Posted on Sun, Mar. 27, 2011
By Monica Yant Kinney
A funny thing happened in the aftermath of yet another clergy sex-abuse scandal embroiling the Archdiocese of Philadelphia: Nothing.
Area Catholics contend that they’re enraged by the revelations, but they have a strange way of showing it.
Some stay home. Others put less in the offering basket. Neither Voice of the Faithful nor the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has gained critical heft to make Cardinal Justin Rigali and church lawyers tremble.
Philadelphia sports fans earned their rabid rep. But Catholics here remain passive, unwilling to challenge men who lie and betray.
Enter Susan Matthews and Kathy Kane, two suburban moms of kids in parochial school who found each other seething alone online.
Matthews, a freelance writer you might know from QVC, got so sick of the silence, she launched www.catholics4change.com . Kane, a social worker by training, stumbled onto the website and hatched a populist campaign bound to grab church leaders’ attention:
“I am going to address an envelope to Cardinal Rigali and include a photo of my two children,” Kane explained last week in a post titled “A Photo, an Envelope, and a Stamp.”
“I am going to write one simple statement. ‘There are real children affected by the decisions of the Archdiocese. They are the future of our Church, and they deserve respect and safety.’
“Will you join me?”
Matthews and Kane met for the first time last week at the King of Prussia mall after I invited them to have coffee with me.
Matthews is 42 and from Huntingdon Valley; Kane, 43, from West Chester. Neither wants to pull her children from Catholic school. Both mothers cherish their own religious education and feel obligated to put that critical thinking to use.
“We are doing as we were taught,” Kane said, “to speak out against injustice.”
“Theoretically,” Matthews added, with a nervous laugh.
Matthews possesses credentials to beat back attacks that she’s a heretic: She worked for years at the archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Standard & Times, where “you were always in a position to see the best and worst of the church.”
She is the niece of MSNBC talker Chris Matthews and Montgomery County Commissioner Jim Matthews. When her husband, Damian Dachowski, ran for the U.S. House last year, a church attorney chaired his finance committee.
“If he runs again,” Matthews joked, “that will change.”
Neither woman has a clergy sex-abuse story of her own to tell. Instead, they’re motivated by wanting to support those who do and to use the crisis to nudge Rigali to give parishioners a role in reforms.
“We’re shareholders, but we’re not treated that way,” Matthews explained. “There’s no mechanism for us to question or change anything.”
Faith as a battered box
As the women chatted, it was clear both found motivation in the latest grand jury report – a painful read they urge all Catholics to endure.
“If I just sit in church and hand in my money,” Matthews said, “I’m an accomplice to these crimes.”
“My faith was handed to me like a present with a bow, but I feel like I’m handing my kids a battered box,” added Kane. “As a Catholic parent, I resent that.”
Long letters from outraged churchgoers, they agree, could be easily brushed aside with a form response from Rigali. That’s why the photo campaign seems so brilliant. Who could ignore thousands of innocent faces – girls in Holy Communion dresses, boys playing baseball, babies being baptized?
Beyond bombarding Rigali with photos, Matthews and Kane hope he’ll agree to hold regional meetings with bishops who will listen and act on Catholics’ concerns. The activists want others to lobby legislators to do away with statutes of limitations in abuse cases. If the online community agrees, they may even schedule a rally.
For now, they ask those previously afraid to do anything to gather a photo, an envelope, and a stamp.
“If there’s a shred of humanity left at the archdiocese,” Kane concluded, “they will look at the faces of these children and say, ‘We answer to them.’ ”
Click here to see the comments for this article at PhillyNews.com.
If you mail a photo of a child in your life to Rigali (222 N. 17th St., Philadelphia, 19103-1299),
let Monica know you did and why at 215-854-4670 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To watch a video of Matthews and Kane discussing
their project, go to www.philly.com/Faithful.