A Faith Shaken

I have trust issues. Not with everyone. No, my trust issues are with the Catholic Church. I know that may seem odd considering that I work for a Catholic organization, but let me explain.

I am a cradle Catholic. I’ve belonged to the same parish my entire life. And that’s where the trust issues started. For the whole story, we have to go all the way back to grade school.

I attended our parish school the same school that all four of my own kids currently attend or have attended. For the most part, it was a great experience. I do, however, have one very strong memory from that time that weighs on me. I remember coming home and complaining to my parents that our pastor would show up on the playground, but never acknowledge or interact with the girls. I couldn’t understand why he was ignoring us and found it maddening.

Over time, rumors began to circulate about our pastor and how much time he spent with the boys. But they stayed just that rumors. A few years later, though, parishioners received word that our pastor was going to be leaving the parish. The announcement and his departure were swift. The reasoning given was that he was going to receive “treatment. ” A new pastor arrived and parish life went on as usual.

Or at least we thought it would. Over time, it came to light that, in positions our previous pastor held over the years, he had abused more than 25 young men. Some of the abuse took place at our parish. To this day, I wonder if some of them were my classmates. In fact, the question hangs in the air at every reunion we have.

In addition to our pastor, one of the other priests serving our parish at that time was accused of sexually abusing a young male parishioner. Both priests have since been laicized. A third priest, who also served at our parish around the same time, faced allegations of sexual abuse from when he taught at a local all-boys Catholic high school. He has also been laicized.

The Struggle Continues

To compound my experience, I have spent the past 24 years writing the news column for this magazine. Since 2002, when the clergy sex-abuse crisis erupted, I have followed this story. I have read, listened to, and written stories on the situation. In fact, there have been some months when I have had to search long and hard to find news items to include in my column that did not relate in some way to clergy sex abuse.

To be fair, some of the stories I report are on the progress that has been made by the Church to address the situation and try to prevent it from happening in the future. But there are still ones that stop us from moving forward or even drag us backward. Those are the ones that weigh on my mind.

For instance, there was the recent story of all the bishops of Chile offering their resignations to Pope Francis over their horrible mishandling of abuse cases in their country. But even that one didn’t completely undo me. Maybe it was because it felt distant. I didn’t know them. I didn’t know the abuse survivors.

The one that brought all my distrust rushing back, though, was a headline that read: “Abuse Allegation against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Found Credible. ” According to news reports, now-retired Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, DC, sexually abused a teenager 47 years ago. The allegation has been determined credible and substantiated.

When I was a young reporter, Cardinal McCarrick was a big player in the bishops’ conference. At meetings, I would watch him discuss tough issues in a gentle yet determined way. He encouraged cooperation. To me, he had been a strong example of ministry and leadership. I had come to respect him, to admire him, and to trust him.

Now do you see why I have trust issues?

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