What can I say to my kids when they ask why we keep faith in this church?

I dragged my kids to 8 a.m. Mass this morning for the Feast of the Assumption. It was one of those days where the “obligation” part of the Holy Day felt particularly heavy. There is a small parish within a short walking distance of our home, but we are still adjusting to the logistics of leaving the house with two kids, so my husband, our 3-month-old, our 2-year-old and I managed to roll our stroller quietly to the back pew of the church around the time the first reading started. I pointed out the pictures in the stained glass of Jesus and Mary and Joseph to my son, who snacked on Cheerios while my husband juggled my daughter on his shoulder, slowly becoming drenched in drool.

We make the effort, however imperfectly, because I want my son and daughter to know that our faith is important, because I want them to choose to live it themselves one day, because I believe it is good. And my belief in the good at the heart of our faith is why I have tried hard to contribute to the institution, too: to find community in our parish, to spend hours researching local Catholic schools, saving to pay for them, budgeting to make donations to the church, to Catholic charities.

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And then I came home from Mass, and while the kids napped beside me, I started reading the grand jury report of sexual abuse in several dioceses of Pennsylvania. I could only get through a few pages before feeling physically ill and being filled with a sense of disgust and anger and betrayal that I know is only a fraction of what the abuse victims and their families must have felt for so long.

I have found myself for the first time truly afraid of what it means to ask and to allow my children to be part of the church.

I was confirmed by and was handed my high school diploma by the first U.S. bishop indicted on child sex abuse charges, so there was never any doubt in my mind that the abuse and its cover-up reached high into the church hierarchy. But I, perhaps naively, had allowed myself to think that the majority of the cases of abuse had been found out, that the policies and procedures put in place would help prevent new ones and that we knew about most of the men who had covered it up, though few of them have faced consequences.

The revelations of the grand jury report indicate otherwise, and I have found myself for the first time truly afraid of what it means to ask and to allow my children to be part of the church. Can I trust that they will be safe as altar servers or students or just going to Mass? And what I would say if my children were to one day ask me, why? Why in the face of such systemic horrors committed by the people supposedly leading the church did we stumble down the street to Mass each week?

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church.]

Robert Collins, S.J., the priest who baptized my son two years ago (and who also happens to be a long-time editor at this publication) had asked my husband and me to do an exercise prior to the baptism of our son that got me thinking about the answer to this question before I had asked it. Write a letter to your son, Father Collins said, and tell him what you hope for him in the faith. We did, and we read the letter at his baptism, and recently did the same for my daughter. I have found myself going back to it over these last few days, hoping to find some sustenance for my own faith life as well. In reading it, I saw that so much of my hope for my children and myself and our place in the church rested on the belief that, in the process of becoming holy, they might help to make the church holier, too.

The letter, adapted slightly here, reads as follows:

We hope that your faith inspires you to be just, loving, humble and merciful. We hope that your faith inspires you to encourage the church to be more just, more loving, more humble and more merciful.

We hope you find community here, people who will support you, love you, challenge you. We hope that your faith community inspires you to reach out to the larger community—to love others, to challenge them and support them. We hope that your faith inspires you to care for those in need, to be like the shepherd who smells like sheep, to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, to be mercy for others.

We hope that when the world makes it difficult to live out your faith that you find the strength to persevere. We hope that you find strength in the Eucharist, in the real presence at Mass and in the people of God.

We hope that you are inspired by the lives of the holy men and women in heaven and the holy men and women around you now. We hope that you read and learn about your faith, drawing on the wisdom of those who have helped to shape our church. But even more, we hope that you use this knowledge to live your faith—that your life gives witness to the joy of the Gospel.

We hope that you love God with all your heart but that you also know that it is O.K. to be angry at God sometimes, that it may seem God is silent at times but that you are never alone and that God loves you right through it all. That we love you right through it all.

We hope that your faith inspires you to be forgiving, to let go of grudges and malice. And we hope that your faith inspires you to ask for forgiveness when you are in need of it.

