It comes as a shock, even when you know it’s coming; even when you’ve seen it coming for years, heard about it, talked about it, listened to the news… it still comes as a shock. So now we’re hearing and talking about Catholic priests again, as if it hadn’t happened before, as if it were only Catholics and only in one place and only… And then we ask how didn’t “they” know because it’s so much easier to say than “how didn’t we?”
It’s horrifying, especially if it’s your faith, your church, your background that’s brought into question, because then you, like me, might wonder if we need to share the blame. And then we have to make sure we won’t share it… maybe we’ll leave, never darken the doors of a Catholic church again, never believe in a God who allows such evil, never…
And the evil will continue, not just in Catholic churches, nor even in Christian ones, and not just in secular neighborhoods… because evil doesn’t go away, and all too often we don’t know, we don’t see, and we retreat into blame when we ought to be opening our eyes.
My abuser was a Christian leader, a pillar of church and community, a wonderful man (not Catholic) who led many people to faith, counselled and supported the struggling and the weak, helped his neighbors… and abused me. I’ve been told God wouldn’t use an abuser to bring people to faith, but I’ve been told wrong. I’ve been told abusers are beyond the pale, beyond forgiveness, beyond redemption, but I’ve been told wrong. My abuser was a good man and a sinner. I suffered for his sins. But that doesn’t alter the fact that many others were greatly aided by his kindness. How should I come to terms with that?
And how should Catholics around the world come to terms with news, again, of priests abusing children? These priests are sinners. These children, now grown, are victims. They’re wounded. They’ve lived with that sense of unworthiness, that isolation as if only I could be stupid and helpless and foolish and evil enough to let that happen to me, that sense of unending guilt and shame.
It’s wrong. It’s wrong that I once felt like that. And it’s wrong that we perpetuated a world—yes and a church—where such things couldn’t be spoken about; where the wounded child knew he or she would only be more in the wrong if they dared to speak; where victims knew they wouldn’t be believed; where the accusation, on those rare occasions where something was finally said, was taken as an isolated incident because nobody else had spoken and no one in authority shared the information… because we, as well as “they,” didn’t talk about such things. So we, as well as they, must share the blame.
I would have spoken, as a child, if I’d dared, but it would have destroyed my world if I was believed, and it would have destroyed me if I wasn’t, so I kept silent. When will we learn not to destroy our children’s worlds even more than their abusers do? When will we learn that good and evil reside in each of us and can’t be divided so must be talked about? When will we end the silence, so our children can safely speak, and so those whose sins are found out can be dealt with at once, before the isolated evil becomes a pattern, before the whole world has to end for the child who just wanted one single thing to be changed?
It’s not a Catholic problem. It’s not a problem with priests or with faith or with God. It’s our problem, and one in four people sitting near you as read this has been a victim. It’s time we changed the world.