Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent, hope, and abuse in the Church

A week ago Friday I posted REM's "Don't Go Back to Rockville" as our Friday traditio ( see "Going where nobody says hello"). Later that same day someone anonymously posted the following comment on that post:
Hi- I would like to request prayers for the victims of rape and abuse by members of the Catholic Church. Many of them were children when they were attacked or abused. This is also an ongoing crisis, with new victims each year, worldwide. I will remember them and their stories forever, but for the healing to truly take place, it will take the voices and efforts of many. To paraphrase a poem by an Indian schoolgirl, "Too many Catholics, in too many countries, speak the same language-- of silence." Thank you
As both of my readers know, I am not a fan of anonymous comments. After dealing far too much and too often with one or two genuine trolls earlier in my blogging career, I no longer publish negatively critical comments posted anonymously. I think being on-line all-too-often plays to our natural, sinful, tendency to be passive aggressive. I don't want to encourage or facilitate such cowardly behavior. Anonymous posts that are positive, insightful, neutral, or perhaps even constructively and charitably critical, I may well post. This is my blog and so these matters are at my discretion.

Dave Manthei, who blogs over at "A Humble Servant's Catholic Blog," who received the same comment on one of his posts, did some looking into the matter. He discovered that this same comment was made on at least nine Catholic blogs. He spent some time putting together a response: "The Sex-Abuse Crisis: What are Christians Doing About It?"

On the whole, I appreciate Dave's post. It is important, as he noted, for our society to deal with this vexing issue across the board, meaning in any and every institution that such evils have occurred and have been swept under the rug. Given the prevalence of pornography-driven perversion, such efforts seem to me more important that ever!

I have no idea who wrote the comment in question. Hence, I have no idea what her/his intentions or motives are. While I can understand how someone might construe the comment as an attack on or attempt to smear the Church, I think there are other ways of taking it. I certainly plan to continue praying for those who have been raped and sexually abused by members of the Catholic Church. I always pray for these evils to stop, especially within the Church, but in other institutions too.

I am well aware that there are other institutions, like the ones Dave mentions, that are guilty of the same evils and perhaps at even higher rates. But as someone who has pastorally assisted people who were victims of sexual abuse, both within and outside the Church, I feel I need to note that this is not an issue that can be dealt with justly or compassionately by using statistics. It is no consolation at all to someone who was sexually abused by, say, a priest that someone else, perhaps many others, were sexually abused by, say, public school teachers.

Not too long ago, I drew the ire of a good friend, who is a great guy, for complaining about all the Facebook posts I read whenever someone outside the Church was found to have sexually abused children that snarkily asserted something like "If only news anchors were allowed to marry." I get the point and feel the tug of such temptations myself. But I don't want to ever downplay the evils that occurred or be seen to minimize the painful, devastating experience of someone who was abused by a person in the Church, let alone attempt to relativize such grotesque evil.

I like that Dave noted how important it is for victims of rape and sexual abuse not to remain silent no matter what, no matter where it occurred, or who did it. In this, we agree with the person who made the anonymous comment. I also appreciate that he highlighted the tremendous effort the Catholic Church, at least in the U.S. and most of Western Europe, has put into identifying, apologizing to, and helping bring about the healing of those people who were violated in Church institutions by members of the Church and for putting measures in place aimed at reducing and eliminating, as far as possible, these atrocities. It's nice to believe we have put this all behind us, but no sooner do we think that than something else is brought from the dark into the light. As painful as such revelations are, we should thank God that what was hidden has now come to light.

When I consider the sad reality of sexual abuse in the Church I can't help but think of what then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his reflection for the Ninth Station of the Stations of the Cross he composed back in 2005: "How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!"

Since Advent is a season of hope, I can't leave it there. So I point to the response by Communion & Liberation to these matters in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's Letter to the Catholics of Ireland (see "Greater than sin"): "Alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity, is there or is there not something greater than sin, something radically greater than sin? Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil?" These question strike me as most useful points of reflection during Advent.

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