Of Many Things

The e-mail message was serious and required a thoughtful response. I decided not to reply right away but to return to it when I had more time to think. But I never did. I was busy, yes, but there were other reasons for my reluctance.

The message concerned the sexual abuse crisis, a subject Catholics are all too familiar with these days. My friend wanted to know how I, a new father whose adopted daughter was just baptized, was dealing with the slew of media reports issuing from Europe. What makes you and your family stay, he asked?


The question was addressed to me as a friend, but also as an editor at a respected Catholic magazine. “I am looking to America and people like you to help make sense of all this,” he wrote.

My colleagues and I are keenly aware of the special responsibility we bear in this time of crisis. In editorial meetings and casual conversations, we dissect the latest news reports, weighing how to respond. In our most recent editorials, “Pilgrim Church, Part I” and “Pilgrim Church, Part II” (5/10 and 17), we have tried to provide encouragement to our fellow Catholics while also looking at church structures that need reform.

Yet I feel obliged to distinguish my personal response to the crisis from our institutional response. As an editor, I have done my due diligence: I have followed the news reports and contributed to group discussions. Yet when I leave the office, when I sit at home or in the pew, I find myself tuning out when the subject of the abuse crisis is raised. When friends ask about it, I give a brief answer or don’t respond at all.

This is not new. In 2002 I worked at a newspaper in Connecticut when the scandal erupted in Boston. Because of my knowledge of the church, I was pulled from my regular beat to cover the emerging crisis. My first assignment was to a parish where two priests had been removed from ministry for suspected abuse. Reporting the story was a brutal exercise. The parish priests, and many parishioners, declined to talk to me. In the evenings I would return home mentally exhausted, loath to revisit the subject. I was relieved several weeks later to return to my small-town beat.

I have great respect for the journalists who reported on the sexual abuse crisis, especially those Catholic journalists who continued to follow the story even when national media attention flagged. Yet for me it proved to be a grueling endeavor. The latest round of media reports have stirred in me the same unease that first surfaced eight years ago.

What are the reasons for my discontent? At the newspaper my unhappiness was easy enough to explain: here I was, a committed Catholic, assigned to investigate the church. The cognitive and emotional dissonance was only natural. Today I am proud to work at a magazine that seeks to serve the church and can play a productive role in guiding it through the crisis. And yet the urge to “tune out the scandal” is still strong. The malaise persists.

I think I know why. In so many ways the church has been a life-affirming force in my life—never more than over the last year, as my wife and I pursued adoption. That process revealed to me the deep ways in which we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. It has been difficult for me to reconcile that singular moment of grace with the crisis of 2010. For professional reasons, I am obligated to read about the church’s failures and endure the invective of its critics; but when I can, I look away.

Some have reacted to the crisis with anger, others by leaping to the church’s defense. Still others blame the media. I change the channel. It is not a response I am especially proud of. I wish I had the passion of my crusading colleagues. Yet I know I am not alone. We all deal with trauma in different ways.

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8 years 8 months ago
My own discontent has to do with the dysfunctional nature of the overwhelming majority of "practicing" Catholics who know what needs to be done, but won't do it.

Think about this. What would happen to a Superintendent of Schools who covers up and transfers child abuser teachers to unsuspecting schools?

We all know what would happen. There would be such a public outcry that the Superintendent would be fired immediately.

Why should it be different for Catholic bishops?

If a bishop endangers the life of even one innocent child by his willful negligence, he must be removed from office now and forever.

Just like the Superintendent of Schools.
lLetha Chamberlain
8 years 8 months ago

"Crusading" on this issue seems to have gotten even the best-prepared nowhere.  Frankly, how can a good Catholic deal with all the societal issues involved (this is a complex issue-not one confined to the "perpetrators").  So many clamoring voices to be heard-so no one is: even the "experts".  Oh, well, again, working locally seems to be the only solution for this one/tired of hearing the cries of the indignant only adding to the problems.  "To work for the People of God" my vow and mission: if they don't want real help, but only to complain... I guess I'll have to let them do it-even if it is counterproductive to the issues at hand.  Let those outside the Church see our lack of LOVE (in action)-"you will know them by their LOVE", and our membership will go down more.

Emily Urban
8 years 8 months ago

As a Social Worker, I have worked with childhood sexual abuse and adults sexually abused as children.  I recognize sexual abuse as a culture with which many people will refuse to become familiar.  This is sad when we consider the high numbers among females and have only guessed at the numbers of males who have been sexually abused.  It would not surprise me to hear that four out of five people might have "flashbacks" just hearing about sex abuse because it leads them to a place, time, or event they don't choose to go".

As a practicing Catholic, firm in my commitment and belief that God has already told us what we are to do, "You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God" Micah 6:8..

We read that the people of that time are asking how they should worship God, going so far as to propose sacrifices, all the while forgetting what they have been told.  Might there have had trauma in their lives as well?

In a recent research study, I encountered the word homologeses.  The word, confess taken in its original text is "homologeses."  It comes from the root words 'homos' meaning 'same, and the Greek word 'logo' meaning 'to speak' - or literally, to say the same thing.

In dealing with traumatized individuals, we treat the trauma first, so that we can get them to as "safe" a place as possible for them given the seriousness of the trauma.  This is difficult if the person responding to the sexually abused victim becomes traumatized, is traumatized, or has been traumatized themselves. 

So, what will it take to get us to "say the same thing"?  to be of like mind?  Maybe, those three silent figures at the foot of the cross who stood through the "ignominious" suffering and death of Jesus.  We are not told that they looked away, or that they did not meet the eyes of Our Lord.  We are not told that they quarreled or defended their positions to be standing where they were standing to anyone.  My heart tells me they were attending to Jesus in the only way they could given what they knew they could do and that was "to be present".

Catherine Rogers
8 years 8 months ago

One answer is that the Church is more than the sex abuse scandal, just as it is more than the Inquisition and the Borgia popes.

One suspects more than a hint of schadenfreude in some of the media hype, but it's a mistake to try to fight that; yes, some people hate the Catholic Church no matter what; yes, some people are looking for any excuse to bash the Church; no, the media's attention isn't anything like Hitler's persecution of the Jews.  Yes, we need to repent and reform.

I was a professional lay minister for several years and have seen two of my former clerical colleagues accused of sexual abuse of minors. One is in prison; another awaits trial.  Another priest, a seminary classmate, committed suicide a couple of years ago after similar allegations.  This is a great grief to me, for I knew all of them as decent men.

I have also known, in my personal as well as professional life, several victims of sexual abuse and I know of their daily struggles as well. 

I don't have answers, but I do know that when I lose something, the first place I look for it is where I had it last.  When I lose the Lord, I look to the Eucharist.  When I lose faith, I turn to prayer.  In spite of everything, the Church still offers these to me.

Edwin Eckel
8 years 8 months ago

Mr. Reidy:

Perhaps you are familiar with the truism:  "all that evil needs to succeed is the failure [unwillingness?] of good people to act."  Perhaps your public and self-perceptive witness is an example to the many who have similarly turned their collective heads and minds away from the clear working of evil within our midst. Perhaps you will soon use your "pulpit" to give witness to your actions to work against the evil in our midst.  I pray for you and for the those who have been harmed by the failure of "good" people to act.  

Michael Henderson
8 years 8 months ago

I think there is a deep and unfortunate split within you Mr. Reidy.  There are some professions like being a priest or a journalist where we hope and expect the person will be integrated within and without, on the outside and the inside.  I suspect that if you look hard enough, you will find other topics which you find personally uncomfortable. 

Perhaps the solution is deeper prayer, an attachement to silence, a love for your soul.  Or perhaps the solution is to look for another profession.

Christopher Kuczynski
8 years 8 months ago
This article was an honest and necessary contribution to the dialogue about the clergy sex abuse scandal, and I have enormous respect for the fact that Mr. Reidy had the courage to write it and America had the wisdom to publish it.

