(What We Used to Call Church)
Having been raised Catholic, completed nearly 12 years of Catholic school, receiving my ministry training through the Catholic Church and then working for 15 years as a pastoral minister in the Church, I have had a front seat view of all that is magnificent as well as malevolent within Catholicism. The final conclusion I have drawn is that for the past 2000 years, immediately after the apostles discarded Jesus’ embrace of the feminine in favor of the patriarchal and hierarchical status quo, the Church has needed to be reformed.
I used to believe this reform could come from within. I have since learned otherwise. I also used to believe that perhaps the answer was a whole new church altogether – as was the result of the Protestant Reformation, and more recently in Evangelical Christianity and even closer to home, in the off-shoot Catholic denominations. While a more traditional form of “Church” might work for some, I have increasingly come to understand that as we grow toward union, anything that separates – religion, denomination, even atheism, will not serve. Instead, the awakened world is looking for a way to connect that is accepting of all beliefs, and embraces the Truth that is inherent within every single belief system – even those which has grown past the idea of “the old man in the sky god.”
Enter Authentic Freedom…here we provide everything that Church was originally intended to do, only without doctrine, dogma or any form of prosthelytizing:
Authentic Freedom (dot) Love is a community of women and men who are responding to the calling of their Soul to discover their own unique giftedness and how they are called to find fulfillment in these gifts while being supported and empowered in the use of these gifts in service to the betterment of the world.
You can become a part of our community by:
Subscribing to our Blog. It is always free!
Following us on Facebook.
Enrolling in a class or two (or three).
Subscribing to our weekly Authentic Freedom lesson by registering for a Basic Membership.
Increasing your involvement with a Plus Membership which gives you access to our Private Social Network.
Connecting with other leaders in the human evolution movement by joining our Teacher’s Circle with a Premium membership.
Authentic Freedom has come about because we long for a more loving, more compassionate, more tolerant, more accepting and gentler world where the needs of all are met for the common good and where all of humankind can once again live in harmony, peace and understanding.
If you have found yourself here, you are either just beginning to hear the rumblings of your Soul, or have already come to know that you are among those who are being hospice to the dying world while midwifing the new world that is coming into form and are looking for people of like-mind with whom you can share this challenging and exciting calling!
We are changemakers, wayshowers, sh.t-disturbers, mystics and rebels. And here we are safe to question, explore, discover, be empowered and supported for our own unique giftedness and for how we are called to exercise these gifts in our world.
Join us in whatever way you are able and welcome!
Authentic Freedom (dot)Love
Pope Francis has been given the greatest opportunity that could ever be given to the leader of a “great” institution. He has been given the opportunity to root out and rid his home of the evil that has beset it. Instead, Francis has chosen to side with the forces of evil by stating that the Church has “spared no effort” in resolving the issue of clergy sexual abuse – an “effort” that I find I must question. What exactly have you done about addressing the issue of priest sexual abuse and the culture of clericalism that has allowed this evil to continue for 2000 years? As far as I can tell, the evil continues in spite of the “effort” the Church claims to have put forth (an effort that has for the most part been geared toward preventing the laity from abusing children…a laity that was rarely guilty in the first place!).
Children are still being abused. Priests are still getting away with it. Clergy remain in hiding. And the magisterium turns its face in denial of the true source of this evil – a culture of white male, ordained privilege that places priests above the people they were meant to serve. “Above” us to the point that neither Church, nor Canon, nor even moral law pertains to them.
Pope Francis has failed us. I cannot speak for other Catholics (or former Catholics), but I once had great hope for this pope. I didn’t expect doctrinal change (though it would be nice if he at least acknowledged that women were deserving of ordination and that historically there is no support for a male-only/celibate only priesthood), but I did expect that the chose leader of the world’s largest religious faith would stand on the side of truth. With his most recent statements, however, it seems he stands on the side of the hierarchy – specifically, protecting the culture of clericalism that is at the heart of all that is wrong with the Catholic Church, and I might argue, with all of Western society. I have always said, if you want to see where Western culture is going, look to the Catholic Church. Where Francis currently stands on the topic of clerical abuse seems right in line with what is happening in the area of sexual abuse in the good ole USA – the men in power standing with the men in power while the rest of the world suffers. I am ashamed.
