Catholic faithful demand change after sex abuse scandals
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The day after a grand jury report revealed that Roman Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children over decades, Adrienne Alexander went to Mass at a Chicago church and waited for the priest to say something about the situation.
He didn’t. And that left Alexander fuming. So she went on Facebook to vent — then organized a prayer vigil in Chicago that became the catalyst for similar laity-led vigils in Boston, Philadelphia and other cities nationwide.
Alexander is among countless Catholics in the U.S. who are raising their voices in prayer and protest to demand change amid new revelations of sex abuse by priests and allegations of widespread cover-ups. They are doing letter-writing campaigns and holding prayer vigils and listening sessions in an effort to bring about change from the pews, realizing it’s up to them to confront the problem and save the church they love after years of empty promises from leadership.
“I think it’s important that the large body hears from us,” Alexander said. “We actually make up the church.”
Their grassroots efforts are gaining momentum. In the last week more than 39,000 people have signed their names to a letter demanding answers from Pope Francis himself.
Another effort, sponsored by reform groups, has seized upon the “Time’s Up” and #MeToo movements and is organizing events across the country this weekend under the CatholicToo hash tag.
Some of the efforts are calling for specific reforms, such as laity-led investigations and transparency, while others are still brainstorming solutions. One woman in Michigan founded a website to make it easy for anyone to speak up and write to church officials.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Marjorie Murphy Campbell, a civil and canon lawyer in Park City, Utah, said of the laity’s engagement. She said many Catholics feel they have no choice.
“You either have to get involved now, because you cannot trust the bishops to solve this themselves, or you leave. ... It’s our job to help the mother church get through this.”
The actions come as the church is facing a global crisis over clergy abuse following the scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report and the pope’s removal of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from public ministry amid allegations McCarrick sexually abused a teenage altar boy and preyed upon adult seminarians decades ago.
Francis wrote a letter to Catholics in August, saying the laity must help end the clerical culture that has placed priests above reproach. He then found himself immersed in the scandal amid claims that he knew about allegations against McCarrick in 2013, but rehabilitated him anyway.
A collective of individual Catholic women last week wrote a letter urging Francis to deliver answers. The letter, which had more than 39,000 signatures by Friday, declared “we are not second-class Catholics to be brushed off while bishops and cardinals handle matters privately.”
“In short, we are the Church, every bit as much as the cardinals and bishops around you,” the letter said.
Robert Shine, a Catholic in Boston and vice president of the Women’s Ordination Conference, said he believes Catholics are now ready to confront what’s been happening in the church and talk about how they can be involved in reform, reflecting a broader trend in the U.S. with people getting more active in protests. Other denominations have been struggling with the issue as well.