If the American Church ever needed to resemble the field hospital that Pope Francis described in the early days of his pontificate, that time is now.

The scope of the horrors inflicted upon over 1000 victims described in the Pennsylvania grand jury report released yesterday and the amount of negligence and deliberate cover-up by Church leaders in the past 70 or so years is staggering. In 2002, we thought the worst was over. Sixteen years later, we are confronted with it all over again.

We must continue to stand in solidarity and prayer with the victims, the betrayed faithful, and all of those who are suffering from this betrayal by priests and members of the hierarchy. We must remain vigilant and do our part to prevent and report future abuse. While many of us have voiced our rightful anger and disgust over these crimes on social media or other platforms, we understand that our cry for justice might have little direct impact on bringing offenders to earthly justice and holding their enablers to account for what they’ve done. A realistic outlook already knows that our cries for transparency and reform will not be openly or adequately addressed; we’re calling out to many of the same bishops who failed to provide transparency and adequate reform the first time around.

I worked for the institutional Church for over seven years and I have seen firsthand the lack of efficiency, the resistance to change, the complacent acceptance of the status quo, the lack of accountability (financial and otherwise), and the organizational “restructuring” that fails to address serious problems and often creates more. In the Church, it seems that leadership is something that is rarely given up willingly for the good of the Church and is only taken away in the most extreme of circumstances.

Other writers and pundits have suggested a number of common sense reforms (lay involvement and oversight, revisions to the Charter, etc.) that will hold bishops more accountable and will hopefully help prevent another crisis from happening.

That said, as many commentators have argued already, a slew of new programs or accountability measures or assurances isn’t going to truly change hearts. Systemic changes are ineffective without the genuine conversion of the hearts of those entrusted with enacting change. For this to happen is not in our hands. This should be a prayer intention in the heart of every Catholic.

As I wait and pray that the truth (for good or ill) about my own archbishop is fully revealed, it seems as if the debates that we’ve often immersed ourselves in at Where Peter Is seem rather pedantic. Questions about whether “inadmissible” is synonymous with “intrinsic evil,” or whether objective or subjective culpability should be the deciding factor for whether a small number faithful may approach the sacraments just don’t seem that important when the Church is facing a crisis of this scale.

As Pope Francis once said, “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

I won’t argue with that. Still, a major part of our mission at Where Peter Is is to engage in these debates for the sake of clarifying the Holy Father’s position on such issues. And we will continue to do so, if for no other reason than to remind other Catholics of why our Faith and our Church exist. Just today, in the midst of all this breaking news, another “petition” against the Holy Father (this time protesting his change to the Catechism on the death penalty) appeared in First Things. We are committed to responding to and countering voices such as this, which threaten to lead many astray. Voices such as these threaten to further divide the Church, and we are among the very few outlets that take the time to explain why they are wrong.

My pastor recently reminded us in a homily that Jesus, in his providence, made the sacraments “priest-proof.” As we are painfully reminded, the priesthood and the episcopacy are filled with all kinds of men; from the very holy to the extremely wicked. Some of us cannot help but be distrustful of those who lead the Church, but thankfully even the worst of them cannot hinder the True Presence of Jesus.

This crisis wounds each of us, and the Church as a whole. Even in our woundedness, however, each of us plays a role in healing the Church. With Christ among us, we can be the doctors and the nurses in the field hospital, responding to the suffering, healing to the injured, medicine to the sick. We must be listeners, healers, friends, companions. In a world filled with so much suffering, there are many opportunities. This healing begins with ourselves, and we can use our own healing to help bring about healing in others.

Each of us, with God’s grace, is an integral part of the Field Hospital and the Body of Christ. May each of us work to heal the woundedness in the Church.

 

 

Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.

114 Shares

10 Responses

  1. Jason O'Mara says:

    Amen

  2. Steve Rafferty says:

    Thanks Mike Its stunning to see the Church start to collapse from within!!.I do believe that the Trinity will allow this purgation to continue until the Church is cleansed and healed and put back on course.Until then buckle up and hang on the rollercoaster ride hasn’t finished.Steve R.

