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Let us not pretend to be the Church

| Monday, September 10, 2018

I came of age in a church that has consistently been marred with scandal. I was 14 when the stories of systematic child abuse and the subsequent cover-ups in Boston made headlines in 2002. My parish pastor was accused of sexually assaulting a minor in the year that followed. In 2012, the bishop who confirmed me admitted to a 14-year-old secret that he had fathered two boys while he was a priest. The horrific reports of sexual abuse and assault in the Catholic Church that came from the Pennsylvania grand jury just a few weeks ago left my heart, again, feeling heavy. I know this feeling of being disappointed with the church all too well.

These days, when the topic of the church scandal arises, I am consistently met with shrugs that communicate a sense of helplessness stemming from the question, “What can I do about it.” No pastoral response to this tragedy seems at all satisfying or adequate, nor would it be safe to assume that we have reached the bottom of this crisis in the church. In the midst of this daunting reality, there is a temptation to do nothing, for the messiness that comes with doing something can be deeply overwhelming. When I entertain this temptation for myself, it allows me to remain a critic rather than an active participant in my own spiritual home. There is no time for this.

To try and call out the church’s sacramentality, its capacity to be a vessel of God’s grace, can seem like a tacky way of glossing over the evil in front of us, but, now more than ever, we must do so. A truly sacramental church is one that is open to its own need for conversion. Its ability to be a vessel of grace is not rooted in its immunity from sinfulness or a naive ignorance of the amount of pain the church is capable of causing, but in its willingness to act upon the grace it has received from God that makes reconciliation a lived reality. Reconciliation is neither a quick return to a previous normal state nor a hasty sense of forgiveness, but a movement toward a new existence — one that God’s grace brings about.

We may not know exactly where reconciling the church’s actions may lead, but it is certainly not an invitation for us to be passive participants. I urge you to ask questions and to pray for the courage to ask your questions again and again. Any attempt to navigate such confusing times by failing to demand transparency from our church leaders, scapegoating LGBTQ Catholics and dispensing optimism disguised as hope is dangerous. Rather, engage your church leaders. Participate in dialogue about sexuality, clericalism, celibacy, church leadership and the church’s mission with your peers, priests, religious and church leaders. Listen to the stories of survivors. Do not be afraid when God’s Spirit points us to recognize truths our imaginations have yet the capacity to fathom. Allow the truth to animate your soul and take action. Like Christ, be courageous, loving and just. To be like Christ is to be the church.

For me, it comes down to this: if we are a church that continues to avoid courageous dialogue accompanied by timely, corrective action that addresses the detrimental evil in our own ranks, we are either pretending that this is what it looks like to be a sacramental church, or we are aware of the Spirit’s invitation to bring justice into the church, but choose not to respond.  Although I am hopeful in our church’s future, our actions today will indicate if we pass on to future generations our unwillingness to face our own hidden sin. We can no longer afford to be silent, for to sin is to have the opportunity to love and to simply not bother. The kingdom of God is justice and peace. No justice, no peace. We have to bother.

The pain of sin and abuse is real, but so is love and reconciliation. On September 11 from 8 p.m. – 9 p.m., all students are invited to a conversation on the clergy abuse crisis in the Coleman-Morse lounge.  Additionally, from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m., Monday-Thursday we have ministers in 113 CoMo who are here to listen and discern with you. We in Campus Ministry, your ministers who share with you a common baptismal call, are committed to doing our part to help the church heal and discern a way forward.

Christian Santa Maria serves in Campus Ministry as the Assistant Director of Retreats and Pilgrimages and can be reached at [email protected]. Learn more about Campus Ministry at CampusMinistry.nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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