Ask A Franciscan

Ask a Franciscan: Anger at the Church

May 20, 2022
Church steeples against the sky

Anger at the Church

How can I resolve my anger against the Roman Catholic Church?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. What specific injuries has the Catholic Church inflicted on you? What steps through civil law or the Church’s law have you already taken to obtain justice? 

If the statute of limitations has not expired regarding those injuries, then I advise you to pursue your complaints through the relevant civil and/or canonical systems. 

If the statute of limitations has expired and you cannot bring your case to a court in either system, then I suggest that you take the time and energy to ask yourself: What has my anger already cost me? If my anger about these injuries continues, what is it likely to cost me? Do I like the person that I am becoming by the way I have chosen to respond to these injuries? 

As I write this, I am well aware that you may have suffered outrageously at the hands of specific individuals or identifiable groups within the Church. I am not asking you to lie to yourself about these past events. Nothing worthwhile can be built upon a lie, even if it is repeated frequently. 

When we tell ourselves the whole truth about past events, we can make them the key to understanding our past life—and our foreseeable future—or we can respond in a way more likely to encourage the peace and freedom that God has always wanted us to enjoy as people made in the divine image. 

We cannot change things that happened to us in the past, but we do have some freedom about how we respond to them now and in the future. Our choices today can reaffirm the most unjust things we have experienced, or they can motivate us to create a more just present for ourselves and other people who have suffered similar or worse injustices. What will it be in your case? What will you have to show for your anger and how you’ve dealt with it five, 10, or 40 years from now? 


How do you get past all the things about the Church that you dislike? 

Yes, I have experienced unjust actions on the part of people who represented the Catholic Church in some way. 

In my own experience and my observation of others, anger at the entire Church for past injustices tends to feed upon itself, needing no additional fuel, heat, or oxygen to continue burning. These are the necessary three elements for any fire—physical or psychological. 

The summer after I was ordained a priest in 1975, I studied for six weeks at the Franciscan Institute, a part of St. Bonaventure University in southwestern New York State. A freestanding clock near the dining hall has four Latin sayings about time. The one that I remember best is “Tempus sanat vulnera” (Time heals wounds). I remember thinking to myself, If only that were so. Ten years later, I learned that the Italian word magari means exactly that! 

Time can heal wounds that are properly treated soon after they occur. Time, however, can also make permanently crooked a broken bone that was improperly set. 

Over time, I have come to terms with past wounds and the people who have inflicted them. Some of them will probably die without knowing exactly how their actions affected me. But keeping all my wounds raw hardly guarantees that those people will ever accept full responsibility for their decisions. 

Such a decision on my part would, however, guarantee that I have placed my life “on hold” until those people sought my forgiveness in a way that I judged to be completely honest and proportionate to their offense! I might very well end up with nothing positive to show for an anger that I so carefully nurtured over a long period of time. 

In my experience, people are often tempted to berate the institutional Church while forgetting that the incarnational Church has given them the Gospel yardstick by which to measure its failings. In the time of Francis of Assisi, many people complained bitterly about a disgustingly fleshy Church around them while rhapsodizing about a spotless spiritual Church in heaven. Sin in the Church is hardly new. 

In a sense, Francis of Assisi is revered almost 800 years after his death for how he chose to deal with his own sins and those of other Christians. 

At Mass after the Our Father, I find comfort when I or another priest asks God in the name of everyone there to “look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church.” 

I’m sorry that I cannot make your pain disappear, but I hope this response and the one preceding it help you recognize your present options and which one holds the greatest promise of healing. 


Image
middle aged woman smiling

Beautifying Oneself

Is it proper for a woman to use artificial hair, fingernails, and eyelashes to beautify herself? Similarly, is it proper for a man to use a wig, undergo plastic surgery to decrease face wrinkles, or color his hair? 

All of the procedures you describe are morally permissible. Although any one of them might improve a person’s self-image, each of them could become an obsession for someone who chooses to live much of life under “if only” terms—as if each of these procedures could guarantee a happy and stress-free life. 

Some wrinkles and gray hair are well earned in the service of others. Would Botox have made St. Teresa of Calcutta more beautiful or St. Damien of Molokai more handsome? “God doesn’t make junk” is a saying from the 1960s. It’s still true.


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