“The sexual abuse of children is a crime; sexual abuse of children by a Catholic priest is also a spiritual tragedy.”
(From Hurt to Healing, PublishAmerica, 2004)
As a child and through my teens my parish church was a place of refuge. I loved the smell of candles and incense; I loved the sound of the organ and the harmonizing of the choir. Somehow my abuse by a priest did not affect this experience. I suppose it was because, although I never forgot the abuse, I didn’t reflect on it. In my mind I didn’t associate Fr. D with my parish experience; he abused me at home and I never saw him celebrate mass. He was a family friend and benefactor. And like a typical victim, I felt the abuse was my fault, that I had somehow attracted this evil to myself. So I was not angry at God or the church, instead I turned the anger and hatred on myself.
I was very involved in my parish. As a teen I was a founding member of the first guitar mass choir and I belonged to a prayer group and the youth group.
Ironically it was not until I began to deal with my abuse by Fr. D in therapy that I began to experience anger towards the church and God. But I still felt that this experience was about who I was; I still carried blame and shame. Then the issue of Catholic priests abusing children became a national and international scandal. I could no longer labor under the delusion that my experience was unusual. Not only was it not unusual it was known to the bishops and popes of the Church. So many priests had been involved that there was a document specifically written on the subject of how to deal with accusations of abuse with the least amount of damage to the Church’s reputation and bank balance. And this document was decades old.
At the time I was Theology Department head in a Catholic High School. I had made it my goal to explain Catholicism intelligently, without resorting to “we just have to accept it on faith” kind of answers. I encouraged critical thinking and did not get offended by respectful challenges to Church doctrine from my students. I like to think I brought more skeptics closer to God than sent further away. But even as I was defending and explaining Church teaching I was becoming sickened by the stories of abusive priests, day after day, in the newspaper headlines. And day after day the bishops of my church, the church I loved, were shown to have lied and covered up for the priests, and intimidated into silence and paid off the victims.
So it wasn’t my own abuse, or the abuse of my brothers and my parents, or even the abuse of so many thousands of other children that broke my Catholic heart, I could argue the abuse away as the evil of individual, sick, perverted men. No, what robbed me of my trust in the Catholic Church was the knowing and complicit behavior of its leaders, men who were not themselves driven by sexual disorders and compulsions, but men who were rational, sane, healthy, religious leaders for whom the rape and abuse of children was unimportant, for whom the spiritual welfare of the victims and their families was unimportant. “Shepherds” who had no concern or compassion for their youngest, most vulnerable “sheep” but instead protected the rights of “wolves” in shepherds’ clothing to devour these sheep, and then protected the “wolves” and sent them off to hunt among other flocks.