I spoke out on sex abuse—and lay people kicked me out of Mass

I was born into the Catholic Church. Throughout my life, I have continued to choose the church, trusting her wisdom. For much of my life, I have said “yes” to a church that has become increasingly difficult to stand by. I have taken those difficulties in stride, sitting by, praying for better days. That changes now.

Earlier this month, terrible evil was unveiled in Pennsylvania. It is not new but the magnitude is staggering: the sexual abuse of 1,000 people, perpetrated by 300 priests and covered up by the bishops over a period of seven decades—and this in just six dioceses in one state. Add to that the systemic abuse by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and its cover-up by church leaders that has been revealed this summer.

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The food I was looking for on this particular Sunday had nothing do with theology.

I, like many, have been left reeling. I am looking for answers, looking for an appropriate response from the leaders of a church that I have loved so dearly. Looking for fulfillment following the release of the report, I went to Mass.

This summer, the cycle of readings placed us in John’s Bread of Life discourse. The theological richness of these readings has been written on for millennia. I had hoped to hear a homily that would feed me. Those who gathered for the liturgy listened to a homily on the greatness of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life that will ever sustain us. While our priest fed us the truth of the faith, he neglected to provide the sustenance I needed.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of the sex abuse crisis]

The food I was looking for on this particular Sunday had nothing do with theology. I had been starving for answers or explanations or even just acknowledgment of the pain the church has caused. I got none of it. There was no apology, no remorse, no hint of penance.

After the homily was over, I stood up. From the back of the church, amid the entire community, I politely asked the priest if he had planned on addressing the news of the grand jury’s report.

The priest sat down in silence, seemingly dumbfounded by my question.

The congregation chided me to sit down.“This is Mass!” I was told. “It’s not the time.” “Be quiet!” After a few very tense minutes, the ushers came to escort me out. My wife, my infant daughter and my mother- and father-in-law followed. We walked to the vestibule to a smattering of applause punctuated by small pockets of jeers—but mostly to silent acquiescence.

From here on out, the culpability lies with us, the laity. We will be to blame if our voices do not cry out for change.

Once again, rather than facing the gravity of the situation, silence won out. This time, it was not the bishops or the clergy silencing me. It was the laity. I was silenced by the very people victimized by this tragedy.

In the vestibule, the ushers began to question me. They asked if I was Catholic. They asked if I understood what the Mass was. I was told that this is not the place or time to address “those things.” I calmly offered my credentials (life-long Catholic, master’s degree in Catholic theology) and explained that this seemed to me the best time to address this issue. Their escalating anger quickly made it clear that my family and I were no longer welcome.

While I was being questioned, a woman walked up to us with her daughter to say that she was a victim of child abuse and came to hear something. She, too, left hungry, perhaps starving. She voiced that she was saddened by the community’s response and how I was treated. She walked out just before I did, however, unlike me, I fear she will not be back. I can hardly think of her courage without breaking down into tears. I am sick to my stomach knowing that there were others who showed up to Mass looking to be given bread and were given stones instead.

My brother-in-law summed it up well: “I cannot help but see the irony here. You asked a question that needed to be asked and were taken out and hidden away as consequence.”

We cannot continue to allow this pestilence to spread in silence. I will keep asking questions, and I will keep looking for answers. As a church, we can no longer keep silent when faced with our own sins and evil deeds. From here on out, the culpability lies with us, the laity. The failures of the church will be on our shoulders if we do not demand transparency from our bishops. We will be to blame if our voices do not cry out for change. Because I love this church, I refuse to remain silent.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Mike Theman
11 months 4 weeks ago

Dude, they were right to have ejected you, but because of the sad state of Catechism classes and their emphasis on social justice and failure to educate about Catholicism, I understand why you would have done what you did.

Seriously, read up on your religion, at least learn why we have mass (and here's a clue: it's not a press conference).

Michael Jelavich
11 months 4 weeks ago

Completely agree with Mike above. The Mass is to be sacred. Save your shouting for afterwards.

