Catholicism in the Age of Scandal

My first girlfriend’s family was Catholic. I was 13, living in Germany, while my parents worked at a school teaching the children of American military personnel stationed there. Her dad was an Air Force officer and her mom worked full time taking care of three kids. They were (and still are) some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They welcomed me with open arms and treated me like a member of the family from day one.

Catholic priest
Photo by CalamityJane/Shutterstock.com

Their faith wasn’t something they talked about frequently. But it was a constant presence, reflected in their kindness, their love for each other and their sense of duty to God and country. Her father’s family was originally from Ukraine before they emigrated to New Jersey when he was very young. Her mother arrived in New Jersey as a teenager from Poland and her father helped her learn English. (Even as a 13-year-old boy, my first thought on hearing that story was, “How cute is that?”)

Catholicism wasn’t something I knew a lot about, having grown up Methodist. But I found it majestic and stable—a powerful cultural force reaching all the way back to the 2nd century—and, at the same time, comforting and familiar. It seemed at once both an eternal institution and a personal presence in people’s daily lives.

The sense of community, belonging and spiritual nourishment that the Catholic Church has given people for thousands of years deserves a chance to forever move beyond this painful period. 

Damning headlines and unforgivable scandal have, in recent times, become synonymous in the media with the Catholic Church, and I admire and applaud the journalists and survivors who have been brave enough to share their stories and demand justice. But the mistakes and sins of those responsible, even (and maybe especially) those at the highest level, are not Catholicism and are not religion.

My hope and belief is that the Catholic Church and Catholics as a group will move beyond this. It will not happen quickly, and it may get worse before it gets better, but it’s vital to remember that the number of practicing Catholics who are the kind of people like my girlfriend’s family—loving, open, kind-hearted, forgiving and generous—far, far outnumber those who are anything else. But the media has the tendency to make the bad news the only story, which can’t help but color public perception of the people and institutions it covers. I choose instead to focus on the millions of Catholics around the world who wake up every day and do their best to live in a way that reflects all that is good in their faith and their values.

The sense of community, belonging and spiritual nourishment that the Catholic Church has given people for thousands of years deserves a chance to forever move beyond this painful period. Pope Francis has said, “We are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth.” I hope, under his guidance, that the church has the chance to address the harm, truly help those who have been hurt, pick up the pieces, and focus on a much brighter future. Survivors of abuse deserve not only justice in court and in society, but also a religious experience that delivers on the promise of what church is supposed to be: a refuge where one can feel safe, cared for and inspired.

The world is a more uplifting, spiritual place with a healthy, thriving Catholic Church in it.

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