I will say it again, Pope Francis, you have failed us. You have been given a chance to acknowledge the horrors of clergy sexual abuse, admit the wrongdoing of your brethren, ask for forgiveness, and then embark on the true work of forgiveness which is to determine the cause of the sin and ROOT IT OUT! Instead you have done nothing but offer platitudes while brushing clergy sexual abuse off as something that only happened in the past. Incidents of clergy sexual abuse are still being reported today, but the Church does nothing. Francis, with your words today, it is clear that nothing else will be done. Until the cause of the “sin” is identified and transformed, the sin shall remain. Apparently Pope Francis is ok with this or more would be done. “We have spared no effort,” are perhaps the most offensive words I have yet to hear out of the mouth of this pope.
Pope Francis you have failed us…and as a 53 year old woman, I can tell you it is not only the youth of the Church who are outraged. The whole entire world is outraged over the ongoing sexual abuse of the vulnerable by the ordained Catholic priesthood….and you should be too!
Lauri Ann Lumby, OM, OPM, MATS
Authentic Freedom Academy and Temple of the Magdalene
Please join us Wednesday evening for the inaugural of the Temple of the Magdalene online gathering:
Birthing the new church that has nothing to do with church
With both Authentic Freedom Academy and Temple of the Magdalene, I am doing everything I can to take the Church out of church while birthing a new vision of what we formerly called church. Before doing this, however, we have to examine that which is destroying the Catholic Church (and by association many other forms of Christianity) from the inside out:
On September 20th, National Catholic Reporter published an article by Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, For Real Change… In her editorial, Sr. Joan identifies four key roots that need to be addressed if there is any hope of reform in the Catholic Church: clericalism, clericalism’s long arm, the theology of obedience and the theology of the priesthood itself.
Clericalism: Clericalism is the sick and twisted culture that arises out of the idea (propagated by the Church) that clergy are somehow superior and extra-holy. It is the system which gives priests and bishops absolute authority and makes them the keepers of accountability for everyone else BUT themselves.
Clericalism’s Long Arm: As Chittister mentions, it is not only the clergy who hid centuries of sexual abuse. This culture of clericalism has seeped into the actions of those who have something to gain from the institution: church and diocesan staff, law makers, law enforcement agencies, even the people in the pew who have found a perceived sense of power in their relationship with the Church.
Theology of Obedience: This is the obedience I have fought my whole life – the system that enforces obedience to the Church over obedience to God and where the only thing that matters is that which is “explicitly handed down by the magisterium.” I find it interesting how easily the Church forgets its own teaching on primacy of conscience and how easy it is for the Church to ignore the fact that action ALWAYS precedes legislation! Compounding the issue of obedience is the very fact that NEVER have the laity been consulted in the development of Church teaching (thank you for this reminder Joan!). Instead, a bunch of old white guys make decisions for all people to obey without having a clue about the life experiences of those who are expected to abide by these laws – the same laws these very priests ignore whenever it suits them! Hypocrites!
Theology of the Priesthood: OMG! Don’t’ even get me started! The idea that priests are somehow changed because of their ordination – that simply by virtue of their ordination they are different and better than the rest of us – is quite simply LUDICRIOUS! Where did Jesus EVER model this? In fact, the “priesthood” that Jesus modeled was exactly opposite of the privileged state of the Catholic priesthood. In fact, Jesus preached vehemently AGAINST this kind of hierarchical privilege.
Birthing a New Vision of What We Used to Call “Church”
Unlike Sr. Joan Chittister, I no longer hold on to the hope that the Catholic Church will enact any sort of reform. From the perspective of the power-class, they would have too much to lose. Instead, I have come to understand that my calling is to be part of birthing something NEW. This new that I am called to be a part of birthing gathers up that which was intended for good in the early Christian movement and perceives it – not through the lens of separation, but through the call to UNION. Those who call Jesus their teacher are not better than, more right, more powerful, more deserving than anyone else. As Jesus tried to teach his disciples, truth is found within and that truth leads us not into separation – but into LOVE.
Here we are no longer:
- Black or white
- Christian or Muslim (or Jew or Buddhist or Pagan or Athiest)
- Male or Female (or non-binary or trans or…)
We are ONE.
- Here there is no hierarchy.
- Each person is empowered in discovering and living their own truth from a place of love.
- Each person is recognized for their unique giftedness and it is acknowledged that they have ALREADY been ordained by the Divine that made them to live this giftedness for the sake of their own fulfillment and in service to the betterment of the world.
- Here we no longer serve an institution – we serve each other and the betterment of our world.
- Here everything is sacrament and we don’t need a priest to make it so for we are our own priest/ess.
