Moving from Hurt to Action in Today’s Sex Abuse Crisis

Read the director of Grotto Network's response to the Catholic Church abuse crisis and the latest that's been uncovered in the Church sex scandal.
“And Jesus wept.” —John 11:35

I’ve always taken great comfort in these words. In one of the shortest sentences of the Bible, the Gospel writer illustrates Jesus’ humanity and points to the depths of His heart. In that moment, Jesus wept not for Himself, but for those He loved.

I dare say, Jesus still weeps today.

He weeps when people exploit innocent children for their own pleasure. He weeps when leaders exercise power as a means to abuse and weaken instead of using it to lead and transform. He weeps when sin assaults human dignity.

These days, I can’t help but weep with Jesus. The allegations outlined in the Pennsylvania grand jury report have turned my world upside down. I know many of you feel the same.

I weep for the crimes committed against humanity. I weep because some members of Church leadership have failed those of us who look to them to be examples of love and integrity. I weep because the Church I know and love has become the target of public outrage. I weep because I wear the hidden scars of abuse, myself. I know the pain abuse survivors experience.

My abuse did not occur within the walls of the Church or by one of its leaders. Perhaps that’s what makes this most challenging. The Church has always been a place of security — the place I could return to when the world around me felt insecure and hostile, the place where divine love comes to life and enters to heal my broken memories. To think that people have been hurt in some of the most sacred spaces on earth brings nothing but profound sadness and anger.

And it’s happening all around us. A study prepared for the US Department of Education shows that 1 in 10 public school students will be the victim of abuse by an educator. Hollywood, the sports industry, media outlets, the political world, the police force, family life — there is no escaping our broken world. Think of the individuals who have raised their voices to say, “#MeToo.”

I know it can feel overwhelming, and all I can say is, “I stand with you.”

If you are a survivor of abuse, I walk with you. For us, the commentary that flies through the Twitterverse is far more than words simply passing through the digital highways. These words have the potential to open old wounds and usher in sleepless nights, where vivid memories turn the present into chaotic fear. I stand with you and say, “Remember the past can never return, we only have today.” We turn to those who love us and walk courageously. We take one step at a time.

If you find yourself caught in a place of tension, know you are not alone. If you feel lost because you love our Church, but despise the actions that took place decades ago, I stand with you, too. As Kim Viti Fiorentino wrote, “The Catholic Church should and does hold itself to a higher standard — both from a moral and legal perspective.” If we believe that, then shouldn’t our hearts ache for reform? We can love the institution and despise some of its actions. Both are true and both are valid.

And if you find yourself wanting to walk away from our Church, I’ll meet you there. I won’t try to change your mind, but I’ll never stop trying to give witness to all that I know and love about our Church. It is far stronger than any physical building. It has a foundation that is built on the most abundant love possible. And it is full of dedicated people — priests and lay people — who strive every day to make God’s mercy known and visible in the world.

So, I beg you, please hear me out.

Sometimes in our desire to make sense of intense horror, we fail to see the good that has been done to heal our past and make our present brighter. Further, we allow hatred to speak instead of righteous anger. Hatred will never heal. Hatred only cultivates pain. Hatred robs us of seeing the humanity of the individuals we target.

I take comfort in the fact that since the Church confronted the reality of sexual abuse of minors by priests in 2002, we have implemented policies that have made our faith community safer and stronger. The Pennsylvania grand jury report looks back at more than 70 years of history, and we grieve with the people whose lives have been ruined by this evil. Since 2002, the Church has been a leader in protecting young people. We’ve taken steps to make sure all people who work with young people in the Church — priests, teachers, coaches, volunteers — are trained and held accountable for their safety.

Before joining the team at Grotto Network, I worked for Cardinal Wuerl and the Archdiocese of Washington. During those 8 years, I witnessed first-hand the care and concern our Church placed on protecting the children entrusted to its care. So while we are eager to judge Cardinal Wuerl and the Church as a whole, I beg you to look at the entire narrative. I personally worked under his leadership and saw a leader committed to protecting the vulnerable.

Today, while I grieve, I stand with my Church. Despite the brokenness, I see God alive in our midst. I rest on our 2,000-year history and look to the future with hope.

I invite you to join the revolution.

I can rest in hope, because I see a purification taking place. The US bishops have called for reform, outlining goals for our Church that will be carried out through “proper independence, sufficient authority, and substantial leadership by laity.”

We must hold our leaders accountable. We must advocate for transparency. We must never stop dreaming of a future where dignity is restored.

If we desire to take up the cause to #RebuildMyChurch, then we must do so within our own hearts first. The Church is more than leaders who have failed us. Each one of us makes up the Church — we are its living stones. As a community, we are invited to manifest the kingdom of God right here and now.

The Church calls us to transform our world, both inside and outside our church buildings. We must call out abuse wherever we see it and we should strive to build a world where people are cherished and valued.

As Pope Francis wrote, a change is needed, one that “calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does.”

And so we weep — and we take action.

A dear friend recently told me that sometimes our tears help us to see things more clearly. Tears by their very nature are purifying. They release toxins from our bodies. Just as tears cleanse our eyes, they can cleanse our minds and hearts and help us to see the world in a more pure way.

So yes, Jesus weeps. But that is not the end of the story. His tears propelled His love into action.

He died on the cross out of love for us. He died so that one day, despite our struggles and failings, we could be united with Him forever.

The action I’m choosing to take is to see the world through Jesus’ tearful eyes. I promise to do my best, and I invite you to walk the journey with me.

A prayer for the Catholic Church abuse crisis: "God of endless love, hear our cries as we agonize over the harm done to our brothers and sisters. Breathe wisdom into our prayers, soothe restless hearts with hope, steady shaken spirits with faith: show us the way to justice and wholeness. Grant us courage and wisdom, humility and grace, so that we may act with justice and find peace in you." —Adapted from the USCCB.

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