was a miserable, wretched, pharisaical sinner.
I’m still a sinner. But back then, if somebody held me and my selfish, sinful, degenerate lifestyle up as a model of what Christians are like, my God, they’d lose their faith in an instant.
It’s not a perfect comparison. I never took vows of chastity or poverty or obedience. I wasn’t presenting myself as the public face of the Church. Not institutionally, at least. But I was, just the same, a public witness to the person of Christ.
What would someone who encountered Jenny of 2003 think of Catholicism? Of Jesus? Of His Church? It makes me acutely nauseous to consider.
And yet in my wretched poverty, He didn’t turn His back on me.
People within the Church who were pursuing lives of holiness and integrity welcomed me with open arms and refused to be scandalized by my sin.
Who am I to judge now, then? (And I’m not saying that the sinful and illegal actions in each of these cases should not be judged and prosecuted when they do come to light – just that perhaps it’s not my particular job to do so.)
I have to put aside my natural rage and the deep, deep desire for justice to be served and submit these impulses over and over again to Christ. Everything I’ve dragged to the confessional for months now has been this, and almost only this: that I cannot stomach another abuse report, cannot stand to read about one more instance of inaction from Rome, struggle mightily to rein in my imagination from making leaps to judgement.
But I must not leave. We must stand firm no matter how dark the days become. And I do believe they will become much, much darker.
I read this piece from Elizabeth Scalia this morning with tears springing to my eyes in public, hardly caring if the guy on the treadmill next to me saw.
Yes, Lord. It felt like I was reading words from the depths of my own heart, spilled out in someone else’s words.
Strengthen my faith, Lord. Don’t let me turn away when it becomes even darker.
Maranatha, Lord Jesus.