Mark Langlois
11 months 3 weeks ago

I TOTALLY disagree. One of the sources of the abuse was the propensity of the Catholic Church to hide behind dogma and Constantinian structure, cutting itself off from the reality of the humanity of the People of God and its ministers. It’s time the Church cope with the reality of its humanity, and stop escaping into disincarnate theology ... and return to the spirit of the GOSPEL, and of Jesus in which we meet Him IN HIS HUMANITY. Somehow, Jesus seems so absent from the priority given to structure and the correctness of law and not to the reality of LOVE ... the FIRST commandment.

Phillip Stone
11 months 3 weeks ago

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
You sanctimonious twat, this man knows far better than you what is significant and important in being in Christian community.
Whenever would there be a better forum for public airing of serious issues in a parish?

John Campbell
11 months 3 weeks ago

What offends the author and me is the experience of absolute silence on the subject, accepted by the laity.. While the Mass would not be the best forum, and the homilist must stick to the gospel, a brief starement in the homily, the announcements, or the dismissal could inform everyone about opportunities for discussion at the parish and diocese.

Andrew Strada
11 months 4 weeks ago

It is all about you and your feelings, Matthew, always and everywhere, isn't it. You decide where, when and how this issue is to be discussed and you sneer at those who do not find that admirable. Bask in the warm glow of your self-righteousness and give praise to God that you are not like the rest of us.

Stanley Kopacz
11 months 4 weeks ago

Translate your comment into ancient Hebrew and it probably sounds like what they said to Amos. At least in my Church they read a statement from the bishop. Still seemed like bandaids on a leaky nuclear reactor.

Andrew Strada
11 months 4 weeks ago

I understand that some prophets were annoying and violated the rules. But not everyone who does that is necessarily a prophet. Some people are just annoying rule violators.

Stanley Kopacz
11 months 4 weeks ago

If they can talk about raffle tickets at mass, they can talk about this.

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
11 months 4 weeks ago

Touche Stanley! Raffle tickets indeed

Kenneth Dye
11 months 3 weeks ago

Thank you Stanley.

Mark Langlois
11 months 3 weeks ago

But those who address the errors of the church establishment which became a purpose in itself, precluding the reality of the Love to which Christ calls us, are effectively prophets in the sense of the First Testament.

Mark Langlois
11 months 3 weeks ago

But those who address the errors of the church establishment which became a purpose in itself, precluding the reality of the Love to which Christ calls us, are effectively prophets in the sense of the First Testament.

Mark Langlois
11 months 3 weeks ago

I fully agree, Stanley! So much artifice and escape from the reality of the humanity of the People of God.

Laurence Ringo
11 months 4 weeks ago

Hmm...reading these comments so far, young Matthew should indeed be glad that he's "not like you"...

Laurence Ringo
11 months 4 weeks ago

Hmm...reading these comments so far, young Matthew should indeed be glad that he's "not like you"...

Andrew Strada
11 months 3 weeks ago

I'm sure that young Matthew is very satisfied with who he is. That comes across quite clearly in his article.

J Cosgrove
11 months 4 weeks ago

There are two separate things going on here. Fist all the horrendous behavior that has been exposed. Second, is the reason one is a Catholic. They are completely separate. Horrendous behavior by other people who claim to be Catholic such as the abusers in no way invalidates why one is a Catholic. If it does then one is a Catholic for the wrong reasons.

Juan Pablo Escobar
11 months 4 weeks ago

I completely agree with others that holy mass is not the time or place for this. You should however find other avenues.... tweeting, emailing, phone calls, letters, etc NONSTOP and get answers. Help set up a public meeting at your parish to get answers. We all have a ton of questions and we all want these problems fixed and cleaned up.

Mark Langlois
11 months 3 weeks ago

Why isn’t the mass the right place? It is the assembly of the people, after all ... a moment of truth in Christ. It is NOT a show in which ‘correctness’ and compliance to a questionable tradition are the rule. It is the assembly of the People of God where its members come for healing, reconciliation and search for loving truth, and not compliance to a humanly crafted ritual.

