Since the news came out about the Pennsylvania abuse crisis,
I’ve struggled with how, or whether, to write about the whole tragedy, from
its U.S. roots, to its local implications.
At first it was tempting to bow out because of fear. The experience of writing something that provokes outrage is not new to me, and I’ve no desire to go through it again.
But if there’s an attitude I know is wrong, it’s a fear-based one. Jesus repeatedly counselled his followers to not be afraid, and Scripture tells us hundreds of time not to fear.
Then I told myself the Pennsylvania situation wasn’t relevant. Why write about something that’s taking place thousands of miles away?
Except the Church in Vancouver is affected by what’s happening there. Catholics in the pews are aware of the situation and are experiencing it in various ways, from seething on social media to reaching out to the Archbishop, their priests, and Catholics they know, and asking how to deal with it.
It’s also tempting to ignore Pennsylvania through a combination of pride and ignorance. The Archdiocese of Vancouver has had relatively few abuse cases over the past century. The archdiocese has strong policies in place now to prevent misconduct or abuse. What can someone in Vancouver possibly offer to the Pennsylvania situation except trite statements?
Except Pennsylvania had a grand jury investigation and we didn’t. There is always the possibility of someone coming forward to report something the archdiocese was unaware of.
The abuse crisis in Pennsylvania needs to be addressed in Vancouver. People are talking about it – the faithful, the media, people who have been hurt by the Church. They’re asking questions, and even if all the facts and answers aren’t yet known, they deserve a response. Here’s mine:
I don’t know what to say. Like you, I’m overwhelmed. Many of the people I work with are struggling. Some of us are fearful at doing or saying the wrong thing that, in helping some people, might hurt others.
All the things the people in the pews are experiencing right now, people who work for the Church are feeling too. Sorrow. Anger. Confusion. Defensiveness. Contrition. Heart brokenness.
I’m also aware that many people really don’t care what people who work for the Church are feeling, because this situation isn’t about them, it’s about those who were harmed and the people who harmed them.
Fair enough. But the reality is that people and Church entities are experiencing this crisis in different ways.
Different dioceses have different histories. Some religious orders may have handled things better than others. Some Catholic institutions are now coming to grips with matters they should have dealt with long ago.
And while many lay faithful are angry because some Church leaders hid behind walls of clericalism, others are upset because the present crisis is being focused on the Catholic Church, which has made great strides to implement policies and procedures to protect the vulnerable. Some question why the media don’t show the same zeal in exposing the large levels of abuse in professional organizations, or schools, or sports organizations. Others can see both positions but correctly note a priest or bishop must be held to a higher standard than a teacher or soccer coach.
Some Catholics, and non-Catholics, are simply angry and need someone, some place, to direct their anger.
That’s fair enough too. There’s a place for righteous anger. Jesus, who overturned tables in the temple, disparaged hypocrites, and insulted Herod would be right alongside those who are fuming right now, some even questioning their faith. Jesus is with them, as well as with the broken-hearted, the victims, those of us who are perplexed, and even with the perpetrators.
He’s also with those who don’t feel like God the Father is close by. Mother Teresa felt that way a lot, and Jesus himself experienced it the night before he died.
As many of us struggle with these confusing and sometimes conflicting emotions, we can trust that Jesus is experiencing them with us. Which is why the one emotion that has no place in our lives is fear.