My mother was a devout Catholic from a devout Catholic immigrant family. Thus, I was baptized and raised Catholic, and I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school. You may think, then, that I would be a traditional Catholic as well. You’d be wrong. While I’m not a doubting Thomas, I’ve never been one for organized religion. I’ve always had questions, always wondered, for example, what sets the clergy apart from the rest of us. A priest, I have long believed, is merely human, and despite his position at the altar, does not have a direct line of communication to God. A priest is riddled with the same faults as his congregation. I respect the clergy’s education and role in the church, but I’ve never bought into the old Catholic culture that elevates the clergy to saintly status. That being said, I feel no vindication or satisfaction as I read the recently released list of 188 names of sexual abusers within the Catholic clergy. Quite the contrary; the list, which dates back as far as the 1940s, is deeply disturbing. I’m disappointed and disgusted with the Catholic church.
Though I’ve questioned Catholic tradition all my life, there’s always been a part of me that hoped my mother and other devout followers of the faith were right. I never accepted the infallibility of the Pope or the authority of the clergy, but the little Catholic girl in me wanted it to be true. I wanted to believe the Pope and the hierarchy of the Catholic church had real answers and could be relied upon to lead the faithful. As I consider the cause of this crisis of sexual abuse in the Catholic church, I realize it is that very desire to believe in something greater than oneself, to trust that the man in the pulpit speaks and lives by faith, is exactly what enabled pedophile priests to prey upon the faithful Catholics. These clergymen knowingly hid behind their collars, strategically manipulated their congregations, and twisted the trust of the innocent to benefit themselves. To keep the church intact, fill the pews and line the coffers, those in authority within the church aided and abetted these criminals in a massive, decades-long cover-up. The offenders perfectly personify the idiom “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” which has traditionally described individuals presenting themselves contrary to their true, dangerous selves. These wolves hiding behind their collars and cassocks, talking the talk, playing the part, were totally unfit to preach the Lamb of God’s word.
Though viewed by some as a step toward rehabilitating the church, the released list of predator priests is suspect to me. Most of the publicized names are of deceased or elderly offenders. You mean to tell me there is no list of more recent offenders, no list of the presently accused or ongoing investigations? Where is the list of Catholic bigwigs who transferred these ordained criminals to parishes where they were not yet known? Complicity is guilt! While Jesus taught mercy, and I know these guilty men are ill and need extensive counseling, I can’t muster any feeling for them at this point other than disgust. They are too long steeped in hypocrisy and evil.
The Church is the house of the Lord. There is peace to be found there. The spiritual part of me firmly believes without the Holy Trinity, there can be no life. However, my intellect tells me organized religion is an agent of social control, and the Catholic church (or any church) can thus harbor wolves in sheep’s clothing. While the church has its place and its function, let us not forget Luke 17:21: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”