As a Catholic Mom of four boys, and in light of recent convictions of priests in the Catholic church of male child molestation, I’ve found myself questioning my own beliefs, the church, and indeed the people around me. I’m here to tell you that I now know five – count them, FIVE – convicted male sex offenders, and I’m sad to say that one of those was a priest.
The priest I knew who was recently convicted was, at the time I knew him, a confidante, a sympathetic ear, and a friend to me when I felt very alone and was going through a very difficult time in my life. The news of his conviction of sex offenses against boys made me call into question my involvement with the Catholic Church, but my faith in God and Jesus’ teachings haven’t changed; only my attitude toward the Catholic church as an institution, and the selective teachings that have been embedded into the Catholic faith. The Church’s ongoing insistence that only single men can preside over the mass; the Catholic Church being run primarily by a patriarchy of the elderly; the fact that priests are not entitled to have families of their own; the preaching that we are not to take communion unless we are in a state of ‘grace.’ No divorcees, no gays, no sinners welcome. These are not the teachings I want to bestow upon my sons, and these are not part of my faith, nor my relationship with God.
There is an underworld to everything that many of us aren’t even aware of, and one of the deepest underworlds is most certainly that of the Catholic church. The pedophilic Catholic priests are definitely the dark part of this underworld, but what about those priests who have secret lovers, not-so-secret relationships with other men or women, and those who have even married, and had families of their own? I wonder how many people are aware of that ‘underworld’, and how they integrate that into their own personal faith. Growing up, I watched a priest keep a divorced woman as his lover, while denying communion to the divorced of his congregation. I watched a priest get kicked out of the Church after a member of the congregation secretly complained that he was gay, and in a relationship. To be honest with you, the latter was definitely the best priest I’ve ever had the honor of listening to, knowing, and learning from.
Oh, the stories I could tell … there is so, so much more that I could tell you about the underworld of the Catholic church, so much more that I have witnessed firsthand, from the devastation suffered by the boys of St. Vincent, to the love and welcoming arms of a priest who was later kicked out because of his own personal life choices, choices which had no impact whatsoever on the people of his congregation. The church, to be sure, has its problems, but what inspires me in my faith is the determination of those involved with the church who are working for positive change—priests, nuns, and members of the congregation, all working so hard to keep the faith alive, while working to make real change in their little part of the Catholic world.
While I’m angry, and frustrated, and definitely confused by this priest’s recent conviction, adding to the long list of convicted priests that go before him, I also wonder how many people are throwing their religious beliefs away with the proverbial baby’s bathwater. While our children are going through their First Communions and Confirmations, how do we, as Catholic parents, reconcile the issues we may personally have with the church, with the choices we are asking our boys to make about their own faith?
The Catholic Church preaches perfection. We are expected to follow through on our marriage commitments, we are expected not to have children out of wedlock, engage in sexual relations with anyone outside of marriage, expected to reject homosexuality. Jesus didn’t preach any of that, and yet the Catholic Church is demanding it of us, to the detriment of our faith. Jesus ‘gathered the tribes’ – hung out with the ‘sinners’ of his time, the prostitutes, the lepers, the poor, and the outcasts, not the wealthy, healthy, and secure. THAT is the message that we need to pass on to our kids – acceptance, love, and inclusiveness, not the message of perfection, exclusion, and perversion that the church would have us embrace. We are all human, and as such, we are all different. We are also all sinners, but God is a forgiving God, isn’t He?
The Catholic Church has a lot of decisions to make going forward. Already, there are fewer young men attracted to the priesthood from North America, and two of my older sons have stopped going to church because they can’t reconcile Jesus’ teachings with what’s going on in the church today. While there are promises of reform on the horizon, they are minimalistic, and the clock of change will move slowly.
So for now, as parents, we need to help our young Catholic boys to keep the faith by pointing to Jesus’ example of inclusiveness, unconditional love, and leadership. It’s the teachings of Jesus that are important, continuing to gather in his name at mass, continuing to listen to his messages, and to live his example. I would rather see my sons continue to celebrate mass in their own unique way, than to see them abandon their faith entirely. While it’s not easy as parents to explain the dichotomy of church and reality, we need only to turn to the teachings of Jesus to find the answers when we don’t have them, and encourage our sons to try to do the same. If they leave the church, there is nothing they can do to create change within it. If they get involved, then they can influence change, no matter how small, and right now change is what is needed. Who better to lead that change than our youth, who are the future of all that is? I hope, and pray, that the young men of the church are not dissuaded by the actions of the men that are dominating the church, but instead are inspired by it, and lift their voices, as good men, to inspire change for all of us. If the church will only listen to men, maybe our young men can open their ears and hearts.
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