  3. carn says:

    “As Pope Francis once said, “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

    I won’t argue with that.”

    Why?

    Part of the cause of the abuse scandals might be, that some shepherds placed mercy to far above justice and might therefore have quelled the rightful urge, that someone raping a child should receive a punishment adequate for the crime and that this is central for handling such crimes, for a fake mercy that as a not unwanted side effect protected the image of some institutions.

    Such an attitude might be easier to maintain, if there is too much emphasis on mercy.

    Note: i do not claim that Pope Francis would want to have his words to have such an effect; i just think they might potentially have such an effect and hence, one can argue about whether Pope Francis says too much or the wrong thing about mercy.

    Ministers that are shepherds must also protect the flock by either dealing justice as deserved or by giving criminals over to the worldly authorities for doing that.

  4. Christopher Lake says:

    Mike,

    Amen to every word in this article, brother! We have to be willing to take the time to actually sit, listen to, and sometimes, just *be there with* people who are suffering. This certainly applies with victims of sexual abuse, and it applies to people who are enduring other kinds of serious spiritual and emotional suffering/need as well.

    Sadly though, too much of what I have seen, from too many people in the Church (both lay and clergy) is a willingness to talk the talk of Pope Francis-like accompaniment, while either not walking the walk, or walking it in a begrudging (sometimes vocally so!) way. Obviously, the Holy Father does walk the walk. He has done so for many years. Well before he become Pope, back in Argentina, he was known for visiting slums and spending time with people there– and I have never read that he did so in a begrudging way. He still does such things, even now, with his incredibly busy schedule as Pope, and it certainly seems that he does so in a very joyful, completely free and willing, way.

    I don’t live in a slum, but as I’ve written about before here, I do live in an apartment building that is almost entirely occupied ny people with disabilities. I am one of them. So many of the lives of my fellow residents have been, and still are, marked by very significant suffering, whether physical, emotional, or both. I try to be of help and accompaniment to people here as I can, but I am one person, and sometimes, it feels like trying to bring a small light of hope into an almost impenetrably dark forest. I haven’t given up though, because where there is God, there is hope, and God can accomplish surprising things even with only one or two or three people!

    With the above being said… when I really ponder about how often, or how seldom, I see people, in this geographical area, who *talk the talk* of Francis-like accompaniment, actually be willing to live it out by *coming to this building* and actually spending time with suffering, lonely, people… well, honestly, I can’t emotionally afford to ponder it too much, or I would become deeply, deeply depressed.

    I won’t name names, because that would be sinful, but I have met and interacted with a priest, who actually vocally complains, to his ministerial colleagues and to *residents here* (which can be very demoralizing to people who hear it), whenever he comes to this apartment building for any kind of Catholic-related event, *and he doesn’t have a very large crowd of people here to meet him and be part of the event*. Consider that in terms of God’s economy and the things that matter to Him.

    Of course, humanly speaking, I know that priests are busy, and they want to go where they believe that they can be of service. However, to me, that is just the point– whether five people show up, or fifteen or twenty, or if even just two people show up, when a priest comes here, *service and accompaniment * are still happening. On a human level, yes, I understand the priest’s inner frustration if he comes here, and only a small amount of people show up for “his” event. However, in God’s economy, ministering to even “only” a few souls, especially when they are the souls of disabled people who have had to make a great physical effort to simply come downstairs for said event…. I don’t think that I even need to say what such ministering means to Our Lord, and to the people in genuine need who are receiving it. (The priest is now beginning to strongly hint, and I have heard him do so, that he will *only* come to this building if there are large numbers of residents to see him.)

    To my mind, the Catholic Church in America will *begin* (and only begin) to seriously heal from the sex abuse scandals, in part, when more of her members, both lay and clergy, are willing to actually do the challenging, sometimes painful, but rewarding and *always needed*, work of truly accompanying the suffering. That healing often happens, *not* with large crowds, but one-on-one, with one person physically coming alongside another person to *listen and suffer with* (accompany) him/her.

