How I’m Holding on to Faith During the Sex Abuse Crisis

What do you do in a crisis of faith? Read how we stand together in the midst of the Catholic Church abuse crisis.

As a Catholic, my belief in a loving God allows me to see the world through a more hopeful lens, but what happens when the Catholic Church becomes the source of bad news? When the day’s headline involves members of the clergy as perpetrators of sexual abuse? When the very institution that has brought me such comfort is revealed to be the source of such intense and personal pain for so many?  

What ensues is a crisis of faith. I know that this is not the first scandal that the Church has brought upon herself, but the news of the scandal has consumed me. It was all that was on my mind in the fall. I would lie awake in bed at night, illuminated by the harsh and unnatural glow of my phone as I scrolled through fresh horrors revealed anew each day. I cried for the victims. I cried because the deplorable actions of some truly perverse human beings turned people away from the source of eternal hope and solace.

These victims, these children, were doubly robbed. They were deprived of their physical safety, a sense of security, and any semblance of the innocence of youth. Beyond that, their firsthand knowledge of a personal encounter with God was tainted by men who betrayed a sacred vow to represent Him.

Knowing all of this, how could I continue to practice my Catholic faith?

I should be clear that while my belief in God never wavered, my faith in the Catholic Church did. Did my contributions to this institution make me complicit in its oppression? Did my continued participation fuel the fire of hypocrisy? Was I merely a part of the problem or could I be part of the solution? These are all questions with which I wrestled as I was forced to confront the notion that perhaps my structure of belief was not as sound as I had previously thought.  

At a loss, I called the one person I knew who could help me find the clarity I so desperately needed. I called Father Pat, one of the first friends I made at college. To this day, he is one of my most cherished friends. Unassailable optimism, an engaging sense humor, and an accessible demeanor are all gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon him.

Over the course of an hour, I told him all of the things that had been weighing so heavily on my heart. I shared with Father Pat the feelings of anger and sorrow and helplessness that I had been experiencing, and he listened. He really, truly listened. I realized that I had been hoping he would send me some clear signal, a sign from God, an overt declaration to not stray from the Catholic Church. He did not. What he gave me, instead, was something far more valuable.  

Father Pat told me that when we face doubt, we have to ask ourselves what one thing we can hold onto. What is the one thing we can cling to that will sustain us in the midst of the storms of uncertainty swirling around us? In many cases, he said, the thing we hold onto is each other. And there it was — the exact piece of advice I didn’t even know I needed.

Yes, some monsters masquerading as priests have committed the most unthinkable of sins, but we do not answer to these men. We answer to a higher power, one that calls us to bring about His kingdom here on earth by giving hope, bringing peace, and spreading love. We do all of this by helping those whose wounds beg to be healed, giving a voice to the voiceless, and welcoming the stranger. We stand with the marginalized. We enter into their suffering with them.  

We may not have all the answers, and we certainly won’t be able to solve every problem that comes our way, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. This is the essence of our Catholic faith. We must be the source of light that serves as a glimmer of hope in a world that is so perilously threatened by darkness.  

And how do we do this, you ask? We keep suffering, together. We keep healing, together. We keep showing up, together. We do it together.

This video contains extended footage from a story Grotto shared about St. Augustine Parish in Washington, D.C. The story was captured in the fall of 2018, when the Catholic Church in America was dealing with new revelations about past cases of clergy sexual abuse. These scenes show how the pastor, Father Patrick Smith, and a parishioner, Jeanne Isler, were responding to the unfolding crisis.

Video Transcript

Father Pat: My first reaction to all the scandal is heartbreak. People will reject the message because they reject the messenger. Sometimes, the messenger screws up, badly, and they’re like, “I’m done — not just with that messenger, I’m done with the message.”

Jeanne Isler: This Church belongs to God, and God will get rid of anything that undermines the mission of His Church. Coming to church is really me coming to God. Then, I don’t have any problems continuing to come to church, and I have an expectation that people who really do follow God and lead the Church are going to do what’s right.

Father Pat: Think about it — a lighthouse exists for everything but itself. It exists to give direction, and show danger for those outside. Hopefully, people will see the light and even come to check it out.

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