Mark Langlois
11 months 3 weeks ago

Why isn’t the mass the right place? It is the assembly of the people, after all ... a moment of truth in Christ. It is NOT a show in which ‘correctness’ and compliance to a questionable tradition are the rule. It is the assembly of the People of God where its members come for healing, reconciliation and search for loving truth, and not compliance to a humanly crafted ritual.

Mark Langlois
11 months 3 weeks ago

Why isn’t the mass the right place? It is the assembly of the people, after all ... a moment of truth in Christ. It is NOT a show in which ‘correctness’ and compliance to a questionable tradition are the rule. It is the assembly of the People of God where its members come for healing, reconciliation and search for loving truth, and not compliance to a humanly crafted ritual.

Mark Langlois
11 months 3 weeks ago

Why isn’t the mass the right place? It is the assembly of the people, after all ... a moment of truth in Christ. It is NOT a show in which ‘correctness’ and compliance to a questionable tradition are the rule. It is the assembly of the People of God where its members come for healing, reconciliation and search for loving truth, and not compliance to a humanly crafted ritual.

A Fielder
11 months 4 weeks ago

Matt, it sounds like you left before the prayers of the faithful... I suppose some parishes might choose to address the issue in that context. No doubt parishoniers need to lament liturgically and also expect to hear contrition. But I do have some compassion for the parish priest (and the rest of the parish.) Most masses are multi-generational liturgies - with many young children present. Some topics should be discussed among adults, so that parents don't need to explain clerical sexual abuse or priestly fornication and harassment to their 7 year old children. I would hope that responsible pastors will be able to provide for these needs of the faithful in some appropriate way. Assuming his best intention, this priest might not know how to respond best. Maybe you are on the same team and could talk about it privately with him.

A Fielder
11 months 4 weeks ago

At the risk of being pejoratively branded a Pharisee, I think this section of canon law might actually be beneficial, I know I appreciate it.

Can. 212 §3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, [the Christian faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
11 months 4 weeks ago

Nice to see an informed Catholic reaching for Magisterial documents. yes, CIC 212 #3 applies here, especially since the priests and/or bishops are being silent. It's not like he stoned the priest like the early Church did to Lepers?

CHRISTINE MCCARTHY
11 months 4 weeks ago

Because the priest sat down in silence, seemingly dumbfounded by your question, he was frozen, probably scared to death.
However, after the parishioners yelled at you to get out, he could have been more responsible and stepped back to the Ambo and made an announcement such as: "Thank you for your question. After mass is over I will be happy to address your concerns." I feel for you.
When else can we speak up in person? Catholic Mass is the only time we see the priest in my church / in public. We have no free for all meetings. I think that ought to be a part of our faith tradition - after every mass, have a Q and A session to discuss the readings and the homily. Did Jesus tell everyone to just go away when they spoke up? or did he answer questions?
...
Where do you find the Canon Law book? I have always wondered about that. As a cradle Catholic, I have never been made aware that it is public knowledge. Please provide a link? Thanks.

Reyanna Rice
11 months 4 weeks ago

You don’t need to buy the book. It’s freely available on the Vatican website:
http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_INDEX.HTM

Phillip Stone
11 months 3 weeks ago

Well, I for one was warmed by your revelation. To me it was a clue that not all accumulated and documented guides to action based on insights from days of yore possess the dead hand of law but enabling freedom. Thank you.

Joseph Spencer
11 months 4 weeks ago

Matthew, the parish you attended is my home parish as well. I was not at this particular mass that day, but some of my parishioner friends shared the experience they had from a very different perspective. My family and friends struggle with this. One of my brothers was ordained a few years after the early 2000s scandals were rocking the church and a second brother was ordained only 2 months ago. They have been reeling from this too.

