• Matthew C. Mai

The Abuse Crisis is Not an Excuse to Stop Going to Mass

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The Northeast Province Jesuits recently released their own list of priests accused, and some even convicted, of sexual abuse. In addition to the Northeast Province Jesuits, the New Jersey dioceses of Newark, Paterson, Trenton, and Metuchen are also releasing their own list of priests credibly accused of abuse, sometime early this year. These further revelations in New Jersey will cast some light on an issue that has been a blot on the Church for multiple decades now. The coverups by clergy members and alienation of the abused are one of the greatest crimes of the Church’s history and rank and file Catholics should rightly be outraged. There needs to be an uncompromising and thorough movement within the Church to rid itself of the predator subculture that has been festering for decades. However, this scandal, and the phony perceived hypocrisy of the entire Catholic clergy, is not a reason to stop going to Mass.

Within the Catholic community, there has to be a better comprehension of the relationship between the two structural elements of the Church. The Catholic Church is both a divine and a human institution. It’s theological, spiritual, and moral teachings are divine in nature and the Mass is how the Church communicates those teachings to Catholics around the world. Yet, the Catholic Church is no more protected from the flaws of human nature because of the divinity it possesses. It is because the Catholic Church is also a human institution that it can suffer from scandal brought on by horrific evils. What skeptical and questioning Catholics, in particular, have to understand is that the human nature of the Church does not discredit or invalidate the divine teachings of the Church. A skeptic might follow up with a question along the lines of, “Why should I take moral and spiritual guidance from an individual who practices in an institution that has facilitated this horrific evil”? This is a point many Catholics find to be irreconcilable with their faith. However, couldn’t you say the same about nearly every human institution in the world? Look no further than other human institutions that do not receive nearly the amount of flak or negative attention the Church does. UN peacekeepers have run sex rings in third world countries, American public schools currently have a mass educator abuse problem, and 1 in 4 women in the military are sexually assaulted by someone in their unit. The common thread among all of these institutions is a culture of do-nothing leadership and a complete lack of accountability. Even recently, our political system has been polarized with sexual assault/harassment allegations and lawsuits for the past two years ranging from senators to state assemblymen. Hollywood and the media have undergone a “cleansing” of their own in some ways as well. Yet do we treat every individual in these institutions with the same level of suspicion as some do with priests? The answer is of course not. We are able to use our judgment and discretion to determine if a politician, actor, or teacher is worthy of our time and attention. We judge them based on their character as an individual, independent of the scandal plaguing their industry. There is no reason why we shouldn’t do the same in our parishes. To decry priests everywhere and call into question their credibility because a select few (less than 5% of them over the last 50 years) have been sexual predators is absurd. It is because this scandal has been exposed that there have been widespread child protection programs put into place in the US at the command of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. These programs are mandatory for an individual, clergy or not, that interact with minors at any activity associated with a diocese. As a result, these programs have dramatically reduced the number of new victims and abusers. Furthermore, any program dealing with minors associated with a diocese that has not adapted these training and prevention programs will be suspended until they do so. It is because of these programs that have been put into place that American Catholic churches have become one of the safest institutions for minors.

Does the Catholic Church bear a higher degree of shame than Hollywood, the UN, and other institutions plagued by these horrific scandals? Absolutely. It has fallen short of teachings that reach higher than any other moral system in the world by facilitating and covering up crimes of the evilest kind. And it is because of these moral standards and teachings that there must be an urgency within the Church to continue to fix this problem. However, to discredit the individual character of each priest simply because his profession has seen scandal and to completely ignore the reforms American dioceses have undergone is simplistic and short-sighted. The ability of the priest to communicate Scripture and teachings is not invalidated because a minority in his vocation has been infiltrated by evil. Despite the shame that has fallen on the Church, to stop going to Mass because you think your priest is a hypocrite is more of an excuse than a conflict of conscience.

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