I grew up Catholic, and when I was about 18, the Boston Archdiocese (which was the diocese I grew up in) was being ‘rocked’ by one of the most infamous child sexual abuse scandals in church history. I will start off by saying, that my interest in this is as an observer, and not that of a victim.
When the scandal was happening, it seemed to affect many of the aspects of my life. I was graduating from a catholic high school, my mother worked for the church, and because a majority of my family, and the people I interacted with were catholic, it was a consistent topic.
One of the things that I learned during that time was the level of denial associated with it. There was a big sense of detachment, and even though many people I know disliked/disapproved/or even hated Cardinal Bernard Law, there was a lack of correlation between ‘my church’ and ‘the church.’
It’s natural, and to some extent I get it. If you’re raised exclusively with the idea that the church is right, and the church is good, it becomes very hard to break out of that. Now, my father is not catholic, and while he was always pretty good about not directly contradicting the things I was being ‘taught’ growing up, there was just enough dissent and questioning that I wasn’t “dead behind the eyes” when it came to following that stuff.
One of the things I used to hear during that time, was “it’s only 7% of priests, the majority are good.” Now just for clarity sake, 7% was the number I used to hear, and I looked today while writing this to find what percentage, and the best information I could find was also 7% but that was from The Huffington Post, which I don’t really trust as a news source. So for the sake of this argument, just assume whatever percentage number you’d like, because that’s not the main point that I want to make. The point that I want to make applies even if it’s 1%.
So here’s the problem I have whenever I hear about the “it’s only (enter small number here) of priests.” That only applies to rapists and molesters, and assumes that all others are innocent, and good. However, Cardinal Bernard Law, whom I will probably reference a few times throughout this as he is one of the more visible names, and he’s the one who was in charge of my particular area, wasn’t ever accused (that I’m aware of) of raping or molesting kids, so he doesn’t count toward that %, and I would imagine that if we had a definitive list of all the people who shuffled priests around, and were otherwise complicit, that there would be other names that had never been directly accused and therefore aren’t brought into that ‘statistic’, but they’re certainly not innocent or good. In fact even after all of the scandal blew up in Boston, Cardinal Law managed to live out his life in Rome, in the church in a high and ‘respected’ position in the church.
So, I get that people want their religion, and ‘their churches’ to be defended against these accusations. As much as I dislike the guy, I even get why Bill Donahue of The Catholic League, feels the need to write an op-ed about every slight against the church, I always consider this: there is The Church, and there is The Faith (or the Faithful). My mom, and my sister, and many other people in my family are part of “the faith,” and they’re good people, and I get that I’m one of the few people who makes a distinction so when the Church is attacked, they feel attacked too, but they shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t be put in the position to have to defend something that they feel makes them and their lives better, against attacks of child molestation, or admit that everything is a corrupt sham. It’s not either/or. Believe in Jesus, try to follow his works, even believe in transsubstantiation and all of the other Catholic specific things you believe in, but don’t give this organization a pass. Don’t write off that organizationally they’re not a good organization. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be, in fact, the good people of “the faith” deserve them to be a good organization, but they’re not right now.
One last thing, on the rare occasions that I go to church (I don’t believe in catholicism either as “the Faith” or as “The Church”, but occasionally there are weddings, or baptisms) their are certain types of priests who talk about “Easter and Christmas Catholics” and how the churches aren’t as full as they once were. I would imagine it’s a lot of people like me, who are only going on those days to support people they love, and not because they believe in your organization. If you want to attract more people, don’t use guilt and fear (they used to work wonders but the world is changing) try actually making your church desirable to new people. Make your ‘brand’ something that people don’t have to either defend, or be ashamed to admit they once were part of. BE BETTER. It’s a long process, but there has been very little (to those of us on the outside) effort to really improve.