- Here every day is the Sabbath and every loving action is “the mass.”
- Communion is in every way we connect with another in that place of love.
It really is this simple.
If you are interested in being part of this birthing, join us Wednesday evening for the first Temple of the Magdalene online gathering:
A Church that isn’t a Church
The only Church we will ever need
The Church within.
As it relates to church, my (now ex) husband shared this bit of wisdom, “The only perfect church is the church of one.” This could not be more true as every single institution ever created by man will only be as good as its weakest member. As long as there are wounded, imperfect humans, we will have wounded and imperfect institutions. I believe it is for this reason that Jesus NEVER set out to start a church. He didn’t even come here to start a new religion. Jesus was a Jew who only sought to remind the tribe in which he was raised of its own Divine potential. But more importantly, Jesus came to support us in moving beyond the external perceived authority of institutional religion and toward the only true authority that we will ever truly need – that which Jesus called “God,” and which Jesus tried to explain, is not outside of us, but is within.
As the revelations of the corruption and evil within the Catholic Church continue to emerge, one has to wonder about the fate of the Church. In my past life, I used to believe the Church could be healed and reformed and that I was to be part of that reform. Now I know better. After giving up on the Church, I thought it was my job to start a new church. Again, now I know better. Why in the world would I want to start an institution and have to be responsible to and for others? No Way! As I have been sitting in this space of holding the Catholic Church in its death and pondering my role in all of this (there is no doubt in my mind that I am here to play some sort of role that has something to do with what we used to call “church”), the prophecies of Joachim DeFiore have haunted me:
Joachim DeFiore (1132-1202), a theologian and prophet of the Catholic Church spoke of the time we are in when he referred to “The Age of the Holy Spirit.” He prophesied that a time would come when humanity would no longer have need for the Church. He said that humanity would no longer need the intercessor of the Church or its priests as we would come to know God ourselves. I believe we are in this time. We are moving away from the need for an outside perceived authority and learning to stand in our own discernment where we can discover and live in our own truth. We no longer need a priest or a Church to tell us what is good, right and true for ourselves. We also no longer need a Church to tell us who God is. We have all the tools we need to come to know the Divine on our own. If we do not have the tools, we have resources we can go to find and learn how to use these tools. This, I believe, is the “Church” that I am being called to help bring forth.
A Church that isn’t a Church
The only Church we will ever need.
The Church within.
Here we come to know the God of our own understanding. We come to know this God through whatever means possible – through scripture, ritual, nature, life itself, creative expression, contemplation, meditation, prayer, poetry, fairytales, etc. etc. etc. Here there is no limit to how we might have an encounter with the Source. In knowing this Source, we also come to know ourselves. In coming to know ourselves, we discover our unique giftedness and how we are called to use these gifts in the world for the sake of our own fulfillment and in service to the betterment of the world. In coming to know ourselves, we also come to know our brokenness and we are given tools to help find healing and transformation from all those things which prevent us from being free. Here, WE are our own source of salvation – We in our relationship with the Source of unconditional love and in our relationship with others and with the world.
This is the church that I believe will find its way out of the debris of the dying Catholic Church and through Authentic Freedom Academy and the Temple of the Magdalene, I support the emergence of this new (original) “church.”
I just finished watching the Netflix documentary series – The Keepers. It its official advertising, the docuseries is described as:
This docuseries examines the decades-old murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik and its suspected link to a priest accused of abuse.
OMG! This does not even begin to express what is covered in this series. I will be the first to admit that this has been perhaps the most difficult series for me to watch and yet I felt watching it was critically important. In fact, I would suggest that it is critically important for everyone to see. I will, however, preface this recommendation with a HUGE TRIGGER WARNING. The docuseries catalogues IN DETAIL the sexual abuse inflicted on (likely) hundreds of teens by Fr. Joseph Maskell of the Baltimore, Maryland Archdiocese. In addition, the docuseries describes the far-reaching efforts by the Church, law enforcement, the courts and even the FBI to cover up the abuse and curtail the investigations of the murders of two local women, Sr. Cathy Cesnik and Joyce Malecki. The Keepers provides provocative evidence suggesting both women were likely killed by Fr. Maskell (or he ordered their murders). To say the series is chilling would be an understatement!!!