    Sometimes, that healing can also happen with a small number of people, opening their deeply wounded hearts to a priest who is visibly, vocally happy that *any one of them* is there to meet him!– because each one of them is in serious need, and that’s why he is there. The laity can’t leave *all* of the accompaniment up to him and his fellow priests though. Christ and the Church has repeatedly challenged the laity to do the work of accompaniment too. Please pray for me, in that light, for strength and perseverance in a challenging place! (Thanks in advance!)

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Good comments, Chris. Just to take one of your points a little bit further, I think priests often underestimate the degree to which the faithful appreciate their simple presence and involvement. Whether it’s to attend an event or meal and lead it off with a blessing, or to stop in and simply greet people, these gesture have an incredible impact on us.

      It is therefore all the more meaningful for a priest to reach out to the lonely or those who feel marginalized.

      I suppose the point of my piece is to point out that even though many of us are institutionally powerless, there are things we can do to help bring about healing in ourselves, our community, and our Church.

      • Christopher Lake says:

        I agree with you on all counts here, Mike. I don’t think I was clear enough in articulating, and tying together, the various threads in my first comment. I will make another attempt.

        Sometimes, priests and religious really *do* come through, when it comes to the kinds of Christ-like accompaniment of suffering people to which Pope Francis is calling the Church. Sometimes, they don’t come through, painfully. Whether they *do or don’t* come through though, we, as the laity, cannot have the mentality (and I know that you don’t have this mentality) that it is all, or even mostly, up to the clergy to live out Christ-like accompaniment of suffering people in our midst.

        God knows just how very far I have to go on the path towards holiness, but as far as accompaniment, I have sat and listened to my fellow people with disabilities, here at my apartment building, share stories of real, deep suffering. Sometimes, I have to say, it has actually been shocking to hear some of my neighbors talk about being mistreated, abused, very badly by their family members and/or their care attendants, or other people– sometimes relating these horrific stories to me in a kind of “ho-hum, that’s just the way it is” way! Because of my own disability, I am privy to some of these horror stories, but I do wonder how many able-bodied Catholics, even just in this particular geographical area, have any idea of the severe mistreatment and abuse that disabled people can sadly become accustomed to and basically think of as “normal.”

        It is in this kind of context that I fervently wish more able-bodied Catholics would at least make some kind of attempt to reach out to, befriend, and get to know more of the disabled people in their area. I can’t help but think that Pope Francis would definitely see that as part of Christ-like “accompaniment.”

        Tragically, though, what I often see is disabled people getting all too little of that accompaniment, and iving lives that are either very isolated, as virtual shut-ins, where they have little to no contact with the outside world, Catholic or otherwise– and therefore, their suffering is basically unkown to the outside world. Also, even when people with disabilities are able to get out more, say, in their power wheelchairs, I see people trying to “befriend” them, but it’s not always for good reasons (this has happened to me). All the more reason for Catholics to reach out to, get to know, and accompany this group of people whose suffering is often known only to themselves, God, and, perhaps, a few people in their apartment building or group home.

        I get that it can be quite intimidating and daunting for able-bodied people to really reach out to disabled people, especially when it is quite likely that they have undergone deep suffering and may have stories to tell about it. However, Christ does have a way of calling His people to do things that are intimidating and daunting in the service of love. He is with us as we go forth though!

  5. Chris dorf says:

    IMO, what alarms me always is tthat a discussion never starts about the amount of sexual abuse in the United States and around the world in the general population living around us all. Anyone who has been sexually abused or nose friends and family that have been sexually abused or knows the statistics about sexual abuse understand that this is a huge huge almost almost unreported happening in the United States and around the world…except re the Catholic part of it.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      There is definitely a much larger issue within our society that must be addressed. For someone like myself, who has fortunately never been a victim of sexual abuse, it is almost impossible to fathom the amount of it that goes on in our society.

      That said, The Church is correct in owning up to what has happened on its own watch. Pointing out the problem of abuse outside of the Church gives the impression that they are deflecting the problem and not addressing it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *