Last night was the final time our women’s group at church met for the year. It was basically a gab session with good food and drink – a time to celebrate. We did, however, discuss the rather serious subject of millennials leaving the Church. Not just the Catholic Church, but all churches. They are walking away from faith, period.
As we were cleaning up, one mother and I began talking. Mostly she spoke of her four young adult children and where they were in their faith. Her son, who is in his early twenties was no longer a practicing Catholic because of how he feels about the Church and the priest sexual abuse problem.
My friend’s young son is not alone.
It caused me think, “How would I explain to him my reasons for staying in the Catholic Church after actually experiencing abuse at the hands of a priest?”
I loved and needed the Church to help me heal.
When I began processing what had happened to me, spiritually I was in a place where my relationship with Jesus was at the center of my life and everything that I did. The Catholic Church was home. I felt blessed to be a member of the body. I was active in church, director of the parish youth group, and sustained spiritually by prayer, Word and sacraments. I went to Jesus in prayer and the sacraments with all of my pain and suffering. It was only natural that I go to him and the Church when I began experiencing the most intense suffering of my life. When I could put no words to the pain I felt, when I could only be, I could still receive Jesus in the sacraments. In the Eucharist, I could welcome him into my very being, and sit with him in a very real way. At a time when I felt like I was in a cocoon isolated from the rest of the world, Jesus was inside my cocoon with me. For a short while, we could coexist in a way only possible in the Catholic Church.
In addition, I was meeting with a spiritual director, who is a priest, another healing agent of the Church. Whereas I had experienced a horrible breech of trust with a priest through the abuse, I was able to trust this particular priest, so much so that he was the one to whom I was able to disclose the abuse after years of silence. I had watched him for several years prior to entering into spiritual direction with him. I watched him with children, and adults. I watched him implement safe environment standards in a parish and consistently follow through. I experienced his empathy. He gained my trust. I knew he was safe and that he was a healer.
The sacraments and this priest of the Catholic Church have helped me heal from the wounds of abuse. I can’t imagine trying to get through this time without the Church.
The Church is not the priest. Or a bishop. Or a pope.
My abuser was just a priest. A human with faults. All priests at times stand in persona Christi; bishops and the pope make up the magesterium of the Church. They are not by definition exclusively “the Church” though the Church could not exist without them.
The Church is mystical. VERY simply put, she is the clergy, the faithful, the Trinity and the Word of God.
She is the body of Christ present here on Earth. The body of Christ! How beautiful is that! She leads us to heaven through baptism. Made up of many members – you and I – she is living and breathing. Jesus lives and breathes in her, in the Sacraments. He comes to us in Holy Communion and in the confessional through the priest or bishop or pope. She is one. She is holy, catholic and apostolic. She gives us God’s Word, the wisdom of the saints and the Blessed Mother.
The Catholic Church is so much more than an abusive priest. Yes, egregious sins have been committed within the stone walls by human beings. That is being addressed, sometimes well and sometimes not so well, but they are trying.
The beauty of the Church is what has kept me faithful. In my moments of greatest doubt and anger, when I most passionately wanted to walk away in hurt or anger about sins or incompetence of men, I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave what I love. I couldn’t imagine life without her, without the sacraments, without the Mass.
The Catholic Church is a part of me and I a part of her. It will always be that way, abuse or no abuse.
I don’t know if my friend’s young son would understand where I am coming from or if what is shared would be helpful. There are many like him out there. We as Church must reach out to them in some way or we will lose them forever. More gravely, they may be lost forever.