As a Christian considering joining the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, I find myself overwhelmed with grief, anger and despair after a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report detailing the cover-up of over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse by over 300 clergy.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,” the grand jury wrote. Church officials operated what could only be described as a “playbook for concealing the truth.”
Unlike the bishops of Chile amid their sex abuse scandal, the U.S. bishops did not offer their resignations when this news broke but merely stated, “We are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic Bishops.” That apology is the clerical equivalent of a politician’s “thoughts and prayers.” It comforts few and accomplishes nothing.
The question for me is: How can I think about becoming Catholic now?
The current abuse crisis remains a painful stumbling block to my entry into the church.
I have fallen in love with the Catholic Church through a long, winding spiritual journey. Starting out Baptist, then going non-denominational and finally becoming Anglican, I have followed my study of Scripture, tradition, philosophy, theology and history, together with my own spiritual experiences, along a path that has led to Catholicism. Put simply, the Catholic Church feels like home.
Though I feel conflicted, I still want to become Catholic. The history, the global connectedness, the continuity, the tradition, the liturgy, the sacraments, the prayers, the saints, the mysticism, the focus on the poor, the emphasis on justice—all these dimensions of the faith remain true, good, beautiful and compelling.
I can find ways to justify my desire. After all, I tell myself, it is not as though the Catholic Church was free of scandals, corruptions and abuses in the past. History still bears the scars of the crusades, the Inquisition and religious wars. Church officials, even popes, have been guilty of terrible things. Yet the church faithful has endured.
Can I submit myself to this institution that systematically covered up countless acts of abuse?
Still, the current abuse crisis, along with the unsatisfactory response from many Catholic leaders, remains a painful stumbling block to my entry into the church. Can I submit myself to this institution that systematically covered up countless acts of abuse? Can I follow my bishop without wondering what he knew and when? Can I go to confession knowing that its seal has been abused to hide serial predators from justice? Can I honestly profess before the congregation that I accept and believe all that the Catholic Church teaches when so many of its teachers have committed or covered up these vile acts? Can I really trust my children to their care?
Yet where am I to go? Sexual abuse is horrifically common outside the Catholic Church, too. Just last year, Andy Savage, a man that I had known since I was a child, stepped down from his pastorate after it was revealed that he had sexually assaulted a woman when serving as her youth pastor. Settling for an alternate home within another Christian tradition will not solve the issue.
To be honest, I do not know where I will be once the dust settles. For now, I am enrolled in R.C.I.A., yet unsure whether I can bring myself to go. My heart is deeply conflicted. What little comfort there can be in such times I have found in the prayers, like the Memorare:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”
Mother, pray for us.