When the Church’s stories are too painful

I was sixteen years old when the first abuse cases arose to the surface.

I remember vaguely a beloved priest at my parish giving a long, passionate homily about the crisis, and him receiving a standing ovation for it. I don’t really remember why we stood, but many people were in tears.

But I was 16, and frankly I was just so into.my.own.life.

I remember feeling sorrow, of course, and confusion. I remember knowing the seriousness of what was going on around me, but not really feeling or understanding the gravity of it, especially the extent of the cover-up and culture of complicity. I was sixteen and had just.so.many.problems.

As I got older, and became immersed into the pastoral life of the Church and various Catholic ministries, I slowly saw the bureaucratic after-effects of the scandal. The “never be alone with a teenager” speeches before each youth group. The endless emails about “safe environment” training and not having any volunteers willing to undergo the training or willing to renew every three years. The paperwork and the background checks and the awful videos. I saw the bureaucracy all unfold before me and, frankly, I was grateful for it.

Because I saw what happened when people didn’t follow the rules. I knew of the horror stories of people who were falsely accused, and more importantly, people who were actually guilty of misconduct and abuse. I knew that the systems put in place were there to protect children and I would do anything–absolutely anything–to protect children.

And I believed in the theological and biblical doctrines surrounding our bishops and cardinals. I trusted them. I felt confident that they were taking abuse seriously. I believed the systems they put in place would make sure these horrific past actions were just that–in the past. And I was obedient to the theological principles surrounding their titles: they were our shepherds, they deserved to be respected and trusted.

And now I find myself in the position as an adult believer. I’ve worked for the Church and defended Her shepherds. I regularly teach the children of our parish. I’m a mom of four beautiful boys.

And I’m so very angry. Angry that I trusted in a system which threw good, holy priests under the bus to endure the majority of the country’s anger while bishops of the old guard held loyalty to one another above the protection of children and young seminarians. I’m furious towards their tone-deaf responses to calls of investigation and removal. And I’m so very devastated, most of all, for the thousands of victims of horrendous abuse, which was consistently covered up for decades by bishops, some of whom are still alive.

News of McCarrick and the Pennsylvania abuse became public about two months before I planned to release this podcast. My heart was so angry that I genuinely considered, for several days, whether I should produce this podcast at all. Were my stories too flippant and superficial, especially considering everything going on in our Church? Why should anybody want to listen to cultural stories of the faith at all, when that culture seems so toxic and divided? Will these stories distract from the greater needs of the lay faithful?

I can’t answer these questions with enough certainty to reassure our listeners. But what I can do is make promises about what this podcast will aim to do, to the very best of our abilities.

  1. Our podcast will tell stories of the faithful, (mainly lay faithful), who are often left out of the narrative by some within the Church hierarchy.
  2. Our podcast will not be afraid to venture into difficult spaces. This may mean talking about moments in our past when we failed to spread the Good News faithfully and charitably.
  3. This is a cultural podcast more than it is a theological one. We are storytellers, and we will tell stories truthfully and without hesitation. But this doesn’t mean that the stories won’t challenge us to face some hard truths about our faith within the American culture. Good stories should ALWAYS be forcing us to re-examine our lives and beliefs.
  4. I am a faithful Catholic. I happen to actually believe what the Church teaches. She is Perfect, while Her people are not, and I will not actively promote any teaching which could lead someone away from the teachings of Jesus.
  5. But remember, this is not an apologetics podcast. We tell the stories of the living expressions of the faith. This means that, from time to time, we will tell the stories of those who have not always lived the faith and been obedient to her teachings. Simply because you disagree or are horrified does not mean their voices are unworthy or their stories should not be told. They should. We need to hear them so we can learn from them.
  6. And finally, all stories, joyful and painful, will be told on this podcast. I will not be hesitant in telling the simple stories of everyday faith life while the Church is going through a terrible crisis (we are, by the way). I will also not be hesitant in telling the stories of the terrible sins of the Church because they are too painful or difficult to confront. Both sets of stories are needed. Both sets of stories are real.

I am excited to begin this journey with you, and ask for your prayers as we move forward with this project. But more importantly, I plead our listeners to collectively pray AND act on behalf of our Church, and beg the Lord for forgiveness for the horrific sins of its leaders. As we begin our first season, I hope our podcast will be a small avenue in finding hope in the midst of a very difficult and trying time. God bless you, and we’ll see you October 1.

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