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By now, most people have probably heard of the sexual abuse court cases regarding the Catholic Church. There are no words to describe how sorry we the members of the Church are after hearing these cases. There is no justifying what these priests and bishops have done. And while many parishes and priests have already spoke about this subject during this past weekend’s masses, there are still a few people who may not have had the chance to hear anything other than what the media has said, and might benefit from some of the information contained within this post.
An important detail to remember is that the Catholic Church is made up of human beings. We have failed big time in the past, and still do now. While priests have extensive education and spiritual formation, there is little to no things that can be done to change a person’s heart if they don’t want to be changed. While there isn’t a concrete answer why bishops and other church leaders wanted to keep these cases quiet, one can only hope that their actions were done with the best of intentions. One of the characteristics that are found in so many of the priests and bishops is that they want to see the best in people, and while this may not be true in every individual, maybe most of the leaders that hid this and stood up for colleagues hoped that they had changed their ways. Sometimes, it seems difficult to believe that one might not desire to change and to want to do good things, especially members that promise to maintain chastity throughout the rest of their life.
But one of the things that should not be done now is to turn our back on the Church. Some have called for drastic changes within the church, such as getting rid of celibacy. While changes and precautions will have to be put in place, not expecting priests to be celibate would be breaking an important aspect of the vocation. When they take the vocation, they know full well it will be difficult, but this is supposed to help them grow with the Lord. While a husband’s vow is to his wife, a priest’s vow is to the church and to celibacy. It’s like trying to remove lettuce from a salad: it loses one of its defining features.
Some may say that they cannot be a part of a church where this could happen, but there they are terribly mistaken. It is imperative to remember that our Church is led by the Holy Spirit. Our Church is not necessarily the true church because of the people in it, but rather who is there to guide us along the way. Some might feel that the church is not a safe place anymore, but maybe one day they will come to know that we are all deeply sorry for what has happened, and that the church will overcome this obstacle. No cent can every repay what has happened to these victims and these families, but we can hope to be there for them and to show Christ’s compassion to them.
It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to assume that almost every Catholic has felt anger in hearing all the terrible things brought forth by the Grand Jury. However, anger because of their actions won’t do anyone any good; not you, the victims, the priests, or even God. We can attempt heal the people affected by these crimes, but the most reliable thing we can do is pray, hoping that the Holy Spirit will heal them. We can be there for the victims if they need and want help, but that can’t be all.
While thinking about this subject, a saint came to mind, whose feast day was celebrated over a month ago: Saint Maria Goretti. If you don’t know much about her, it might be beneficial to learn more about, as she is the patron saint of rape victims and chastity, which is no doubt relevant to the topic at hand. However, here is an abbreviated version to help gain some insight on the saint’s story:
Maria Goretti was strong in her faith and was often described as a joyful person, even at just eleven years old. However, there was a boy who didn’t see her for that, but rather, he saw her for her beauty. Even as she was facing rape, she cared more for her attacker’s soul, and pleaded that he wouldn’t do it, so as to not have such a grave sin on his heart. Instead, he stabbed her 14 times, and she died a day later from her wounds in 1902.
While she did die a saint, this wasn’t the end of the story. The boy was sentenced to prison for 30 years and became very angry. He blamed Maria for her own death, and while in prison, he often took out his anger on other inmates. However, six years into his sentence, Maria appeared to him. He saw her in a garden, picking 14 white lilies, and handed them to him, symbolizing her forgiveness. He later repented and became so gentle that he was released on the 27th year of his sentence. After he was released from jail, he went Maria’s mother and asked for her forgiveness. She forgave him, and they were both present at her canonization in 1950.
It should go without saying to ask for Saint Maria Goretti’s intercession regarding this matter. Her mentality is exactly the one we should retain regarding this subject, as she was willing to forgive the man who killed her. Another great place to start is with the Blessed Mother’s help; more specifically in the form of the Rosary. If one really begins to analyze what is going on, it seems very likely that the Devil is at work here, trying to tear our church from the inside out. This may sound a bit cheesy, but there is truth to the matter. No weapon is more powerful than the Rosary, and you know what they say: A Rosary A Day Keeps the Devil Away!
Keep in mind that there are other prayers that can be prayed involving these topics; these are merely starting points. When deciding on what specifically to pray for, there are many options, but here are a few to get started. The first is for the victims and their families, so they may receive the healing they need, and that they may come back to the Church if they have left. The second is for the priests, that they may realize the gravity of their sins, and that by the grace of God, they may repent and seek out God’s mercy. Third, pray for the Church and the Body of Christ, so that even amid such tragedy, we will begin to heal and continue bring others to the Church.
If you are at all vocal about your faith (which is a good thing), you will likely hear or have heard about the court cases at your school, workplace or other public place. Don’t pretend that this will be an easy conversation. If they ask you to justify the actions of our Hierarchy, simply tell them you cannot. You can tell them that our priests are still prone to temptations, but it simply does not justify what they have done. It must be understood that lay persons are not obligated to speak on behalf of the church leaders on why these were kept secret from authorities. The only thing that can be done is to sincerely apologize and pray. It is possible that some may not to come to the church because of these court cases. However, we must be there to show God’s love and mercy through our actions and words and pray that this does not affect their desire to be closer to Christ.
If you or anyone you know has been affected by one way or another by these actions of priests, it is important for the betterment of your soul to forgive them or release any grudge you have against them. While I hope that you have not been affected by any kind of sexual abuse, if you have, please speak with your parish priest, other trained specialists, and lay people in your community if you have not done so already. It may not seem wise to begin to speak with your parish priest about this subject in the light of these court cases, but your priest is very well-educated, and if he can’t help you heal, he will likely know someone who can. Talking to your priest will not only help you, it will likely also make him feel trusted as well. And if you have been abused by a priest, please let the proper authorities and church leaders know if you have not done so already. We have messed up for so long, so trust that now if you do speak up, the church leaders do what is necessary in the eyes of God. No one should have to feel alone, especially regarding this issue. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, the Church is here only to help, and only wants the best for you. Remember, Christ is with you always, even till the end of the age.
Michael Nichols is a contributor on EPIC Radio’s blog. If you’d like to reach out to him, write a comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.