I love Jesus, who I know was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, died on a cross, rose from the dead and is physically present in the Eucharist. I wholeheartedly believe in the Holy Trinity, the forgiveness of sins and the communion of saints. I cherish my Roman Catholic faith.
Yet, right now, I’m sorely, almost painfully conflicted. I’m tortured by a question I’ve never encountered: Do I remain Catholic?
I don’t want to leave Holy Mother Church. If I didn’t really care one way or the other, there probably wouldn’t be a genuine decision. Plenty of former Catholics haven’t set foot inside a church in years.
Some left after an agonizing decision because they had been damaged and were suffering beyond comprehension every time they saw a priest or bishop, every time they stepped into a church. For others, it wasn’t about making a choice. They simply left.
“My soul rests in God alone, from whom comes my salvation. God alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress; I shall never fall” (Psalm 62:2, New American Bible).
God is infallible; the Church – which I have always been a part of – is an earthly institution that is not. Forgive me, Lord, but I’m shaken. My Church has seen spiritual leaders traumatize thousands of vulnerable children, young people and their families. The leadership of my Church not only failed to hand over those criminal priests for secular justice but withheld ecclesial justice as well; in fact, those leaders enabled more crimes and monstrous sin to take place.
How can I return to sit, stand and kneel in the pew as if nothing has happened?
I did when reports of sexual abuse began making headlines almost 20 years ago — including abuse by several St. Louis priests I had known and admired. I did again for numerous years following, when the world learned about decades of abuse by priests and the cover-up in Boston, in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, Australia, Canada, Argentina and so many more countries.
I heard, and I remained. Last month, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned, the first cardinal to do so in the wake of sexual abuse allegations. The following Sunday, I again joined my parish community for Mass.
Now I am overwhelmed by sickening stories out of Pennsylvania. I am ashamed.
We have told ourselves that other institutions deal with similar problems. We have read the studies saying the percentage of pedophiles among priests is no different from society as a whole. We have justified our continued presence, our blithe acceptance of the evil, by saying it is a Church led by men who are imperfect, sinners who make mistakes. So we must forgive and pray on.
Yes, prayer is the most we can do when faced with such ghastly atrocities. But that can’t be it. We must act or forever share some blame.
Among us there is a swelling, powerful, loud indignation. Some faithful Catholics want to stop putting money in the collection basket. They want to stop going to Mass in protest, a possible wakeup call for those in charge. They want to leave. Not that they want to go anywhere specific. They just want to go away.
But who would we be hurting if we stopped donations? The pews have been noticeably emptier for several decades, yet the hierarchy hasn’t seen fit to make substantial change to Church governance and oversight.
So for now, here is what I will do: I will continue to attend Mass. I will listen, pray, stand and sit and kneel. I will receive the Body and Blood of Christ my Savior. At that point, I will quietly and reverently walk out the front doors of the church and stand just outside that entrance. In pure, hushed prayer. For five minutes, maybe more, of silent witness.
Away from the church, I will be a voice for reform.
The Church is living through something akin to the dark night of the soul, a difficult yet necessary spiritual step. St. John of the Cross said that self-knowledge is essential in such a state. Shame on those priests and bishops and cardinals and Pope Francis if they don’t look in the mirror and see that God is calling them to radical change, from the parish level all the way to the top.
Shame on me and the rest of us if we don’t demand those changes. Right now.
Eisenbath is parishioner at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.