With all that said, your question you raised, as polite as it might have been in your view, was seen and heard by my friends as confrontational and angry. Anger is understandable. Anger is appropriate. But had you spoken to this priest before mass? To give him an opportunity to hear and know your expectations to be fed? Had you thought about how speaking up loudly in a church setting (where most often people sit in quiet reverence) would impact the experience of the mass for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Your words brought fear to some people. The mother of a friend was worried you might be armed. Before dismissing this, please remember other Christian churches have had acts of violence perpetrated on them in recent years. Hindsight is 20/20, and I would hope you would not be silenced in the future, but that your soul be fed as you were hoping. But please understand the full characterization of your actions as seen from other members of the Body of Christ in suffering, not simply your immediate family. While you needed spiritual food in the form of answers to important questions you were harboring, you foisted that desire on someone else who might have needed food in the form of contemplative worship of the blessed sacrament. I will end, having ruined all attempts at brevity, but I pray you find the food you’re searching for, and I hope you find a manner to express your search for it that is more constructive.

John Espelita
11 months 3 weeks ago

Very wise comments.

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
11 months 4 weeks ago

Outstanding!!! Good for you and shame on the priest and ushers for playing dumb, stupid and cowardly! Go back and do it again but video record it, then distribute it to the media .Shame these cowards to financial ruin. How dare they silence you and victims of priestly abuse. Thankfully at my parish, the Priest addressed it en total as he should have

Vince Killoran
11 months 4 weeks ago

This seems like one of those rare times that standing and asking such a question is a responsibility of a Catholic. I can think of other forms this might take as well, e.g. leaving en masse during the homily and then returning. Many pastors are shielded from parishioners' perspective. This reminds me of how, 20+ years ago, Newt Gingrich was out fishing or hiking or something and some voters confronted him with a strong denunciation of his politics and policies against the poor. The then-Speaker of the House was reported to be stunned! He rarely ventured out of his cocoon to engage with everyday Americans.

The author's experience with the complicit laity is a sad statement on how we educate our children in our faith.

Annette Magjuka
11 months 4 weeks ago

Silence=Death

Annette Magjuka
11 months 4 weeks ago

Silence=Death

Edward Graff
11 months 4 weeks ago

Bravo, Matthew. There is a time and place for everything, the prophet says, and this is the time for just anger. Not the destructive kind, but that anger that demands acknowledgement of sin and readiness to reform. America reports less than 20% of Catholics surveyed heard at Mass about the biggest crisis to hit the Church since the Reformation. That’s unacceptable. And if many priests are anxious to get back to day-to-day piety and holy platitudes in their sermons then it’s time to speak out. If that offends delicate ears or interrupts quiet prayer time, too bad. One major aspect of the sin of this unending crisis has been unwillingness to engage. Well, given what we now know ignoring this issue is simply immoral. Everyone in the pews knows what’s going on and we all deserve answers and, if nothing else, a way to support the priests that are doing the good work of the Church under unimaginable circumstances. But hiding from the crisis is what got us here in the first place. Good work, Matthew.

Laurence Ringo
11 months 4 weeks ago

Couldn't have said it better,Edward...I'll give me priest the benefit of the doubt and assume that he might have been caught by surprise and didn't expect such a question at Mass.Even so, he should have been prepared. I support young Matthew in this, and my Roman Catholic friends would do well to lift their heads up out of the pseudo-theological sands they're buried in and realize: YOUR CHURCH IS ON FIRE AND YOUR EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES!!! WAKE UP!!! 🤨🤨🤨

Edward Graff
11 months 4 weeks ago

Thanks, Laurence. All that is required for evil to flourish is that good people do nothing.

Dennis Hayes
11 months 4 weeks ago

you will go back? never stay where you are not wanted. knock the dust of the place off your sandals and go into the desert, trusting in god.

Dennis Hayes
11 months 4 weeks ago

you will go back? never stay where you are not wanted. knock the dust of the place off your sandals and go into the desert, trusting in god.

Denise Mccarthy
11 months 4 weeks ago

Matthew, I am 100 percent on your side. There should not be sides. Your priest was arrogant. Basically, he works for you and the other members of the parish, not the other way around. He showed poor leadership and seems to go along with the secrecy that has bedeviled the Church and is part of the reason the church is in this situation now. I would take my family elsewhere. I, too, was a cradle Catholic, but have joined an Episcopal Church due to the scandal and child abuse charges facing the Catholic Church. Funny, while all the abuse and cover ups were going on my parents were denied the sacraments because my mother had been married and divorced before marrying my father. My parents were far better people, parents, and Catholics, than the priests that denied them the sacraments.

