The news of the sexual abuse scandal out of Pennsylvania has rocked the global Catholic Church to its core. The findings of the Grand Jury report, along with the sheer number of victims and perpetrators, is nothing short of shocking. The immense cover up is almost unfathomable.
Words do not do justice.
And although Canadian Catholics like myself haven’t been caught up in the abuse itself there’s not a single Catholic I can think of in my network of friends who hasn’t felt significantly shaken by the news.
It’s a big deal.
So, understandably, many Catholics from across the world headed to Mass on Sunday hoping to hear some kind of response. Indeed, many priests and bishops have already spoken out. On Facebook, Twitter, and through media releases, many are offering heartfelt apologies, taking concrete steps at reparation, and promising sweeping changes to protect our society’s most vulnerable. These messages are important and welcomed.
Some clergy, like the now infamous Cardinal Wuerl, have responded poorly—in his case, hiring, and then firing, a public relations firm to try clear up his besmirched public persona instead of, say, apologizing. And while many are arguing that the response of the United States Bishops’ Conference has been, thus far, lukewarm, the number of flat-headed responses like Cardinal Wuerl’s have been mercifully few and far between.
But there remains a whole other category of priests and bishops who, sadly, make up the majority in their response.
And that response is silence.
Of all the Catholics I’ve spoken to. From those that have vowed to never leave the Church—come the hounds of hell or high water—to those reluctantly shuffling towards the exits the feeling is the same: silence is not acceptable.
To the clergy, from all their sons and daughters, we need to hear from you now.
It is not enough to standby and say to yourself, “I wasn’t involved. It doesn’t concern me. My parish isn’t worried,” because you’re wrong. It does concern you and we are worried. We are worried about a system which has failed our Catholic youth. Which manipulates, uses, and abuses our most precious gifts from God—our children. A system which works not to free sinners from sin, not to heal broken souls, but to cover up the tracks of its own, at all costs.
Because silence allows a system to go on working like its always worked. A system which seems nefarious, despicable, and down right evil—in spite of the righteous, holy priests who are trying their best to work from within. Speaking out means taking a stand; to say, “No more,” and, “I will speak out against this.” And, “I will not be involved.”
It means standing up in front of a congregation, in front of a diocese, in front of the listening and watching world and saying, “This is shit but for my part, I will never, ever, let this happen on my watch.”
And that, dear priests and bishops, is what the laity is dying to hear.
I cannot imagine what it’s like to wear a Roman Collar this past week with so much media attention. I cannot imagine, for a second, what it’s like to be lumped in with brother priests and bishops who are behaving so badly; who are ruining the lives of so, so many and driving many more away from the Catholic Church altogether. It must break the heart of every good priest and bishop. And it is hard, I’m sure, to even say the words, “sexual abuse” in front of a room of people that you love but we are your congregations, we are you parishioners, we are the tired and broken and abused.
And we need to hear from you.
Because it is not you who have failed us, not in the least. But as the visible arms, and hands, and feet of the system we need to be reassured. Because, in the end, to all the good priests and bishops who have remained silent: we love you. We want to hear that you love us too because we are kind of scared. We are shocked and in shock. We are hurt.
And we want to begin to heal.