CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
When I learned of the accusations in June against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, my heart broke. The Pennsylvania grand jury report from August that said more than 300 priests had sexually abused hundreds of children devastated me. The allegations by former nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano against Pope Francis, Cardinal Donald Wuerl and other Church leaders crushed me.
For most of us students, we have never known a perfect Church. Since the 1990s and especially after 2002, when the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” report came out, the Church we have grown up in has always been bleeding from the wounds of rogue clergy who abused their flocks and failed to be spiritual fathers, Christ’s representatives to us on earth.
When I was just over a year old, my diocesan bishop, who was well-loved by many in the diocese, resigned after it was revealed that he had a long-running sexual relationship with one of his priests. Eventually, more accusations revealed that this bishop had a long history of sexual impropriety and cost the diocese millions of dollars.
At 7 years old, two of my parish priests were accused of sexual misconduct. One priest was accused of inappropriately touching a young girl and the other one was accused of making advances to the same girl’s mother. While both accusations turned out to be false, it shook our community to the core.
I was 9 when I moved in 2007 to another city where my father had found a job. The dearly-loved pastor there was suspended months after we arrived when allegations were made that he had sexually abused boys in incidents ranging from the 1990s up until 2007.
I saw the reaction of the parish community for what it was: pure shock and disbelief that this man would ever have hurt a young person in such a wretched and evil way.
“I know he’s innocent. I’ve never been as sure of anything in my life.” “The charges are total crap.” “We believe in Father and we support Father.”
To me, their reactions are totally understandable. But none of that could change the actions the priest had hidden from them, the ways he betrayed their trust and hurt members of his flock. Even months before his 2010 death, the priest abused another boy and betrayed the faithful’s trust in him once again.
That last incident particularly struck me because that could have been me. According to news reports, the boy was an altar server at my parish at the time of his abuse and had been since 2007, just before I started serving. The first Mass I ever served was with this priest, and to think that someone in my same position and my same age had been abused by this priest was a harsh realization.
This realization, along with the other early exposures to such a terrible issue, holds a lingering sorrow in my heart. I love my Church with my entire heart and it pains me beyond words that other young people had their experience of the Church robbed from them by the very men supposed to show them the way to Our Lord.
A few weeks ago, a household brother and I watched “Spotlight,” the movie on the aforementioned Boston Globe’s investigation. While watching the movie – which I recommend everyone does – all these emotions swirled inside of me and I began to question who remained in the Church that I could trust. Was it possible that these rogue clergy could do away with and corrupt the good work that the holy priests and bishops I know and respect have done in my own life?
I went to bed struggling with those thoughts, waking up early the next morning to get ready for the day’s events. My household and I headed to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., where one of our dear brothers was ordained to the transitional diaconate. During the Mass, I looked at the dozens of priests supporting these men moving toward the priesthood of Jesus Christ. I could see the zeal and resolve in their eyes.
They knew what was at stake. They knew that many Catholics had lost their trust in them because of the actions of other clergy. They knew the road ahead would be hard and trying, but they were still lying prostrate in front of the altar, telling us all that they would be different, that they would dedicate their lives to restoring Christ’s Church for us.
That moment reminded me that no matter what some priests have done in the past, they will never eliminate the heart of the Church. As Matthew 16 says, “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
The Church will continue to recover and grow, even if the progress is slow. For now, we must continue to strive for justice, pray for the victims and not lose hope. Our hope is in the Lord, and he will save his Church. There is life after the darkness, and we must never forget that.