I’m a Catholic. I was born into a Catholic family and baptized as an infant. I attended twelve years of Catholic school and have received all of the sacraments but Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick. I’ve been a rather lackluster cafeteria kind of Catholic for the last several years, but of late I have returned to the fold on a regular basis. I can’t imagine myself being a member of any other Christian denomination, but I have to admit to being angry and sorrowful over the latest accusations of priests engaged in sexual abuse with young children and seminarians. The details are literally vomit inducing, and I can’t even imagine how dreadful it must have been for those who had to endure such horrors. In my mind there can be no excuse for such egregious behavior from any adult, much less one in a position of trust.
My church has to face the problems that brew in its ranks and accept full responsibility for such incidents beginning with a willingness to report such violations of decency to the police as soon as they are discovered. Anyone who simply moves a priest to another location or thinks that sending them for rehabilitation without alerting law enforcement should be viewed as an accessory to a crime. The days of hiding the abuse from the public must be long gone. It is only right and just. If the church leaders want to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness, they may do so, but first there must be adherence to the laws of the state. If that means watching one of their own being sent to prison, then so be it.
I have long believed that the church’s insistence on maintaining celibacy with the clergy is an outdated and problematic ideology. I see nothing wrong with having married priests. In fact, I suspect that opening up the priesthood to those who wish to have families would be more conducive to finding psychologically healthy individuals to maintain the parishes. It would certainly be a boon to vocations, and would lead to clearer understanding of the problems that faithful face. One of my all time favorite priests became single after he had raised his children and lost his wife. He was allowed to enter the seminary, and he brought a wisdom and compassion that is heart warming. He knows what it means to have the challenges of raising a family. His life with a wife and children has provided him with a unique point of view. I truly advocate for changing the ancient rule that seems out of place in our modern world.
For that matter, I wonder if we are also ready to accept female priests. The old ways of considering women unable to handle the same challenges as men are long gone. We have lots of proof that women are not only able to perform many of the same tasks as males, but they often bring additional assets and talents to most jobs. So many of the nuns that I knew as a child would have been remarkable priests. They were as wise and intelligent as the men, but relegated to a more submissive role. Surely we have moved beyond that as well.
I see religious men and women in other faiths doing remarkable things while still caring for spouses and children. They do not seem to lack either the energy nor the time to care for their parishioners, and they generally do so with few psychological hangups. I feel that if we create a more normal atmosphere for our priests, those with problems will be less attracted to a religious life where they think they might hide their proclivities. With a few adjustments to the way things are done, many of the problems that continue to plague the church will be eliminated or at least minimized.
You may be wondering why I don’t just leave the Catholic Church and find a new experience say as an Episcopalian or a Methodist. The answer lies in my conviction that the church is more than a single priest or even all of them put together. It is the community of the millions of Catholics the world over. It is about a beautiful faith and set of beliefs that rise above the sins of a few. As a member of this holy body I have a right to question the difficulties that I witness, and even to suggest solutions, but I do not intend to leave.
Long ago a very good priest, a holy man, Father John Perusina, baptized me when I was a baby. Many years later he witnessed my marriage and was a faithful friend of my family. Once when I was frustrated about problems that I saw in the church I threatened to just leave and find a place to worship more to my liking. Father Perusina gently and wisely pointed out that if everyone had my attitude the church would soon be run by the very people with whom I disagreed. He urged me instead to stay and to feel free to make my voice heard. He insisted that the only way to make change was for those with good ideas to remain members of the church. I have found his advice to be more than true. I have often been able to constructively note problems and bring about changes in the parishes that I have attended.
I have been a fortunate soul as were my brothers. We did not encounter the evil abuse that has been perpetrated on some innocent souls. I feel certain that most priests are as good as we expect them to be, but the unfortunate fact is that all too often the really bad ones have been treated with kid gloves when they should have been made to feel the consequences of their sins, not just within the church but with the law. Until that becomes a uniform reaction any time someone is discovered engaging in such heinous acts, a sense of distrust will remain to tarnish even the best souls.
We seem to have found a courageous pope who will be honest about the problems and will work to find real solutions. I’ll pray that a productive path will be found. I love my church and want to see it enforce the values that it taught me even when those in the highest level of authority do wrong. There can be no excuses ever again.