We hope that your faith brings you great joy and that you share that joy with others.

We hope that you see this journey of faith as an adventure, that you know that none of us live it perfectly but that we simply try to do it sincerely and with great hope. We hope that you take time to be grateful for this life with the knowledge that this world, as beautiful and glorious and heartbreaking as it is, is not all that there is.

In a broken and hurting church, it is good to remember that the church as an institution is not why we are here or what we are here for. Yet we are responsible for it, and that means holding it accountable and working to make it more truly reflect the kingdom of God. The grand jury report is one painful step toward doing just that.

The Gospel at Mass this morning included a reading of the Magnificat, Mary’s powerful prayer of praise. The priest’s homily in response was unconventional and brief. He stood and simply said, “Every year, when the Magnificat is read, I just think, What more could I add?” and then he sat down. Indeed, Mary’s prayer both challenges and comforts, disturbs and offers some consolation and hope, hope in a God who “has scattered the proud in their conceit...has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly”—a God who will do so again.

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J. Calpezzo
3 months ago

In California the corrupt DA's looked the other way until the statute of limitations expired. Hence, Roger Mahony, who makes the bishops in PA look innocent, is still wearing the red hat. The church has lost its moral authority. Only good, selfless priests and religious women hold it together.

Chuck Tooley
3 months ago

God bless you, Kerry Weber, moving from despair to hope.

Jeannette Mulherin
3 months ago

It seems that a faith as wonderful as you describe would attract adults. In reality, membership largely consists of people who were indoctrinated (brainwashed) by Catholic parents as small children, long before those children were equipped to assess the faith through the lens of critical thought. Perhaps, particularly in the light of the seemingly never-ending abuse allegations, the author should rethink the risks she’s taking to her childrens’ well-being by involving them in a community that has so little appeal to clear-eyed, thoughtful adults.

Andrew Wolfe
3 months ago

This hateful belittling of Catholic believers is way out of place.

Mark Matthews
3 months ago

You totally misrepresented Catholics in your comment. There is a centuries-old intellectual and academic tradition in the Church. Many of us are thoughtful people who make sense of our lives responsibly and live in the tension between the Church’s teaching and Modernity. The Gospel inspires us to become better people and struggle for a better world where all people are children of God. We also have many leading scientists among us. There is abuse in the Church, but there is equally abuse in society and all its institutions. We are broken. Every human being is broken. The Gospel gives us the ultimate way to healing.

John Mack
2 months 3 weeks ago

The Catholic church has been quite successful in attracting adults. Look at some of its prominent converts - Roger Ailes, founder and operator of Fox News until removed for sexual misconduct; Newt GIngrich, serial divorcer; Erik Price, owner and operator of Blackwater renamed Akademi, the mercenary army with the disgraceful record in Iraq; Gov. Brownback, the destroyer of quality public education. They know the true nature of the Catholic church,

Vince Killoran
2 months 3 weeks ago

Don't forget Dorthy Day, Thomas Merton, Dave Brubeck, Marshall McLuhan, Walker Percy, et al. "They know the true nature of the Catholic Church" as well.

Andrew Wolfe
3 months ago

Sadly, only briefly does Ms Weber approach, but never reach, the main point. We don't go to Church for Church. We go to Church for Jesus. We all have sins and faults and if the Church were nothing more than another social club, another human institution, there is no way it would be worth it. We have to put our faith in Jesus, not bishops, not religious, not even the Pope.

Denis Jackson
3 months ago

I agree with you Andrew.
I've been a cradle Catholic , I'm now 73 . Sometimes it seems the institutional church can get in the way of our pilgrimage journey to union with God!
The Kingdom of God is within....( our hearts)....so it doesn't ultimately matter how depraved some of our priests, bishops, popes, laity behave. For the past few years I've distanced myself a bit from old mother Church and gained a great deal from reading books like 'The Infinite Way' written by that wonderful American mystic: Joel Goldsmith.
If a follower of Jesus the Christ is awake he/she does not abuse anyone, it's impossible .

