Us­ing anger and courage to make change

No time for silence as the Catholic Church rocked by sex­ual abuse scan­dals

The Hamilton Spectator - - Comment - DEIRDRE PIKE Deirdre Pike is a free­lance colum­nist for the Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor. She is a parish­ioner at St. Joseph Parish on Locke Street where she sings hope­fully in the 9 a.m. choir and prays to re­main vig­i­lant for jus­tice amid sys­temic abuse. You can r

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.

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