‘As Catholics we have to ask if we have wasted our lives’

Af­ter Wash­ing­ton’s arch­bishop pulled out of his planned World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies ad­dress amid fresh con­tro­versy over al­leged cov­er­ing up of cler­i­cal sex abuse, his flock is strug­gling to cope, writes MICHELLE BOORSTEIN from Wash­ing­ton

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - AGENDA - A PAINFUL SUM­MER AN EX­O­DUS CAST­ING DOUBT

She thought about not com­ing. Dis­il­lu­sioned by the sex abuse scan­dal once again con­sum­ing the Catholic Church, Claartje Ber­taut con­sid­ered skip­ping last Sun­day’s mass for the first time in more than four decades. In fact, she even con­sid­ered leav­ing Catholi­cism.

But the 87-year-old Dis­trict of Columbia woman sat in the pews last Sun­day at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacra­ment — one of the re­gion’s most prom­i­nent Catholic churches — as a young, im­pas­sioned priest urged more than 200 church­go­ers not to lose their faith in God or Catholi­cism amid a “pe­riod of dark­ness” for the church.

Rev. Alec Scott, Blessed Sacra­ment’s parochial vicar, apol­o­gised for the mis­deeds of the clergy.

“For all the frus­tra­tion this has caused you, I ex­press my con­do­lences,” Scott said. “But with­out you, re­form won’t be pos­si­ble.”

The con­gre­ga­tion in North­west Wash­ing­ton — moved by his plea — clapped when he fin­ished.

“I never in that church heard the au­di­ence ap­plaud a ser­mon,” said Ber­taut, who joined in the ova­tion. “This was a first.”

It has been a painful sum­mer for faith­ful Catholics. First, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into wide­spread abuse in Chile and a car­di­nal on trial in Aus­tralia.

Then, the first-ever res­ig­na­tion of a US car­di­nal ac­cused of sex­ual abuse — Theodore McCar­rick, Wash­ing­ton’s for­mer arch­bishop.

And then last week, a Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed a sys­temic cover-up by church lead­ers of child sex abuse. The re­port, in graphic vic­tim ac­counts, de­tailed al­leged abuse by more than 300 priests against 1,000 chil­dren over 70 years.

“This has been the sum­mer from hell for the Catholic Church and our sins are bla­tantly ex­posed for the world to see,” Vat­i­can ad­viser Rev. Thomas Rosica wrote last Fri­day.

Paul Elie, a writer who lec­tures at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s Berkley Cen­tre, thought that af­ter the rev­e­la­tion of the sex­ual abuse cri­sis in 2002 and sub­se­quent blows in the years af­ter, he had lost the abil­ity to feel even more dis­ap­point­ment in his church. He was wrong.

“It af­fects me pro­foundly,” he said of the re­cent scan­dals.

“A lot of Catholics, we have to ask whether we have wasted our lives fol­low­ing this model of lead­er­ship. At this point, the lead­er­ship in this coun­try is not cred­i­ble. The re­peated scan­dals make it dif­fi­cult or even im­pos­si­ble to pass the faith on to our kids ... I think about it ev­ery hour.” The Catholic church has lost more mem­bers in re­cent decades than any other ma­jor faith. About 27pc of for­mer Catholics who no longer iden­tify with a re­li­gion cited clergy sex­ual abuse scan­dals as a rea­son for leav­ing the church, ac­cord­ing to Pew re­search in 2015. And among for­mer Catholics who now iden­tify as Protes­tant, 21pc say the sex­ual abuse scan­dals were a rea­son for leav­ing Catholi­cism, Pew says.

Even greater num­bers of for­mer Catholics say that they left over the church’s teach­ings on abor­tion, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, con­tra­cep­tion, or women.

Sur­veys have rarely asked about the Catholic Church’s re­sponse to the cri­sis since 2013, when a Post-ABC poll found that 78pc of Catholics dis­ap­proved of the way the church had han­dled the scan­dal — more than a decade af­ter the Bos­ton Globe in­ves­ti­ga­tion prompted the church to over­haul its pro­ce­dures for root­ing out abu­sive priests.

“It’s al­most un­sal­vage­able. The church is in pieces. Peo­ple have com­pletely sep­a­rated their faith from the or­gan­i­sa­tion,” said Pa­tri­cia McGuire, pres­i­dent of Trin­ity Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity.

As head of a Catholic in­sti­tu­tion, McGuire said she sees this sum­mer sow­ing new doubts. “The fact that we thought all the worst had come out al­ready — this is what cre­ates cyn­i­cism. Peo­ple were like: ‘OK, it’s all cleaned up, now we’re mov­ing on.’ ... Now we know: The church is a fal­li­ble hu­man or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

For Wash­ing­ton Catholics in par­tic­u­lar, last week’s Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury re­port dealt a sec­ond blow of the sum­mer, by cast­ing doubt on McCar­rick’s suc­ces­sor, the cur­rent Wash­ing­ton arch­bishop Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl.

Wuerl, whose con­duct as bishop of Pitts­burgh was scru­ti­nised in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, can­celled his trip to Ire­land for the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies and has had his up­com­ing book’s pub­li­ca­tion post­poned.

And in the pews of his dio­cese, some are heart­sick to read how the re­port says he han­dled the abu­sive priests he su­per­vised.

Matthew Man­gia­racina (25) went to mass ev­ery day on his lunch break at St Pa­trick’s in down­town Wash­ing­ton, a church where Wuerl of­ten cel­e­brates mass. But this week, as he read the re­port, Man­gia­racina felt he could never go back to St Pa­trick’s and face the car­di­nal.

This week, he stepped ten­ta­tively into St Mary Mother of God, the next near­est church to his job at the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil, to see whether he could find so­lace in the mass there in­stead.

Any­thing as­so­ci­ated with the arch­bishop makes me un­com­fort­able... It seems pretty damn­ing. I don’t trust him any­more. I’m at a loss”


Scan­dal: Theodore McCar­rick, the for­mer arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, is the first-ever US car­di­nal to re­sign due to sex­ual abuse al­le­ga­tions


Damn­ing re­port: Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, the arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton

Wash­ing­ton Post photo by Michael Robin­son Chavez

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