John Mack
2 months 3 weeks ago

A better tranlation is "the kingdom of God is among us." Is it?

Dawn Tedrow
3 months ago

Thanks, Kerry for writing this essay on a day that I'm struggling to see my way through. Living in the Greensburg diocese of Pennsylvania, I'm not sure how I can continue to move forward. Now that I've painstakingly read much of the incredibly horrific accounts of abuse, I'm not going to be able to attend mass anytime soon, I'm afraid. My children went through the local Catholic school system and have grown up to be loving social activists; I guess that I should be grateful that my kids escaped unscathed, but my heart hurts for all the children that weren't so lucky. Maybe over time I'm going to come out on the other side, but right now all I can do is to continue to pray.

Phillip Stone
3 months ago

Shock, horror! You found yourself amongst sinners! And you think you do not fit in with the rest of us, being so good?
It is such a sacrifice on your part to do all these things you signal, you seem to think you deserve a reward.

Sister, the thing you were grudgingly attending is spoken of in the New Testament as the gathering of the faithful for fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers.

Joining us for the above reason automatically marks you out as a sinner keeping company with sinners - if that is going to spoil your reputation or your self-image, think again.
Jesus Christ came to call sinners, not the upright.

No, we do not make anything Holy; we cannot make anything Holy; we have no Holiness to give the fellowship that is from ourselves.
There is a parable in the New Testament about a field sown with excellent grain seed and has an enemy come in secret and and sow darnel amongst them - it is a look-alike weed which does not bear fruitful grain. Others volunteer to weed it out but the owner gainsays them - leave both to grow and separate them at harvest time - grain kept for food and weed burned.
God is letting the elect and the damned thrive together - the judgement is to come and belongs to Almighty God the Father alone.

Matt Teegarden
3 months ago

The Church is structurally flawed and predisposed to abuse. To enable a dysfunctional system to perpetuate itself by claiming that "we all are sinners" is to turn a blind eye to the essential dynamics of abuse. As long as the Church remains as a rigid, unquestionable hierarchy of men, abuse will continue.

Floyd Grabiel
2 months 4 weeks ago

An interesting comment. The church proclaims that we are all sinners, so we just have to live with it. The Bishops no doubt believe in the statement that we are all sinners. What they forget is that as sinners, we should repent. They miss that part of the equation. At this point, the only honorable thing is for all the Bishops and Cardinals in the US to resign. Then, parish by parish and diocese by diocese a process based on election by the laity (like it was in the early Church) will elect - not appoint - Bishops. And, if a few women are elected in the process, well folks that's the way it is.

John Phillips
3 months ago

I know that I am, in the eyes of the Church no longer in the state of grace because I willfully didn’t go to Mass on this Holy Day. In light of the events of the past two days, I just couldn’t do it and for that I am sorry. Right now, I don’t know if I can go back anytime soon. I love my Faith but I am so totally disgusted with the Church right now that I don’t know what to do. I will meet with my spiritual director, a Jesuit, and I hope he can help me deal with the deep sense of pain and despair that I feel right now. Then it will take tons of prayer, just me and God, without the buildings and clergy and liturgies, to help me find a way to forgive the leaders of the Church for this outrage that they have brought upon all of us who call ourselves Catholic. Please pray for me and for all Catholics in this time of trial.

Phil Lawless
3 months ago

The message of the Incarnation is freedom. You have bee made to the level of God. You need to decide what your relationship with God is. He would like it to be very close, but He leaves it up to you, even if it takes a long time to decide upon it.. This applies to all the people you know, as well. Even to all people everywhen. Do not despair . God is very forgiving, even of every transgression.
.

John Phillips
3 months ago

Thank you, Phil. I find comfort in what you say.

John Phillips
3 months ago

Thank you, Phil. I find comfort in what you say.

Denis Jackson
3 months ago

Dear John, please get a grip and move on .
If the pope, the mass, priests, bishops, the sacraments were all to disappear tomorrow what would you have left?

