Terry McAteer: Time for less talk, bold action from Catholic Church
The continuing revelations of priest sexual abuse have troubled us all but each new story creates wounds that never completely heal amongst the survivors of that abuse … including me.
My case of abuse by Fr. Peter Keegan in 1967 is well documented throughout the media and online, including this paper’s coverage. I am, though, not the subject of this column — the Catholic Church is.
This is not some rant piece but a means to bring some honest conversation to a troubling past two decades.
Let’s face it, our faith, as a society, is completely shocked and angry at the Catholic Church’s inability to face its sins and properly deal with survivors and their abusers. While I have reconciled my internal peace over this past decade, with forgiveness of my abuser and those specific individuals in the Church hierarchy who covered-up the crimes, scores of other abused youth and adults are living in a life of pain and shame while abusers are just sent out to pasture.
This is the Church’s #MeToo moment. The time for change of culture amongst the Catholic Church is now. Without it, the Church will cease to be relevant, will cease to provide a moral compass and will cease to be a sanctuary for comfort and faith in this world; something our world needs now.
As Fr. Joshua Whitfield writes, “What we need is a new culture in the church and a remedial course in virtues. As Catholics, we must be daring enough to change, brave enough to demand it, to call into question all but the essentials of our faith and morals. We clergy must get over ourselves to criticism and questions from our faithful, fearless laity, and honest journalists.”
The Catholic Church has been a two century-long institution that has been adverse to change. Today though, in this information age, where we have seen the scandals in Latin America, Europe and our own country, the Church has marginalized itself due to its inability to react. Our outrage continues to mount because of the Church’s inability to be transparent and reform. The scores of abuse cases which continue to be unearthed fester on our faith and trust in the institution.
There is no question that Pope Francis is currently on the hot seat. He is a Jesuit priest by training. I know the Jesuits quite well. I went to a Jesuit high school and a Jesuit college. I taught in a Jesuit school and my wife, Liz, and I were married by a Jesuit priest. They are good people who have broad visions and are risk takers. The Pope has his largest task before him with this continuing scandal; he needs to take immediate and decisive actions.
First off, the Church needs to be transparent. The Church should have been way ahead of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, come clean on the scandals and cleaned-up their mess years ago; this continuing two decade-long trickle of abuse reports has now created an even larger crisis. The Church establishment cannot continue to hide behind their frocks, close ranks and invoke a code of silence — those days are over.
Secondly, the Church faithful need to speak up. It is not sacrilegious to question your Church. It is not unfaithful to call for accountability. The Church is fallible! The conversation needs to begin in earnest amongst parishioners and priests. Most priests are wonderful people who are devoted to improving the lives of their parishioners. They, too, are devastated by the news of the abuse within their ranks and have watched the erosion of trust occur towards them. That’s why this conversation cannot be just from the pulpit but also from the parishioners and the greater Catholic community which has left the Church.
Finally, the Church has been in a huge crisis in finding men with “a calling” to join the seminary. This two decade-long abuse crisis has made those recruitment efforts more difficult. Parishes throughout the country are having trouble staffing their churches and look to foreign born priests to fill many positions. It is time for the Church to allow priests to marry and for currently married couples to assume priestly duties. This bold act would help solve much of the future abuse issues and replenish the ranks of the Church with people who want to give back to the faithful.
As for abuse survivors, the statute of limitation laws which shielded many priests (like Fr. Keegan) from prosecution have been extended by legislatures throughout the country upward from seven years. These changes will allow any abused youth to come forward when they reach adulthood and can comprehend the crime and the need for prosecution.
Furthermore, many dioceses throughout the country have made significant progress to assisting abused youth. The once tight-lipped San Francisco Archdiocese has made transformational changes and has become a model for others through offering counseling and support services through their dedicated staff in the Office of Child and Youth Protection.
Many of the Church reforms that have happened over these past two decades have been at the local level but now the eyes of the world and especially among the Catholic faithful are centered on the Vatican.
It is time for less talk, less apologies and more bold actions to create a cultural change for the Catholic Church that provides comfort and compassion for all. This is my prayer.
Terry McAteer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com
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