Time to heal
Story by Joseph Izampuye
Questions were the start of this story, beginning with the nationwide narrative that demanded a response, at first from the Vatican and from individual communities, including here at Judge. By settling down to discuss some of these questions, the people interviewed brought their own personal counterpoint to the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal.
“I think it’s just horrible,” Carlos Padilla said. “No one deserves to be treated like that. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a church in a school, or on a sports team, like the USA Gymnastics scandal. No one deserves to be treated like that.”
Carlos continued: “I think the reason I’m really passionate about this situation is because I have grown up in the Catholic Church, and I have come to love everything about it – except this issue obviously. I don’t want to see this beautiful tradition, the beautiful love that the Church has shown throughout these two thousand years, to come down because groups of these very sick men decided that they would forgo their vows, target youth, be predators and ruin these people’s lives.
“Also,” Carlos added. “I want to study theology when I enter college, and I don’t want people to look at me because I wear this cross around my neck and think that I belong to an institution that targets kids and does nothing about it.”
His response here, and the sheer sense of frustration was important. Responses make a conversation possible, they are the pillars of every interview, giving it support to stand on.
The supports for this discussion: Mr. Trentman, theology department chair; Ms. Coffey, theology educator, and Peer Ministry instructor; Mr.Vanderlaan, AP Capstone educator and lifelong member of the church; Carlos Padilla, student council member, and Christopher Clyne, a Peer Minister. All of them expressed feelings of disgust and outrage at both the incidents of sexual abuse committed by priests, and also at how reluctant the Catholic Church was to acknowledge the crimes and to act.
The discussion began by addressing an issue in the Catholic Church’s response to the earlier Spotlight abuse scandal in Boston. The response that came from the parish’s clergy and laypeople, even up to the Vatican, was indecisive and emotionally removed from the afflicted people. All of the people interviewed would later come to suggest solutions for what the Church could do going forward.
But for now, they agreed that the Church’s muted response, among other issues enabled the resurgence of those crimes today.
Mr. V recalled his own experiences dealing with the issue. “It was really interesting being a Catholic minority at a public school in Texas at the time, having to navigate that and research that as much as I could.
“But I also had to figure out things like, ‘Do I defend the Church? Speak out against it? How do I talk to people who don’t know the Church as intimately as I did during that time?’ That caused me to have this guarded notion of how I should consider the Church. I defended it to people, but inwardly I struggled with it constantly during that time.”
Mr. V’s crisis of faith reflected a bigger issue growing in his community, it was an unsolved problem, the unsettled inquiry of wondering what to ask a faith that conflicts with us, and where to look when our faith in leaders fall.
Those questions had continued to fester, in the hearts of Catholic youth nationwide, spreading without ever being completely excised, or answered. Senior Chris Clyne, spoke about that same problem of silence, still permeating in the Church. Quoting Simon and Garfunkel, he said, “Silence like a cancer spreads.”
Carlos, in response said “We can no longer afford to sweep things under the rug, we have to be vocal. We have to report things, and we can’t be afraid to come forward and protect these victims.”
Chris also offered an alternative to the course of the discussion. He said that we as the Church and in the structure of the Church can “reverse the trend, and put it in a better direction.”
So, how do we do it?
“There’s a lot of things the Church can do,” Mr. Trentman, theology department chair said, “but I think the most important thing is going to be the most difficult thing. And that has to be full ownership, transparency, and accepting of consequences. Listen to the voices of people that come to you, and remember that it is always those victims that need to be thought of first.”
When the first major Church abuse scandal broke, it shifted the questions that we asked about our faith, demanding a different response for the future. Right now, that new central question shifts onto the shoulders of our beliefs, and the responsibility to respond lies with every group, and individual member within Church.
Theology teacher, Ms. Coffey considering the influence of both the lay people and the Vatican within the Church says that reform needs to come from two directions. There is the principle in Catholic social teaching called subsidiarity,” she said. “The idea is that things should be dealt with on the most local level as possible because neighbors know each other better than people who live far away; family members know each other better than someone who you’ve never met. So I think part of the healing needs to happen under the principle of subsidiarity.
“However,” Ms. Coffey continued. “at some point this needs to be handled out of the Vatican. It is in part rooted in the way that priests are being formed, in the way that priests are being selected or admitted to seminary, in the way that rules and guidelines are set up and reporting happens, and how people are responding to those in authority. So if that is being done poorly or being done in a way that is allowing this to happen, then they’re also needs to be response from the top down.”
Chris Clyne said that the Church hierarchy needs to perpetuate the message that we need to stay together as communities. “Be the voice that says, ‘No, this isn’t who we are. No, we do not condone this behavior, but we’re also a church of mercy and a church of forgiveness.’”
The way forward is through reforms at both the local and at the highest levels of the Church, but what can Judge do as a Catholic school?
“I really hope that the theology teachers did talk about this,” Carlos said, “and not try to just acknowledge it. I hope that they say, ‘let’s sit down and ask what questions you guys have about this scandal.’ You have to communicate. You have to talk about it.”
For Carlos being at Judge and some of his experiences here have helped. “The thing that helped me the most was being at Judge and in Peer Ministry specifically because we do have a lot of that spiritual component and we do have Jesus present, I believe.”
“And also the thing that helped me personally was that Kairos experience where we had that little period to self-reflect,” Carlos said.
“I was able to realize that at the end of the day I will always love the Church. I love the tradition, I love the doctrine, I love everything to do with it, so I have to move past this. Instead of me leaving the Church or just not going to church, I have to be a part of that solution. Or else this Church that I love is going to keep having these issues, and eventually it’s going to to get to a point where it it just collapses on itself.”
I asked “Are people justified in leaving the Church?”
“I certainly can’t pass judgment,” Mr. Trentman said. “and I can’t say that I don’t understand why someone would want to leave the Church. I fully understand. But I think now is the time – if you are faith-filled – now is not the time to leave. It is the time to lead. A good righteous anger can lead to positive change.”
“Even though the Church is messy and broken and this is a particularly vile strand of that brokenness,” Ms. Coffey said, “I’m going to stay committed to the Church, and keep trying to love it and make it better.”
“The Church is us,” Mr. Vanderlaan said. “The church is, in the end, a democratic institution. It is defined by the people inside of it, by their will and their choices. That’s what Christ endowed us with. He gave authority to the Pope and the priests to guide us, but not to make decisions for us. If we keep that in mind, if we act on that, and if we stay involved – even when it’s difficult, even when we’re angry – and channel our righteous fury into healing and positivity and actual reform that can push the Church in a better direction, then I think we’re doing our job as Catholics.”
“Laypeople, we’re the ones who run the Church,” Carlos said. “We have this hierarchy, the structure of the Church, but at the end of the day, the Church can’t be a church if there’s no one to preach to. Laypeople have to write to the Vatican, write to their bishop, archbishop, cardinal, priest, deacon or whoever represents them in their parish and say ‘I’m sick of this. I’m not going to let this stand in this Church anymore. I’m going to part of the solution.’
They all were optimistic despite being deeply troubled by members of the clergy and Church leadership.
“I think what we’re witnessing right now is a real paradigm shift in the way that we confront these issues and in the way that we talk about them,” Chris Clyne said. “And like in any paradigm shift – be it the civil rights movement or women’s rights movement – it’s going to be a slow process. But the more people who speak up, and speak up relentlessly as much as they try to get silenced, the faster it’s going to happen. That’s just the cogs of society turning. They turn slowly, but they do turn.”