-The Denial of Saint Peter, by Caravaggio, circa 1610, oil on canvas
H: 94 cm (37 in) x W: 125.4 cm (49.4 in), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
When I joined Voice of the Faithful two years ago, I did so with trepidation, for a number of reasons. What followed was an in depth, profound, overwhelming and disturbing education in the subject of pedophilia and pederasty.
I drank information from the fire hose in emails, new articles, and more recently, published works and media. I have met and talked intimately with countless survivors, befriended many, attended conferences, listened to expert speakers on the topic, participated in protests and “actions” drawing attention to the matter, and watched trials, heard heart ripping victim impact statements, and the sentencing of dissociated, unrepentant perpetrators. I have written to one priest in jail offering the kindness of correspondence, a breviary, or rosary. I never heard back.
This work is not for everyone. If someone asked me today about joining VOTF, I would respond to them, “How strong is your faith? No, REALLY, how STRONG is your FAITH!?”
It has been and continues to be an education I never wanted and still do not wish I had or wish to continue receiving. But, I have grown in my awareness and knowledge of how this crime is perpetrated, what the danger signs are, what the effect on the victim is and what it takes to survive this horrific betrayal and violation of trust, and how long that can take to come to terms with so much, and never fully. I want Mara, our future children, God willing, and every other child to grow up in a safer world and Church. That is why I do it. Jesus will ask me, in my particular judgment, I am absolutely convinced, what I did about this, and I am intent on having the best answer I can.
Witnessing the psychology of my fellow lay Catholics during this period of my education in this sin has been equally troubling and profound. “Isn’t that over? Isn’t that somebody else’s problem? What does that have to do with me? I didn’t do anything? You’re a troublemaker! You hate the Church! We don’t want your kind in ministry! How can you call yourself a Catholic? Those people just want money! Don’t ruin my Sunday happy time/place!” and so on.
Everyone I know in Voice of the Faithful were/are some of the most dedicated, passionate Catholics you could hope to find. Every VOTF member held every title in the Church you can think of, yes, even bishop. But, as well, now every member of VOTF bears another title even before their prior ministerial one, “former”, and rarely by their own choice. It is an odd and ironic feeling I have during the Prayers of the Faithful when as a Christian community we pray for the downtrodden, the maligned, those in misery, those treated unjustly, the unfortunate, and I think to myself, “Hey, I just left them an hour ago!”, and it usually was the official church, laity or ordained, who did the mistreatment? What Twilight Zone have I wandered into now? And, Fr. Rod Serling just gave the homily.
Every one of the victims was sure the Church would “do the right thing” when they shared their pain. They were, instead, victimized all over again. A friend of mine, Rick, a survivor, showed me the window of the room in rectory where it happened when he was a child, one day when we were driving by. He wasn’t even Catholic to begin with. He was a Lutheran boy, but got so excited about the beauty of the Mass, he believed it all had to be true. Rick is an old man now and not in good health. He drives a cab. Rick will die in his cab, I am sure. He is a hero and a friend of mine. I am so blessed. This is not a Catholic problem. It is a human sin.
I have heard so many rationalizations in hopes of not having to deal with the truth of it all from my fellow Catholics, I could not number them for you. I have heard the equivalent of the below many times before. Recently, another hero of mine, Deacon T, put what he heard in an email. I get THE BEST emails!:
“A meeting of the deacons of the Archdiocese of Chicago was held Sept 9th. Mostly a non-event as most of the meetings are with a set agenda. It was devoted mainly to the new evangelization effort in the Archdiocese called Catholics Come Home.
At the end of Bishop Rs’ remarks he opened to questions. Benign questions from the deacons. As the last question to him I asked, “Since we deacons received, in our email boxes, copies of talking points regarding the Bishop G’s deposition, and the recent law suit alleging racial discrimination against black abuse victims, should we expect more letters from Rev. C on sex abuse matters?”
The question seemed to catch him flat footed and he paused for quite some time. He said the letters were to counter the media coverage of these events and to clarify the truth on the issues. He didn’t elaborate beyond that. I didn’t think it appropriate to debate fallacies in the letters with him in that forum.
However, as the meeting concluded, Deacon J, the vicariate king deacon, commented on the Catholics Come Home program. He said we must not be afraid of tough questions from lapsed Catholics who come forward. He specifically expounded on divorce/annulment issues. Then he spoke about clerical sex abuse. He teared up when he said he himself was abused when he was 7 by a coach. He then expounded on how to deal with angry Catholics’ questions about abuse:
- He said the incidence of abuse by Protestants is a higher % than by priests (projection).
- He said how horribly painful it was for priests who are wrongly accused (reverse effect).
- He said the reason people level allegations against the Church is because the Church has so much money (plausible ulterior motive).
- He said many people come forward are not abused and implied they do it for the money (people are dishonest).
This could not go unchallenged. As the meeting closed I went to him privately and expressed sympathy for the abuse he suffered. I asked if his statements to the group are the answers we should give to questioning Catholics. I said we look like fools if we say the Protestants are worse than we are. I said that dog doesn’t hunt.
He pointed out (like reading from the talking points) about how much more we know now than we did in the 60’s, 70’s… I mentioned all that went out the window with the McCormack matter. At this point he was visibly shaken, though honestly this wasn’t my intent. I mentioned to him my personal and diaconal experiences in sex abuse matters in Tulsa, Ft. Worth and here in Chicago and said things haven’t changed that much.
He said there were “mistakes made”. I reminded him (though I’m not sure he knew) that man over there, pointing to Bishop R, who was still in the room, withheld information from the Cardinal that would have prevented further abuse, according the Cardinal’s own testimony, “I was not aware.” The people are angry with the hierarchy. At that point he turned to others who were waiting to talk with him, and I don’t know if they heard what we were saying.
Net-net, deacons are in denial or unwilling to confront what they know is wrong. They are uninformed to any depth on this subject and are not challenged to learn the complete truth. Bishop R doesn’t want to talk about it.
As I walked out I went to Bishop R and introduced myself and reminded him I’ll be seeing him again on 9/20 at the St. Thomas Becket 40th anniversary Mass, where I’ll be his deacon of the Mass.”
May God have mercy on us all! Our Lady of Sorrows, come to our aid!