Like the movie Spotlight, this is a series that stayed with me. I felt it to the depth of my being. Being raised Catholic and having worked in the Church for a number of years (finding my calling within the Catholic Church in fact), this series hit home. On one hand, the series did a beautiful job of portraying the potential good in the Catholic Church. It demonstrated the beauty that comes out of the Church in people like Sr. Cathy and other women and men who found the love of the Divine in the Church and who sought to live out that love in service to the world. On the other hand, the series demonstrated the insidious evil that dwells in the shadows of the Catholic Church, the depth of that evil and its far-reaching effects. In Baltimore, it was not only the Catholic Church that was involved in the abuse and its cover-up – this culture of abuse and the efforts to keep it secret involved law enforcement, the courts, and even the FBI. Some suggest that members of the local law enforcement may even have participated in the abuse.
What troubled me the most in this documentary were two things:
- The archdiocese’s deception (which continues today!) and the efforts they put forth to curtail any investigation, including arguing AGAINST raising the statute of limitations for abuse victims. If nothing else, cue up episode 7 for the ludicrous arguments put forth by the diocese against increasing the statute of limitations for abuse victims!
- The abuse itself. This troubled me because of the way in which the abuse was described. The details of the abuse were so similar to what I have heard from others, and so specific to certain “sacramental” acts and so depraved that I have to wonder if these priests are being trained to do these things. You cannot make this stuff up! It is not normal sexual behavior by any stretch of the imagination. When I heard of a single priest performing this kind of abuse I thought, “Well that’s weird, sick, twisted and super disgusting.” But to hear of it AGAIN with another priest I have to ask the more difficult question: “Why is this more than just an isolated incident and from whom are these priests learning this kind of deviant behavior? It is an abuse of power and distortion of the sacraments in a way that is beyond imagination. It is beyond sick and the pure definition of evil! As one who honored and held the sacraments as sacred, I am horrified – not just by the abuse, but by the Church’s ongoing efforts to deny, ignore, push under the rug, that this is taking place in the Catholic Church and then doing nothing to: 1) hold priests accountable 2) make appropriate restitution to victims (I’m sorry, but a $25,000 pay-off does NOTHING to heal the abuse and its ongoing effects on a victim’s life!!!!!), 3) change the system that made any of this possible in the first place!
This, in fact, is the final piece that I came away with after watching The Keepers. It is too late for the Catholic Church. There is no possible way the institution of the Catholic Church can fix this. The disease is too far reaching. The cancer is too deep. The tentacles of the tumor are too tangled and intertwined. You cannot restore or rebuild a structure that is this far gone. The only answer is to tear it down, creating space for something new. For me, watching The Keepers put the final nail in the coffin of any dreams or hopes I might have had of the Church reforming itself. It really is too late.
How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.
The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.
All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food
to revive their strength.
Look, O Lord, and see
how worthless I have become.
For these things I weep;
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed.
From the Book of Lamentations
The hierarchical Church is dying. Heralding its death are the ongoing revelations of priest sexual abuse and the Catholic Church’s inability (or unwillingness) to do something about it. The “sins” of the hierarchy go deeper than we can even image (for just a glimpse, watch the Netflix documentary The Keepers. It is the chilling account of one priest who sexually abused hundreds of young girls, who murdered two who threatened to report him, and the entwined system of corruption that allowed him to get away with it). Nothing short of a complete dismantling will change the system of clericalism that places priests and bishops above the law (civil and doctrinal). Jesus spoke against the very system that we see in the Church today as he witnessed the “sins of the hierarchy” in his own Jewish faith:
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
MT 23: 1-12
In this exhortation against clerical hypocrisy and hierarchal abuse, Jesus lays out the kind of leadership he had in mind. Jesus did not preach FOR a hierarchical institution, he spoke of humility and service, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has exalted themselves, placing themselves in positions of power, above those they are supposed to serve. For this they are being humbled. The Church is experiencing the consequences of their actions. In this the Church will be brought to its knees.
The mighty is falling and a new order is rising up to take its place. What that new order is, we do not yet know. And yet, this “new order” seems to be a part of my own calling:
Supporting those who are grieving the loss of the Church they once knew, or who are grieving the damage done to them by the Church…and guiding them to the only Church they will ever truly need…the Church within themselves. Learn more HERE.
