Using anger and courage to make change
No time for silence as the Catholic Church rocked by sexual abuse scandals
Throughout my 14 years of parish ministry in three different Catholic churches I had many roles, including the essential task of ensuring the Sunday bulletin was folded in time for the weekend and stuffed with the appropriate handouts, sometimes including a letter from the local bishop. I was not always a fan of the letters.
In the ’90s when I was at Regina Mundi Parish here in Hamilton, Bishop Tonnos issued a letter asking Catholics to vote against pension reform in Canada that would be inclusive of same-sex couples. When I saw the letters photocopied and neatly piled by the bulletins ready for stuffing, I decided to go on a silent strike. Instead of gathering the student volunteers from the school next door to help insert the letters that Friday afternoon, I took the bulletins up to the sacristy and left the letters behind in the office hoping they’d be overlooked. That didn’t happen. The letter was distributed and even read aloud while I silently fumed, closeted and imprisoned by internalized homophobia.
When I worked in Ottawa at St. Joseph’s in the early 2000s, a letter was issued by Bishop Marcel Gervais against same-sex marriage. My responsibilities were beyond bulletins by then so it wasn’t until Saturday night mass that I noticed the letters at each entranceway of the church. Our parish was known for its LGBTQ inclusion so this was not going to go over well, but the strategy to adhere to the bishop’s request was simply to make it available but not read it aloud or put it in the bulletin. I was much more effective this time and made the letter even less available when I stealthily picked up each pile and took them all home with me to the blue box.
This week I found myself in the opposite position. After a grand jury’s report was released in early August on the extensive and brutal sexual abuse by more than 300 priests to 1,000+ victims in Pennsylvania, I have been looking for words to help me through the pain and shame of belonging to a community that could have anything to do with this or any others abuses on a very long list, not the least of which is the administration of Canada’s residential schools.
The grand jury in Pennsylvania reported, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.”
I went to mass last week at my local parish looking for words to counter that gruesome reality. There were none.
Our local bishop, Douglas Crosby, had penned a letter in response to what he called, “the staggering number of past cases of sexual abuse of minors which have taken place at the hands of church leaders in the United States, including priests, bishops and cardinals, as well as coverups by those who have been entrusted with caring for the people of God.”
I found it online but couldn’t find it in the church. I called our pastor because this is no time for silence and he was sorry for the oversight. The letter, in which the bishop unites himself with those of us who are experiencing shame as members of the church as well as with the victims, “who continue to suffer as a result of the abuse they have undergone at the hands of those who are called to be ministers of Jesus Christ,” will be made available this week.
Other words of sustenance for me came from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing 80 per cent of the nuns in the United States.
“(We are) sickened and ashamed of the church we love, trusted and have committed our lives to serve. We weep and grieve with all who over the decades have been victimized by sexual predators.”
The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph added a commitment “to dismantle the culture of abuse within the church and society,” in their letter.
Those words — dismantling the culture of abuse — are action-oriented and are encouraging to me.
So are these: “Hope has two beautiful daughters,” wrote Saint Augustine, a bishop in the fourth century. “Their names are Anger and Courage: Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”
Words and letters are not enough, but they are tools for directing change.
l am remaining in the church so I can use my anger and courage to help direct change and ensure things do not remain the way they are.