What is happening to our Church?

Just when it seemed there could not possibly be one more report of clergy sexual abuse, there was.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania grand jury released its report about the terrible abuse of hundreds of people. The report also highlighted the complicity of Church officials who routinely concealed the truth about clergy sexual predation, allowing the evil to continue.

The report is the latest account of clergy sexual abuse that has spanned an unbelievable number of years. It feels like a wound that just won’t heal.

Many cases of abuse described in the grand jury occurred a number of years ago. More recently, Church officials have worked hard to put new policies and safeguards in place to keep it from happening again. But considering the large scope of the tragedy—thousands of predators and victims over decades—the measures seem like band-aids when what is needed is major surgery to address the severity of the disease. Many Catholics, including me, are calling for systemic change in our Church. The current culture of secrecy, control, and patriarchy is ill- equipped for producing the type of dramatic change that is needed. 

At A Nun’s Life, we’ve heard from many people who are also asking the question, “What is happening to our Church?” It’s a question about not only the structures of the Church in need of change, but also the thousands of people whose abuse as children brought great suffering into their lives. They are--we all are--the Church, drawn together in Christ’s love and nurtured by our centuries-old religious tradition.

Indeed, Church structures can (and hopefully will) be changed. But for individuals who were abused, the heartbreaking reality is that the abuse cannot be changed – it cannot be undone. What then? What can be done about something that cannot be undone?

Two things this week helped me ponder the question. One was a quote from Saint Augustine, whose feast day we celebrated earlier this week: “Hope has two beautiful daughters—their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” I learned of the quote from a Catholic sister committed to action for change in the Church.

The other was the image of the Cross of Christ in today’s reading (1 Cor 1:17-25). The image brought to mind other passages in which people remained in solidarity with the crucified Jesus, standing at the foot of the cross. Still today, we stand with the cross against the abuse of power and the abuse of people, testifying that evil will never have the final word.