Or should I say “Goddess?” As the horrors of the priest sex abuse scandal continue to make headlines I can’t help but celebrate the truths finally being made known. I’ve seen the horrors first-hand (I’m not only speaking about sexual abuse!) and it is only right that the sins of the Institution be made known and that the hierarchy be held accountable to the grievous harm they have inflicted on humanity for thousands of years. I suspect (hope) that this current wave of truth-telling marks the end of the priesthood as we have known it and the end of the patriarchal/hierarchical structure built on fear, power and control. The Divine (by whatever name we call Her) is CLEANING HOUSE! Amen! Amen! Halleluiah! (Cue Handel:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usfiAsWR4qU )
In light of all of this, I found it hilarious (God has a great sense of humor…..or is it timing?) that this reading came up in my daily scripture feed this morning:
The word of the Lord came to me:
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,
in these words prophesy to them to the shepherds:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who have been pasturing themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool,
and slaughtered the fatlings,
but the sheep you have not pastured.
You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick
nor bind up the injured.
You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost,
but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd,
and became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered
and wandered over all the mountains and high hills;
my sheep were scattered over the whole earth,
with no one to look after them or to search for them.
Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As I live, says the Lord GOD,
because my sheep have been given over to pillage,
and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast,
for lack of a shepherd;
because my shepherds did not look after my sheep,
but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep;
because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I swear I am coming against these shepherds.
I will claim my sheep from them
and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep
so that they may no longer pasture themselves.
I will save my sheep,
that they may no longer be food for their mouths.
For thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
EZ 34: 1-11
What was true for Ezekiel (622 BCE) is true for us today. The “shepherds” (priests) have sinned against their people and against their God. They have brought harm upon the people of the flock (us) and the Divine says NO MORE! The truth is coming to light and as God said to Ezekiel, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” What need have we for human shepherds (priests) when we have God/dess to guide us? As Jesus chose God over the institution and his disciples did the same, this is the invitation we are currently being given as the outside perceived authority of institutional religion (here symbolized by the Catholic Church) comes crashing down around our feet.
As I have come to know in my own journey, we do not need an outside perceived authority (the Church) when the only true authority is the Divine within. This is the truth Jesus came to know and what he then went on to teach his followers. Mary Magdalene got this and held true to the Divine within. The male disciples had to re-learn this truth after getting expelled from the Temple, and then somehow forgot this along the way when they appointed themselves “Bishops” and “Priests.” But as I have said a million times over, “God/Love always wins!” She is reclaiming what is hers; casting out all those who did not heed Her words and who did not care for Her people and inviting all of us to return to the only “Church” we will ever truly need – the “Church” that is in our own heart where we are One with the Divine (Love) that dwells within.
P.S. If you don’t yet know that “Church” within, I am happy to help you find it.
In the face of the most recent revelation of the deep culture of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I wonder what will become of the Church. Ultimately, this may be the beginning of the end of institutional religion which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. However, in spite of all that is wrong with the Catholic Church, there is some good and if they can heal all that currently ails this 2000 year old institution, the Catholic Church has the potential for being a great force for good in the world. It will take a miracle to get there, but if Pope Francis (read Pope Francis’ response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report HERE) called me today and invited me in as a consultant on how to heal the Church, making it relevant and useful to the modern world, and he was willing to pay me a sh.t-ton of money to do so, I would undoubtedly say yes. So Pope Francis, in anticipation of your generous offer, 🙂 here are my thoughts on the first order of business in healing and reforming the Catholic Church:
The first order of business would be to get rid of the ridiculous notion of original sin! If we are made “in the image and likeness of God” and “loved without condition,” then how can we be sinners? Wounded and in need of healing? YES. But not inherently evil. Eliminating the projection of Saints Paul and Augustine ‘s unhealed shame will do two things a) eliminate the first source of manipulation used by the Church against its members and b) heal the shame Catholics have been conditioned to feel.
Eliminate the hierarchical priesthood. Fire them all. In their place, prepare, equip and empower the most powerful priesthood that the Church has so far only given lip-service to: THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS! Every single person on this planet (and in the Church) is uniquely gifted to be a vessel of Divine love in the world. Some are called to be teachers, preachers, facilitators of ritual, healers, counselors, artisans, leaders, pastors, sales people, administrators, financiers, etc. etc. etc. Support the LAITY is naming, claiming, and cultivating their unique giftedness and then empower them to use these gifts in service to the mission of love and the betterment of the world.
