As a practicing Catholic, it is difficult for me to articulate how the past few days since the report on sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania has been released. While we’ve known about this evil for over a decade, the fresh betrayal, renewed denial, and continued excuses have ripped open a wound in my heart that was really only beginning to heal. Perhaps this time around, hearing about the atrocities as an adult, it cuts even deeper.
If we are to take our faith seriously, times like these should shake us to the core. I’ve asked myself if I should stop going to Church. Does my very presence there in some way act as a “pass” for these violent men and the corrupt leaders that protect them? Should I find a different Church, one with less baggage and less greed, one less intent on protecting itself at the expense of innocents?
But on the other hand, I really don’t want to give these men my faith. They’ve taken so much from all of us, from their victims especially. Do they really get to walk off with my relationship with God? Do I let them snatch the Eucharist from me, along with my safety and my trust?
For many of you, that last sentence may sound like nonsense. But it’s everything. The truth is, if you believe in the Eucharist, than another Christian church simply can’t provide the relationship with God that the Catholic Church does. Maybe that’s how they take advantage and hold us in. Or maybe it’s the intimate mystical connection that we hold it to be, in which case God damn every one of these people who has committed sacrilege against it. I mean that seriously.
So then what is the responsibility of those of us who who choose to stay? Father James Martin wrote a beautiful column for the New York Times where he argued that we as lay people have a responsibility to use our anger to activate change in the Church. That’s all well and good. But the reality is that we as lay people don’t have any formal power. Which is why this was allowed to continue in the first place. As Rabi Ruti Regan argued on Twitter, the Church is a patriarchy intent on protecting and promulgating its own self. In other words, as a lay person I have no power and as a woman I have even less. Which brings me back to the question of what I ought to do.
I am a playwright. That is what I do, and I’ve done it for a pretty long time. I don’t hold any lofty ideas about art being superior to other forms of communication, or art being able to change the minds and hearts of large groups of people. I think at one point I thought that way, but now I just consider it one more form of communicating. It can reach some; others are basically indifferent. But God blessed me with this specific form of communication and I think we are supposed to use the talents we were given to serve God.
When this report came out, I was already in the process of producing two short plays about the Catholic Church. Each of them grapples with my struggles with the Church in different ways, but together they hold a great deal of what I’ve been feeling. It’s strange that when this broke out I was already in the process of doing this work. It has been a rough process itself, as the festival I’m producing them in has had its own share of controversy. For a while, I considered not joining the festival. But now I’m very glad I stayed. I think God knew what He was doing asking me to put up these pieces. Catholics need to talk about their feelings on the Church. The need to wrestle with their grief. They need to confront their anger and demand change. We need to scream for change, even if the men up top aren’t listening. I think eventually they will fall. Whether their fall equates to the Church falling depends on the laity. How strong is our faith? How much do we value our relationship with God over Earthly institutions. I hope the answer is that we value our relationship with God completely and the Earthly institutions only insofar as they serve to bridge the divide between us and the divine.
So I’m digging in. Hard. I’m going back to the page, ripping them back open and confronting the Church where we are now. I’m letting everyone in that 99-seat theater know how I feel. And that I’m still here. And that I’m still in Church. Listening. Holding them accountable. Because someone has to.