Answer: Union with God . The Kingdom of God is within .....not without....

Mark Matthews
3 months ago

Missing a Mass does not take you out of a state of grace by itself. Obviously, you feel very sad by has happened. We all feel it. Maybe your anger and sorrow come precisely from your union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His heart is grieved too. As you rest in him, your heart will find peace. Then, once you have peace you can make decisions about returning to Mass. You may also discover that His love is much bigger than you can imagine. I believe your spiritual director will/should tell you the same.

John Mack
2 months 3 weeks ago

Try an Episcopalian parish for 6 weeks. Then choose.

Toby Gillis
2 months 3 weeks ago

Why try Paganism lite? Get in a non-denominational Church that teaches the Bible and not the traditions of men.

Lucie Johnson
3 months ago

Good for you... But I found myself unable to go to church today. Unwilling to participate in church rituals.
I have no desire either to encourage children or grandchildren to deepen their faith through the use of this institution, to trust its retreats, camps and youth programs.
As it is now, I see the church as structurally flawed and predisposed to abuse, cover-up, and pretense, and I don't think this will get better soon. It is a rigid, tightly connected hierarchy of males, many of whom are unhealthy, and cover for each other.
It is so very sad.
Yet of course there are many good people who do many good things, but maybe the institution needs to crash and burn in order to be reborn.

John Walton
3 months ago

Jesuit who said mass at Gesu in University Heights OH asked for us to pray for the Church in this "dark hour". His brief homily reminded all that Mary said "Yes" in a time of deep confusion and uncertainty.
We'll come out of this OK....but in the temporal sense, the big-C Church needs oversight of the laity.

Crystal Watson
3 months ago

I don't understand why people stay in a church in which their children are not safe, anymore than I understand why they stay in a church that treats women and gay people the way this church does. You talk about faith, but that has to do with Christianity,not Catholicism. You can practice your faith in any denomination - Jesus/God can be found in all of them - so why support a church that does nothing to end its abuse of children?

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
3 months ago

For the same reason you remain a Democrat in spite of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton’s damage to women and children, your support of Hollywood in spite of enabling Harvey Weinstein types, your patronage of the irreligious news media in spite of their spreading fake news, for being a woman in spite of women killing unborn babies, for being an American in spite of Americans being gluttons, sloths, greedy, etc, etc, etc

And thus Crystal has revealed her true colors: she visits these forums to throw stones at the Church she detests. Thankfully the Church invites us all in spite of our hypocrisies

Crystal Watson
3 months ago

As usual, you have no idea what you're talking about.

John Mack
2 months 3 weeks ago

Or a Republican desite Fox News and all the liars in that party.

Lynn Biberdorf Carter Ofs
3 months ago

Since 2002, the Catholic Church has done a great deal to protect children. We have pretty well established that 3% of priests, schoolteachers, coaches, etc. are predators, and that we need to be careful with our children everywhere. To get anywhere near a child in the Church, we have for years needed training in identifying abusers, being aware of grooming behaviors, background checks for everybody, and never an adult alone with a minor. The past abuses detailed in the grand jury report are horrifying, but it is not accurate to say that the Church has done nothing to end the abuse of its children.

Crystal Watson
2 months 4 weeks ago

Estimations of the percentage of pedophiles in the church are much higher than 3%. Most victims don't come forward for years after the incident and some don't come forward at all, so it's premature to say this is all in the past. Meanwhile there are cases of child porn like that by the Vatican diplomat ... https://nypost.com/2018/06/23/vatican-diplomat-convicted-on-child-porn-…. When I say the church has done nothing I mean that instead of trying to guard children from the pedophiles in the church, the church should be keeping the pedophiles out of the priesthood in the first place. Mandatory celibacy attracts too many of the wrong kind of people to the priesthood.

