Disgust, anger about abuse should spur action

It seems a difficult task sometimes to write this column. As I read – with horror, shock and disgust – of the crimes committed by the priests in six dioceses in Pennsylvania and the possible culpability of the bishops, part of my shrinking stomach was due to the fact that I couldn’t simply let this moment go by without comment. 

I thought of my column, of the Clarion Herald and its mission for evangelization and deepening of the readership’s faith, and finally my own role as a college professor. 

In that role on campus, I am also a reporter: I am required to report mental and physical abuse and to be a support for students enduring such afflictions.

But it seems a hard task here to comment on the Pennsylvania scandal. For what, after all, am I to say?

I’ll be honest: I didn’t read much of the newspaper accounts, and I certainly didn’t read the 900-page report. I read enough of the accusations to gain an understanding of the atrocities before turning, rather sickly, away.

I was ashamed, certainly, but more rightly, I was disgusted. 

Perhaps this is the feeling that many lay Catholics experienced. But it’s important to recognize the source of that shame and disgust.

As I untwisted my thoughts, I recognized that I was horrified not by the Catholic faith but by the cowardly actions of men – men who had used their power and authority; men who had hidden behind the shroud of Catholicism, their titles as priests and manipulated their religious nature to further their grotesque and horrifying ends.

And in that statement, we see that the Church is no different from other institutions that have recently undergone scandal relating to abuse.

Certainly, that is no excuse.

Instead, it proves all the more our role as lay Catholics during this ordeal, and in future: We, the laity, have a role to play in our faith.

Too often we forget that responsibility. The faith is carried not only by its ordained and religious member but by its laity as well. 

We must not be silent, we must be watchful and we must adhere to accountability. 

This is, in plain words, the rallying cry of Pope Francis, and for many of the priests who acknowledged and defended the faith from their pulpits.

Our anger should lead us to action.

But what precisely does that mean? This is the question we must have in mind as we move forward.

Shrinking from the faith and blaming corruption is simply not the answer. Corruption is everywhere. It goes hand in hand with power.

But how can we, the laity, be more proactive in guarding our children and our faith? 

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor,” runs the familiar hymn. The takeaway message from the #MeToo campaign was that despite the silence and coverups, the victims and the public would be heard.

The same must be true here. In the light, we are not afraid of the darkness. As these accusations come to light, we pray for accountability and we pray for healing. But we also pray for our own strength to stand up and use our voices when and if the time arises.

Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at hbozantwitcher@clarionherald.org.

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