After 1 and 2, my sense is that the rest will simply take care of itself. Absent the shame that imprisons and controls, and empowered in our gifts, Jesus’ mission of love (the mission the Church claims as their own) will naturally and effortlessly be fulfilled. Scripture will be re-interpreted. Sacraments re-written. Liturgy will become vibrant and life-giving. The Catechism will be tossed out, along with Canon Law. Religious Education will be replaced with Spiritual Formation – the process through which people become self-actualized. Meditation and Contemplation will be at the center of all that is done. Baptism will become a ritual of celebration and welcome (not for the purpose of removing “the stain of original sin”). Confession will be replaced with Spiritual Counseling so that the unhealed wounds that cause our non-loving behaviors can once and for all be healed. All people will be ordained in their own gifts and mission. The people of the Church will work for justice and peace in our world and love will lead the way.
As social media continues to rage over the topic of clergy sexual abuse, I find myself wondering “what about the victims in all of this?” It is appropriate to be enraged at the Catholic Church for centuries of abuse, the culture of clericalism, fear, power and control, that made the abuse possible in the first place, and the long-standing refusal of the Church to do anything about it. It is only right that the Church “pay for its sins,” and that they begin to do the really hard work of identifying and then eradicating the cause of clergy sexual abuse. If the Church continues to do nothing, which I suspect it might, I predict that their days are numbered.
As it may be appropriate to wish karmic retribution upon the Catholic Church, this does nothing to address the deep needs of the victims who have suffered – and the victims are many. First, of course, are the hundreds of thousands, if not hundreds of millions who have been sexually abused by Catholic priests. There is no doubt in my mind that these are the ones who have suffered the deepest wounding at the hand of the Church – deep psychological, spiritual, emotional, mental and physical wounding. Unless we ourselves have been abused, we cannot begin to imagine the depth of their pain or the sense of betrayal. I do hope that one day the victims will have the courage to speak. Their voices need to be heard so that true healing can begin to take place.
The second victims are those who perhaps have not been sexually abused, but who were used by men of the Church so as to gain power or for their own selfish needs. When speaking of these, I think of all the women and men who have been the priests’ concubines – their “lovers.” All the housekeepers, cooks, secretaries, vacation buddies who were made “special” by the priest because of his attentions, but who were never given the dignity of marriage. Those who were good enough to spend time and sleep with but who had to do it all in hiding because “Father” couldn’t possibly leave the power of his position to make you his wife or partner.
The third victims are the good priests. I have known a few. Not all Catholic priests are pedophiles and not all are abusing their power. Many are good, kind, gentle men who have been called by God to serve. They serve with a sincere and humble heart and do their best to continue the work that Jesus began. Now these men are guilty by association – or at the very least, suspect. My heart goes out to these men and I hope and pray that they receive the support they need to continue their work in spite of the suspicion that will now surround them, perhaps even becoming vehicles through which true reform and healing can begin to happen in the Catholic Church. If nothing else, they will be needed to support the fourth group of victims.
The fourth group of victims is the people in the pews. Those who have found a home in the Catholic Church, who have found peace and comfort there and whose peace is now disturbed. Those who grew up believing the Church was good and had only the people’s best interests in mind. Those who gave their lives to the Church through their participation and support. Those who found comfort in the traditions, the teachings, the prayers, and the scripture and who came to know Jesus and the love of God through their Catholic faith. Those who believed the priest was a good man 1) because they were told this and 2) because they have personally experienced his kindness. These are the people who are now scared and confused – trying to make sense of senseless acts in an Institution that is supposed to be made of love. My heart bleeds for these people because the Church is their home and now what? Leave the only home they have ever known? Leave what has been a source of comfort and support and go….where? Watching as friends and relatives leave the Church and wondering what they are supposed to do. I get it. I’ve been there. As one who eventually made the decision to leave the Church, I can say that it was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make and after ten years, I am still grieving this loss. In light of the latest wave of truth-telling as it pertains to priest sexual abuse, some of this group might choose to leave the Church, doing the difficult work of mourning that loss. Others will choose to remain, hoping they can be a vehicle for healing and change. Others will have no choice but to turn the whole thing off – turning away from the stories of abuse because it is just too much for them to handle. Regardless of the choices made by those in the pews, my heart is with them. They too are victims in this.
Actually, we are all victims in the clergy sex abuse scandal. Not one of us is exempt from the pain of the evils done by humanity. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. Life is suffering. But in this suffering we have a choice. We can let it destroy us, or we can use that suffering to find the path to healing and in that healing find our way to the new life on the other side of that pain. This is my hope, and my invitation to all those who are currently suffering as a result of the latest reports on clergy abuse – let us come together as one, seeking together the path of healing so that something new might come forth out of this pain. Ironically, this is what my Catholic faith taught me and what it would call me to do.