Like many, I was at first angry about the new report from the PA grand jury regarding the clergy sex abuse scandal in that state. Beyond the content of the accusations in the report, I soon realized I was mad mainly for two additional reasons. First, because this scandal within my Church also paints me in a bad light. Second, like most lay Catholics (I think), I feel I have no authority to do anything about this type of scandal or the actions that caused it. I spent many years part-time in an Evangelical Church. At least there, if you disagreed with the pastor or there was a scandal involving the leadership or staff, I could pack up and go to another Evangelical church, pretending that this new church was somehow separate from the other and actually pure.
As the last few days and weeks have passed, I have grown steadily angry and disappointed at who I should also be angry at - myself. As a human being and father, I am appalled that anyone would take advantage of children. Appalled especially concerning those accused of these crimes who were in a position of authority, and most of all disgusted at those who are identified who should speak instead in the name of the Lord.
But, a few days ago as I watched a military fly-over at a recent ballgame, I thought about all the brave veterans who sacrifice their time and lives for the rest of us. I thought about how we owe it to these men and women to take care of them, even if their PSTD or other malady leads them to hurt themselves or others, or brings them to a point of despair and crime. I realized that I was not giving the same respect and honor and loyalty to our spiritual warriors - the everyday priests who sacrifice everything in their lives for us. For me.
In our parish, we once had an older priest accused of abuse from an encounter twenty years earlier. This man who had practically built the church himself was gone - instantly. Gone. Assumed guilty without trial. Assumed guilty by all of us whom he had served faithfully. Gone until 18 months later when the charges, which evidently everyone associated with the investigation knew were nonsense, were dropped. Our priest, now sick and devasted by the experience, was given an interview on our local Chicago news program. I watched eagerly, only to see him asked only a single question and given maybe thirty seconds to make up for eighteen months of anguish and embarrassment.
I, for one, will not abandon my priests. If they are found guilty through a real trial, then I will understand and support whatever punishment they receive. But I will not abandon a man who has pledged to serve the church, living in a state of poverty, to battle alone a case he cannot afford to properly fight. And I will not be angry or appalled at my Church when it rightly supports the legal rights of that priest until and unless that man is indeed proven guilty.
The second issue is that I have long believed and hoped that parish priests can someday marry. So, I, like most I am sure, had a momentary feeling when the PA report came out that this was proof that the celibate priesthood was not the way to go.
But did I, at that point, really look at the facts? Did I notice from the report that there have been only two cases, from what I've read, reported over the course of the last ten years in those same dioceses?
More so, did I really look at the actual percentages of abuse that had been reported among the priestly population, even if I assume a large number of cases have not been reported? Did I consider whether any Protestant denomination being held under the scrutiny of a 70-year investigation would have shown similar rates of abuse, be it adultery, prostitution, child molestation or other sexual sins? Would any Fortune 500 corporation survive such an investigation? Would our state and local governments? Would our state's educational system? Would the federal government, or the university system or the military?
Of course, when these thoughts came to me, I at first threw them aside, giving in to the argument that any impartial view of the facts was just a way to 'pass the blame'.
But it is certainly not passing the blame. If I demand of the Church that these cases should force the end of celibate priests, then shouldn't I take a look to honestly see if married life actually produces less sexual sin? What if we make a drastic change to the priesthood only to discover that rates of sexual misconduct do not fall but perhaps even rise?
So, for me at least, I have tried to more carefully consider the facts and reject my own knee-jerk reactions. I am no longer angry only at past sins and coverups, but rightly angry at myself for not supporting our priests. Angry for condemning their lifestyles of chastity and poverty based upon emotion instead of the facts. These are wonderful men. In many ways, the very best of us.
I, for one, will always support our priests and the Church they support.