Moreover, the article has implications far beyond the sex abuse scandal. If we are really honest with ourselves, many of us would admit that we sometimes have a tendency to turn a blind eye to acts of injustice. We are inundated daily with images of injustice - from poverty in the inner cities and rural areas of the world's wealthiest nation, to disease, natural disaster, war, and genocide in places far away. All of these instances of injustice (and many more) seem to make some kind of claim upon those of us who believe that fidelity to the Gospel means helping to bring about a more jus world. Is it any wonder, then, that we can sometimes feel so overwhelmed and so powerless to effect any real change that we seek comfort in our own experieence of a life in which God's grace is real and present?

That doesn't mean we care less about injustice than those who are public crusaders for a cause, who themselves have to pick and choose those instances of injustice they seek to remedy. But we do need to prayerfully seek out ways to use our gifts and the circumstances in which we find ourselves to promote justice in a world, even if we can do so only one person at a time.
David Smith
8 years 8 months ago

The spectacle is eminently worthy of tuning out.  It's just noise, perpetuated and amplified by the scandal-loving news media for the edification of a scandal-loving public.  In the best of all possible worlds, the news industry would be a far better thing than it is and the public would be far more discriminating about what amuses it.

What lies behind the scandal, though, begs insistently to be tuned in, reflected on, studied, and discussed seriously and at length.  It's not just about a few errant priests and a few misguided bishops and cardinals, it's about an entire culture that gave rise to, nourished, and sheltered clerics who were clearly harming children.  Something about the culture was badly warped, and it would be extremely enlightening and useful to understand what it was, how and where it developed, and whether it persists today in one form or another.

The child abuse and the coverup of child abuse are only symptoms of something much larger and deeper.  It behooves us to figure out what.

Edwin Eckel
8 years 8 months ago

Mr. Reidy:

My apologies at suggesting that you and the people at America Magazine deliberately turn a blind eye to evil. My point is that as an opinion leader, as the writer of the FIRST article in the magazine (open the cover and read...) and as a person serving as a public face of the Church and the Catholic community in this country, your comments were perhaps unfortunate.  The people hurt by the institutional response to the abuse, both directly and indirectly through loss of such important community services as church operated schools and presence of community priests, are children of the same God we all worship and serve.  They deserve our public leaders, the ones not locked into a behavior determined by the heirarchy of Rome, endeavoring to lead people to resolution and recovery, not justification of turning away.  My attack is on your action as a leader, not your humaness, a humanness I share despite all my prayers.  Again, I pray that we ALL may find positive ways to grow our way out of the sinfulness before us.

C Walter Mattingly
8 years 8 months ago

Paul, you ask the apparently rhetorical question above, what would happen to school superintendents (I would include principals in that grouping) who transferred sexual abusers from one school to another, concluding we all know what would happen-that superintendent/principal would be promptly fired.

Unfortunately, the public knows, or should know, that that is not the case, that the rhetorical question you have posed can unhappily be answered to the contrary. Transferring such abusers has been documented, in the New York state system and elsewhere, as so common that the principals and superintendents have even given it a derisive moniker, "passing the trash." In fact, it is and for a long time has been a far greater problem in the public school system than transferring abusers in the parochial schools.  That is why I have suggested that an important dimension of the penance called for by Fr Martin, assuming that we have since 2002 dealt adequately with this problem in our parochial school system in America, must be not to sweep this much larger problem under the rug, but rather be active in bringing public awareness of the dimension of sexual abuse and accompanying coverup to the public's attention. Union leaders and their lawyers, among other forces, have been instrumental in protecting these predator teachers much as some of our bishops have been. Because of our church's attending guilt, we must be instrumental in ending tolerance of this travesty.

Jose Padron
8 years 8 months ago

I, as the wife of a Permanent Deacon called upon many times to answer questions regarding the sex abuse can sympathised with you.  Most times I want to scream at the top of my lungs, "The Church should just come clean and say - we handled it wrong.  We were protecting the institution and not thinking of the victim.  We humbly ask for forgiveness and promise that we will do all that its in our power to prevent it from happening again!

But of course what I will say is:  While the Holy Spirit guides our church it is led and served by mere humans.  And as some non-catholic young men who were interviewed by a television said, "We have known many, many, wonderful, god loving priest who have been instrumental in increasing my love and faith in Christ and so we determine that the abuses and the cover-up was committed by individuals and not by the Church.  We, the believers in Christ, the church will prevail!  


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