Test of Faith

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.

13 thoughts on “Test of Faith

  1. Beautifully written, Kathy. You have managed to capture the emotion we all have been feeling about these horrendous acts, and express them in such a magnificent way. You are the “voice” of many of us!

  2. Kathy, what a beautiful, sad but true reflection on what these men who were and are supposed to be acting in the footsteps of Jesus have done to us all. Thank you for voicing feelings I believe many of us share!

  3. Thank you Kathy, for putting your emotions into perfect wording.

    I too, lost my faith in the catholic church about 25 years ago when I learned that the priest who married me, sexually abused my brother and several of my relatives in our small town in southeastern Ohio.

    The child predators and mostly the church officials have ruined soooooooooooooo many lives.

    I was taught, “thou shall not lie” and that was very important to me. But I was taught this by those who LIE.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
    “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests”

  4. Beautifully said, and nailed by your friend when she stated “In a way she clings to it more now than ever, her relationship with God more personal, less dependent on man.” and your conclusion of “Maybe that is the way it was always supposed to be.” It is. God is all knowing and works in mysterious ways. When one thinks about it, it becomes obvious…how else could he get people to come to him unless he exposes our misguided reverence for mere mortals, sinners such as priests. I myself have not considered myself a Catholic for quit some time although raised as such. I refer to myself as a Christian, a follower of Christ. Once all raised in the ways of the Catholic Church realize many of the teachings were self serving and shaped by the Catholic leadership that wanted to promote these ways for various reasons, you realize you can’t depend on them, they change with the wind. As Catholics, wanting to follow in the faith of Jesus as we were taught, we need to understand that men/woman, as humans are all inherently sinful, and not to be revered by anybody. It should be directly between God/Jesus and yourself. We can gather as a Church, as Jesus instructed, for prayer and as a community to help each other,but not to raise anyone to such a high reverence as many have done with priests, etc. They are inherently sinners that need prayer as much as the next human. To their dismay they know they will be judged more harshly by Jesus, as he has stated so, because of the place they hold as priests. To cause one to stumble as is the case here, with many questioning there faith because of the association of being Catholic, only worsens their judgement by God, more so than sinners who have no relationship with God/Jesus and continually sin. So don’t loose heart, but continually pray for those priests for those are the ones who really need pray. Remember Jesus said that it is easy to pray for those we love it is those that we have trouble loving or find it hard to forgive that we must pray for. That is what he commands. Believe it or not, if you haven’t tried to prayer for one that you really can’t even look at or have a total disgust for, you will never get to see how God can work to change your heart. It is truly amazing! God Bless and keep the faith!!

  5. Kathy, I, of course, feel your heart and share your grave concern. My only comment to you and all who read is, Regardless of the sins of church members or leaders, the Eucharist is still the Eucharist, Confession is still Confession, the authority of the papacy (given by Jesus) is still in tact, the Communion of Saints is still the Communion of Saints, etc.

    In other words, one of the great hopes of the Evil One is to have people leave the Barque of Christ, which is the Church he founded–the Catholic Church. So, please do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Salvation is found in Christ, through the Church and her sacraments and teachings.

    – Matt

  6. I sympathize with your position and situation. I was there too in 2002, when we first heard of these latest 21 priests. I went to mass and my Monsignor was wearing purple because he was mourning. He had left the Priesthood in 2006 after reading the Lynn Abrahms report. He returned a week later. His conclusion was, there is nothing that would come between him and Christ. Christ did establish his Church in Matthew 16: 18-19 and it is the Catholic Church. These predators have nothing to do with his “Faith” or belief in Christ. In the end, he serves Christ and his congregation. I’ve concluded, in the end, I serve Christ. If we are looking for perfection we will have to wait till Paradise until then, we have to continue with our faith. Pray for the victims and pray for change, which is already taking root.

  7. I could not rectify tithing to a church that so carefully hid this sin and shuffled it around to expose even one more child to its torture. Not just in our Archdiocese, not just in all of our United States, but across the world. The enormity devastates me.

