By Kathy Kane
When the first wave of clergy sex abuse in Philadelphia was exposed a few years ago, it changed something in me forever. How could even one child of God, let alone hundreds, be harmed by those who were proclaiming the Gospel message. It distanced me from my Church, however I remained. I stayed even though I had found that some of the same priests who have abused children, have ministered to me throughout my life. I have received the Holy Eucharist from hands that have violated children, and confessed my sins to those whose own sins were simply inexcusable. A priest that had a profound impact on my life as a child was identified as someone who did not report a fellow priest who was a notorious serial abuser. This charismatic priest who always encouraged children to try to do the right thing, when put to the test did not do so himself.
Finding out some of these truths has been like a sucker punch, I didn’t see it coming. Why would I have? My Catholic faith taught me that the children of God were one of the most treasured parts of his Kingdom. The Church was to take these young minds and by example, show them the way, the truth and the light. Instead some, who claim to be representing the Gospel message, have taken these children and assaulted their mind, body and soul.
We hear so much in recent weeks of these sexual assaults against children that we can almost become numb to the phrase. Children were fondled, raped, sodomized, it is an image we don’t want picture, a place we don’t want to go to. Instead we focus on things such as civil law, canon law, statute of limitations, anything other than the real subject at hand. In doing so we can almost treat the matter in a cold and insensitive manner, just as we would any other legal issues or story of the day. The truth is that what lies underneath all of these legalities and technicalities, is that children were abused, their childhoods taken from them.
In the past few weeks I have had many conversations with friends and fellow Catholics. There is anger, disgust, betrayal. A friend now sits in the pew right by the aisle, ready to leave should she hear any lies from the altar concerning the sex abuse scandal. Another has had to explain to her children that we put our faith in God, not the men of the Archdiocese. A story a friend tells of a family member who has long been a strong financial supporter of the Archdiocese and now is feeling embarrassed by his association.
So many feelings, so much confusion, a flock in turmoil. Our leadership has been relatively absent other than a few carefully worded statements statements and video messages.
When I was a child in Catholic school, an image of Jesus was often portrayed where he was above us with his arms outstretched. It was a comforting image, the message that Jesus is always with us. I told a very devout friend that this is the image I picture when I think of the victims. Jesus is above them and they are safe in his outstretched arms. My friend stated that Jesus is also with the Archdiocesan officials who have allowed such evil to take place. I protested that Jesus is not with these men but my friend reminded me that Jesus is always with us, even when we have fallen.
Maybe Jesus is indeed with us all, but in my mental image now, he is weeping. He is heartbroken that the children, the most treasured part of his kingdom, were violated by some who claim to be the teachers of his message, the most devoted of his followers.
It is a true test of faith, to try to remain in the Catholic Church knowing all that has happened, not only in Philadelphia but throughout the world, with clergy sex abuse scandals. It is like everything I once believed, has been turned upside down, inside out.
The trust that has been broken is almost too great, the betrayal runs so deep. As a child I was taught to look towards the clergy as an example of what is good and holy, and now I find that I have had to tell my children to look away.
I was taught from a young age that as a Catholic, I needed to be careful to not fall prey to the corruption and evil that exists in the secular world around us. But this time the threat comes from within the Church. The problems of the outside world have never shaken my beliefs the way the Church itself has done in recent years.
I was also taught to speak out against injustice and all that is wrong, and so I do, however it is against all that I have ever known and believed. So for now I remain, wanting to walk away, but in doing so feeling like I would be abandoning all that the Church has destroyed.
I recently used the term of “Catholic Orphan”, to describe my status in the Church. I feel that I have no leadership, no trust, the hierarchy continues to mislead and tries to put a spin on a vile situation. A friend recently said that in her anger, she refuses to let them take her faith from her. In a way she clings to it more now than ever, her relationship with God more personal, less dependent on man. Maybe that is the way it was always supposed to be.