Vincent Gaglione
3 months ago

Ms. Weber states a clear and simple fact, that the laity of the Church need to step forward and assert their authority in the hierarchy of our religion. The prayerful hopes that she expressed for her children will never become reality as long as Bishops and pastors are feudal kings in their bailiwicks. I don’t know the mechanism to accomplish it but I do know that the current structures of the Catholic Church need to be revised if the Church is to flourish. Otherwise it will become what conservative Catholics would wish for, a “pure” Church of believers who ostracize and exclude sinners, some fantastical Protestant vision that is not catholic and Catholic at all!

John Chuchman
3 months ago

Great philosophers urge us Not to try to make our kids like us, but instead to be more like our kids, it's time to listen to the NONES and move on from this corrupt church.

John Mack
2 months 3 weeks ago

I beg your pardon. My relatives in their 70's, 60's, 50's and 40' have left the Catholic church and feel they can lead a far more spiritual ife without it.

Reemberto Rodriguez
3 months ago

Beautiful article. Thanks for sharing.
This current situation is simply horrific. inexplicable. And diabolic.
The Church’s diabolic involvement with children sexual abuse is evil incarnate. Where goodness dwells, evil lurks. The more holy the institution, the more evil seeks to penetrate.
Through the centuries we have been infected and infested with internal turmoil explicable only by acknowledging the real presence of the antithesis of God - the complete opposite of goodness - evil.
Our only hope is the deep rooted belief that just as Jesus triumphed over evil, our Church will also continue on its path to eternal victory.
The process and journey is arduous and treacherous. The temptations are constant and insidious, seldom obvious or easily dispelled.
We know we have a lifetime to see the Light, realize our essential goodness, and create the good memories that will be our small footprint on earth and our eternal joy in heaven… And, the evil one also knows there is a lifetime to separate us from goodness, to instill doubt in us, to justify hideous acts, and to destroy or deconstruct our faith foundation.
And so pray on - and act on - we must. In moments like these - and on this, one day after the Holy Day celebrating the Assumption - I turn to Mary. She hurts today, as she has hurt so many times before. Yet she never abandoned us. She never will. She understands. She will pray for us, pray for the Church… And most important, she will console the victims of this institutional evil that has the potential to destroy us - but only if we let it.
This evil will destroy us only if we give up on an institution that is inherently Holy, has done immeasurable good through the centuries, has given us examples of truly great men and women, and is now led by a Pope who is redirecting the Church to focus on the poor, marginalized, and victimized…
… May we endure these horrific times with the grace and love of Jesus Christ … May the Catholic Church confront this inexplicable evil by authentic contrition and reparations… And, may the victims of abuse find justice and peace.

John Chuchman
3 months ago

Where goodness dwells? You must be kidding

Reemberto Rodriguez
3 months ago

Yes, There is goodness in the Church. Plenty. And - not but - this evil, sickening, inexcusable wrath we are going through has to be confronted. To me - and I respect that to others it is different - walking away is not the thing to do. Staying in this impreferfect, dysfunctional, embarrassed, shameful institution and work to cleanse it from this toxic situation and affirm its commitment to service as the manifestation of God is what I - maybe naively - choose to do...

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
3 months ago

Beautiful article, Kerry. The Church is fortunate to have you and your family in their midst.
Fr Avery Dulles would agree

We are Catholic in spite of the leaders therein. A Church to believe in

Monica DeAngelis
3 months ago

I think the idea that a better church existed in illo tempore is an illusion. The early church was wracked by division and, if Paul's letters are to be believed, perversion and corruption. So great were the controversies over the centuries, by some accounts, Theodore, bishop of Mopsuestia was dug up after his death and his remains violated. The corruption of the middle ages is well known. I'm not sure there was ever a time in church history when the work of the Spirit wasn't being compromised by the flesh.

Toby Gillis
2 months 3 weeks ago

Paul's Church and his letters are not connected to the pagan practices of this "Catholic" church. Paul preached on the "Body of Christ" which the Roman church does not believe in.