    After searching, I found sustenance in the Episcopal church. It has much of the same liturgy, and for me the difference is a scant price to pay to make sure my talent and treasure do not support this systematic and purposeful continued assault on children. It pains me…but after hearing that no credibly-accused priest is currently in ministry, and then having TWENTY-ONE of them suspended only after the names were made public and the leadership essentially had no choice, I am secure that I made the right decision for my family. The secrecy persists, and will until we stand up against this evil en masse.

  8. Mary, I trust that a peace came with your decision. Just a quick clarification, though. Although the Episcopal church has elements that appear like Catholic liturgy and belief, the difference–from a theological perspective is radical. For example, although their priests and priestesses look like priests, their ordination is not valid.

    In other words, the link to the apostoles (which comes through the ordination of the bishop) was severed (theologically speaking) and therefore the ordination from bishop-to-bishop does not happen (theologically speaking). And so, because the bishops are not actual bishops, THEIR ordination of priests (or priestesses) does not happen. Therefore, the Eucharist that they pray over does not transform into the body and blood of Christ. Please note: This is NO judgement on the goodness of their priest or priestesess (they could be far better people than our priests). I’m simply saying that the sacraments are not valid because of the loss of apostolic succession.

    So, they’re just nice rituals but do not transmit grace in the manner that Jesus intended. So, in short, the difference is dramatic between the two faiths.

  9. Matt, your assessment assumes that everyone believes there is no other option of what “true faith or religion” is. It assumes there is no other religion that is “right” than Catholicism. Thanks for reminding me why I’m no longer a practicing Catholic – I can’t stand the lack of acceptance of other faiths and cultures.

    Mary – I’m happy you found peace in your decision to become an Episcopalian. Thanks for sharing with us.

    1. Angela,
      I think there is a difference between acceptance of other faiths (tolerance & understanding) and fully believing in your own faith. I don’t think Matt’s belief that Catholicism is the one, true faith signifies a lack of tolerance for others.

  10. Angela, I didn’t say that at all. Catholicism doesn’t teach that there is no other option. Anything that is true in another faith is absolutely accepted by Catholicism. Naturally, anything that is not true should be rejected. Two religions can’t teach contradictory things and both be true. Take infant baptism, for example. Take Jesus, for example: He’s either God…or he is not. It doesn’t make the Muslim a bad person if he teaches that Jesus is not God. He’s simply wrong….just like I’m wrong when I conclude that 10+10 equals 22. It doesn’t make me a bad person, even if I’m wrong. I was just stating a theological truth…not judging people. As I said, the people in another faith could be totally better (and even get saved far sooner than a wretched Catholic). Good behavior, though, doesn’t mean “doctrinal truth”. Please read this words without emotions…just read them as words…like we would read any scientific or mathmatical statement.

    The reason why most people leave Catholicism is because they were never fully schooled in what (and why) it teaches. Rarely will you find a Catholic who leaves who actually knew the faith and could explain and defend it.

  11. Matt is a dear fiend who has on many occasions listened to my rants and has been generous with his time. However I do see where Mary or Angela could read his thoughts and interpret them to be stating that their choice of religion is not valid.
    Matt the one comment you made hits to the heart of the matter. You state”they are nice rituals but do not transmit grace in the manner that Jesus intended.That is how I currently feel as a Catholic. I know we have had many conversations about this,I feel at this time that the leadership is making a mockery of what Jesus intended.That is what makes it so difficult,so painful and devastating. Yes we can look to our true beliefs and say we still believe but how difficult it is to look beyond the messenger to remember the message.

  12. Kathy, I can clearly see how you would (correctly) conclude that–the “mockery” statement. I absolutely agree…in the case of those who were both sinning in such a heinous way and those who, for the sake of (perhaps) protecting the Institution, they did not act as they should have.

    Remember that there are many, many devout clergy who quietly sacrifice for us–the bride–and do so without fanfare. They do it because of their belief in God and in service of the Lord and humanity. I can see, though, how such faith is not easy these days.

    – Matt

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