Denise Mccarthy
11 months 4 weeks ago

Matthew, you know what really got to me? We were in Rome, and went to Mass at St. Lucia’s, which is the American Parish in Rome. Guess who was the Pastor of St. Lucia’s at the time? Did you guess Cardinal Law, who escaped from law enforcement in Boston. Cardinal Law was given this nice clerical duty and to make it all worse, was given a Catholic burial Mass at St. Peter’s. What is wrong with these people? Cardinal Law was a criminal. Covering up the abuses in Boston were felonies, and the man should have been prosecuted. SMH & all that.

melanie smith
11 months 4 weeks ago

I am sorry you had such a horrific experience. I hope the priest reached out to you afterward. If not, I would say he has some soul-searching to do. I can think of a few stories in the bible where Jesus spoke out in ways some might say were inappropriate. I don't understand him to be too much caught up in propriety. When 1000 children have been victimized by predator priests who had an actual system set up to abuse children, I'd say the sacredness of mass and propriety go out the window. You were right to speak up. You didn't scream or yell. You asked a simple question. The priest could easily have said "let's talk after." I also didn't see a lot of grace in the congregation. I am sincerely saddened you had that experience and good for you for writing about it and speaking out in the first place.

Phillip Stone
11 months 3 weeks ago

After 40 years being known to be a Christian psychiatrist I have intimate knowledge of presbyters drunk and sober making married women in their parishes pregnant, abusing youth sexually and violently, practising homosexual sex and proclaiming Jesus was a homosexual himself and leaders of religious orders refusing to deal with the perpetrators of abuse revealed to me by my patients, I refuse to automatically know what this particular man thought or felt.
Dumbstruck with guilt, frozen by cowardice, pathetically betrayed in his naive innocence ... we do not know.

You are correct, Melanie - He could have said that he was just as betrayed and shocked as others were and would call a meeting of interested parties after the service to fix a time from general discussion, he could have confessed his helplessness and powerlessness and asked for time to prepare, he could have done any number of things I cannot guess - and he stayed silent and sat down. A shepherd's sheepdog sitting down on the job.

Fred Keyes
11 months 4 weeks ago

At both Masses the past two Sundays the issues of the current day were discussed, honestly and as fully as possible at this stage of the controversy. Last Sunday the pastor invited all present to attend a kind of town hall meeting last Wednesday. The week before one of the two deacons in the parish delivered one of the best sermons I've ever heard a permanent deacon preach. Part of his homily was about what and who the Church is. I think Mr Keppel would have been more satisfied at the two parishes where I attended Mass these past two weeks.

Homilists need to address these sexual abuse issues and use this teaching moment to advantage.

Franklin Uroda
11 months 4 weeks ago

If the bishop of the diocese, or the pastor had directed that the homily time be devoted to the PA scandal, as was done in my diocese, and the homilist did not, then there would have been a problem. Someone getting up in front of the congregation and telling the homilist what he should do or not do-coercion-IMO, would aggravate most everyone in Church. Get together in the break-room, afterwards with the other families, and advocate what you think, or ask the pastor for a parish meeting in which everyone, freely could attend or not.

Edward Graff
11 months 4 weeks ago

Respectfully, Franklin, the Church is on fire. This is the time to aggravate people.

Jeff Monroe
11 months 4 weeks ago

to all you Don't Rock the Boat Catholics - What would Jesus have done, huh??

MJ Painter
11 months 4 weeks ago

Good for you for standing up. It's disgraceful that the priest didn't address the issue during his homily.

Now if you had interrupted the Consecration, that would have been something else ...

David Byrden
11 months 4 weeks ago

Mr. Keppel, may I correct a small error in the article?
You begin "I was born into the Catholic Church".
That didn't happen. You were born agnostic, like everybody else.
Then, your parents (I assume) chose to induct you into the RCC. They could have chosen any religion or none; it was a choice they made for you.
It had nothing to do with your birth.
Hope this is helpful.

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