Rebecca Edwards
3 months ago

Why do you stay? I cannot imagine. I took my daughter out of the church after the revelations out of Boston. Why would you expose your children to the possibility of sexual violence? Why would you entrust them to adults who have demonstrated that they will not protect them from sexual predators? Who, in fact, will make excuses for such men? Look, if you learned that the Girl Scouts we’re running a child sex abuse ring, you would never let your daughter be a Girl Scout. This is no different. I can’t imagine why any parent of young children would stay.

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
3 months ago

Rebecca, The PA fiasco involved 8% of the clergy over 70 years.
>90% of the news media, films and TV “shows” violate the minds and conscious of all men and women. Social media is a moral and psychological hazard to all children, and many of their parents behaviors prove it, witness what France did to ban smartphones from schools. Crime is off the charts, politicians are moral cripples, hospitals are dens of greedy charlatans, and schools are coercive institutions funded by our Federal government.

We arent called to live in fear of everyone, and being so cynical is toxic.

A more realistic approach would be the one advocated by Bishop Robert Barron:
https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/the-mccarrick-mess/5873/

Lisa Weber
3 months ago

When I get discouraged with the Catholic church, I have a number of things I try to remember. The church is not the same thing as my faith. I doubt that other churches are much better. Part of the reason that records are available in the Catholic church is its monolithic structure. I have found a great deal of good in the church - far more than I expected.

I so hope that the church will use this awful time as a lesson that it needs to change and to allow women a greater voice in church leadership. Women have a different perspective on what makes a good leader and maybe women could help pick some better bishops.

John Chuchman
3 months ago

Ask them to show you the way OUT.

Toby Gillis
2 months 3 weeks ago

Getting out is the simple part just #walkaway. Once you have discovered that every thing you have been taught by Rome is pagan lies and man made tradition you will be among the happiest people on the planet.

Rebecca Edwards
2 months 4 weeks ago

I am curious about how other parents are answering Kerry’s question. I don’t think she ever provided a real answer herself. My answer was to take my child in my arms and leave. This is an institution which has made it very clear, by its actions and by its inaction, that it cannot be trusted with children. I cannot imagine parents remaining in other institution under those circumstances. Your first priority is not to save the Church, which you cannot do in any case. That is work for the institutional church to undertake. Your first priority as a parent is to your child’s well being. How is exposing them to a culture of abuse, as embodied in an institution that does not value the well being of either children or their parents, in their best interest? What letter would you write to them if the worst happened?

Crystal Watson
2 months 4 weeks ago

I don't have kids but if I did I wouldn't raise them in this church. Besides the chance they would be abused, I wouldn't want them absorbing the teachings about women, LGBT people, etc.

Luis Gutierrez
2 months 4 weeks ago

Sexual abuse in the church is not something new. It is just coming out now. The timing is not insignificant. At a time when patriarchal gender stereotypes are falling apart, it is another indication that the time is now for a reformation of the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Law to more visibly become the sacramental priesthood of the New Law. Another apostolic visitation would be another waste of time. It is time to stop playing musical chairs and attain gender balance in the church hierarchy. This tragedy cannot be mitigated as long as the clergy-church relation is a mirror of the patriarchal men-woman relation. We need gender balance in ordained ministry!

Ted Shepherd
2 months 4 weeks ago

I quit reading at "(he) had asked my husband and I to do an exercise . . . " This comes across as a failed attempt at claiming erudition. Please, please, there is no rule that says you must say "I" every time you say "and". To avoid this tone-deaf error, a writer can simply say "he asked me and he asked my husband . . ." Few people, I think, are capable of writing "he asked I". Didn't the nuns teach you better in elementary school?

Kathie Waldron
2 months 4 weeks ago

Kerry-I did not attend church today as I struggle through their horrific acts against the innocent...thank you for the article.

Khoi Nguyen
2 months 4 weeks ago

I don't think it is possible for us to keep it together when the people in control won't do what is necessary to "right the ship". It is like us workers doing all we can to keep a company afloat when the managers refuse to do their jobs. How many more revelations of abuse will continue to come out?

I feel like we are in an abusive relationship with the Church. They keep punching our guts and we keep taking it. It ends today.

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