By Tim Hayes
I am a lapsed Catholic.
That statement gives me no satisfaction, no pride. But it does give me some hope. At least I’m not a former Catholic. Not yet. But that line is a lot closer to being crossed today than at any other time in my life.
My sisters and I were raised in wonderful fashion by two amazing people. My parents gave us eight years of elementary education at a Catholic parochial school, where we received superior academic training and faith formation.
The girl I met the first week of college, also a Catholic, remained instrumental in maintaining my faith through those four years of intellectual and emotional growth and exploration. The moment I first expressed my love for her came during Mass at the campus church, in fact – the same church in which we were married a month after graduation four years later.
We brought our children up in the faith, as well. While they didn’t attend parochial school, we remained very active in our parish. My wife taught CCD classes for more than a decade, each of the kids sang in the weekly choir at Mass, and I even served a term as president of Parish Council along the way.
As the kids each left for college and struck out on their own career and life paths, and as a succession of increasingly disappointing and sub-par preachers shuttled through our parish, my dedication to Mass attendance began to wane. My wife and I even went on a “summer of churches” tour, sampling services at other parishes. But no such luck. My dedication to the church began dying on the vine.
Then, this past week, the Pennsylvania Attorney General issued a devastating Grand Jury report, citing evidence of some 300 priests – a third of them operating in the Diocese of Pittsburgh alone – sexually abusing more than 1,000 children over the past 70 years. The report only began to scratch the surface, though. It excluded the enormous Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and covered only those cases that had been documented – and only those in Pennsylvania. Think of the thousands of priests across the country, and hundreds of thousands of victims they abused, and the picture becomes even more revolting.
But back to the PA report. In reading newspaper reports delving into the details, one name leaped out at me. A priest from our church who had come to bless our home after we joined the parish nearly 30 years ago. This monster turned out to be part of a ring of abusers who “marked” children for attacks and shared those children with other priests in the group. Thank God we only had a one-year-old and a newborn infant at the time. To think that this sick, twisted deviant had been in our home, and that we took Communion from him at Mass, now makes my blood boil and my spine shiver.
As much as it pains me as a lifelong member of this faith community to say, I’m not sure I believe the Catholic Church in its present configuration is the true Body of Christ any longer. I believe Christ is present in the Eucharist. I believe that his word in the Gospels, his death on the cross, and his resurrection offer the path to salvation of souls.
But I do not believe that the people entrusted with the administration, formation, and demonstration of those eternal truths can be trusted. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tears into the high priests of his day, shouting, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
Whitewashed tombs, pristine and perfect on the outside, but rotten to the core.
This certainly is not meant as a condemnation of all priests, the majority of whom take their vows and their calling seriously, and who must be as ashamed and angry at the sins of their counterparts as the rest of us. No, this disaster falls at the feet of those in charge. Those who knew and said nothing. Those who coerced victims into silence with threats and payoffs. Those who shuffled these reprobates around, thinking it would solve the problem, but instead only giving predators fresh pools of victims.
Would opening up the priesthood to women, or permitting priests to marry, solve the issue? Perhaps. I think those are great ideas, and long overdue anyway. I mean, for Heaven’s sake, Saint Peter was married! The first pope! Why can none of his descendants live the same way? Mary Magdelene was one of Jesus’ closest, most trusted disciples! She was the first person to witness the resurrection! Why can’t her gender help lead the faith today?
The deeper, more difficult fact to face, though, in my opinion, is that a pedophile is a pedophile – regardless of gender, marital status, income level, religion, or any other qualifier. Jerry Sandusky at Penn State was married with children, and we all know what he did.
No, the real solution to the cold callousness at the center of the Catholic Church today may require a complete restart. Clean house, from the Vatican on down to the diocesan and parish levels. Appoint an independent commission – with a majority membership from outside the church – to achieve this goal impartially and fairly. Settle all lawsuits, compensating victims at terms to which they agree.
Then, once free of this dreadful stain and any lingering personnel-related, emotional, financial, or legal obligations, work like we’ve never worked before to welcome the faithful back into the fold. I promise, I’ll be first in line to help out.
The world, our nation, our parishes and neighborhoods are filled with lapsed Catholics, like me. But unless the church makes dramatic, positive changes, we may have no other choice than become former Catholics.
Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes