Every now and then a telecommuting day brings with it a revelation or reminder. On a recent weekday, I was working from home and enjoyed the luxury of a 12:15 Mass at our parish church. I’ve had occasion to do headcounts for various events over the years, and I am quite sure that there were more than 100 people present. The day was a First Friday, a day dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This was immediately after the onslaught of allegations about Archbishop McCarrick. It was also a mere day after the release of the names of 71 priests, deacons, and seminarians, who had been accused of crimes against minors over a span of 70 years in the same diocese where my religious community’s motherhouse is located. Most, if not all, of these churchgoers had heard this news. They were stories they had heard before: Boston, Ireland, Chile. Yet these folks continue to show up.
One of my relatives, formerly active in her college’s campus ministry, has not followed that same path. She disconnected from the Church in the aftermath of scandals that rocked the Archdiocese of Philadelphia several years back. She isn’t alone in that response.
By contrast, my fellow parishioners and the sisters in my religious community hang in there. None of us deny or minimize the grave, lasting damage done to children and youth who have been victimized by sexual predators and pornographers. Some of us have seen the vestiges of depression, guilt, fear, and pain which abusers have left behind. Some of us have been stunned to learn, many years after the fact, that people we’ve known, students we’ve taught, neighbors we saw regularly, were victims.
When we know them and when we can, we encourage, support, refer them to counseling, assure them of God’s love, and pray for them. We are enraged, too, at those who have wrought such horrific harm.
But we don’t leave. Each Sunday in the Creed, we profess our belief in each Person of the Trinity and in the holy Catholic Church. We’ve been around long enough to know that the Church embraces and imparts every means we need to be saints. If we’re honest and have lived our history, we also know that the Church has always included sinners, even among those it commissions or ordains to lead. We’ve had to confront our own potential for sin, great and small, and we’ve had to admit our own sinful missteps.
We’ve learned, too, that the perpetrators of crimes against the young carry within them serious illness, unhealed brokenness, sick predispositions, unconquered addictions. That does not excuse away their deeds, but it does remind us why Pope Francis has called the Church a field hospital.
When we keep coming, we carry the sin of the world up the aisle with us. But we also know that the One we believe in, the Church’s Head, the One we receive, is the healer of every ill. We can’t go on without Him.
Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.