Put the blame where it really belongs - on the abuser

By  Dorothy Pilarski, Catholic Register Special
  • April 16, 2010
I got a call one day from a good friend who was disturbed by how some of her family and friends might respond to a television program. I did not see the program, but it was about the sex scandal in the Catholic Church.

Here’s how I respond to well meaning friends, family and associates who try to enlighten me about the problems in the Church.

First, I always agree with my opponent. “Sexual abuse is terrible whether it is inside the Church or inside a family.”

Second, I like to state: “While the Church is supernatural (having existed for over 2,000) years, it is also made up of humans with a fallen nature (original sin). Each of the individuals involved in sex abuse or its cover up will be judged by God individually.”

Third, I have in the past apologized on the behalf of the Church. Once when a woman told me about some bad experience she had, I said: “I trust what you said is true, and on the behalf of the Catholic Church I apologize for that priest’s behaviour. Will you forgive us and come back?”  (That only works in specific situations). Many Church leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, have come out and formally apologized for these transgressions.

Fourth, my favourite, is the analogy of family. The Church is just like a family. There are things that happen within families that are embarrassing and painful. For example, say your Uncle Bill did something really terrible, do you judge the entire clan by his actions? Do you invite Uncle Bill to the wedding? Do you leave the family or divorce yourself from it because of Uncle Bill? Do you stop associating with Uncle Bill’s friends, professional colleagues or organization he may have worked for?

Sex abuse happens in schools. Do people take their children out of school because of it? Do they judge the educational system and the curriculum because of sex offenders?

Sex abuse happens in families. Do we reject the institution of family or marriage because a grave sin occurred in it? Sex abuse, I think between father and daughter is the gravest. Do we deem all fathers as being “bad”?

Of course not. That would be ridiculous.

Of course sex abuse is evil and hideous, but using it to attack the Church is, in my mind, a tactic of the devil. I suspect there are priests and bishops right now in hell or purgatory because of their lives on Earth. But I am sure that there are many, many, many holy priests who do not receive the love and respect  they deserve because of the transgressions of their brothers in Christ.

I like to think of the analogy of a woman who used to have an abusive husband, hating all men and not being able to enter into a relationship with any man because of her emotional scars. Counselling her to love men would be difficult and would require healing.

Our job as Catholics is to defend the Church rationally and intelligently, not stand around with our tails between our legs, compliantly agreeing with whatever we see or hear on television.

Our most valuable treasures in the Church are the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist.

People should be reminded that if they focus on the sacraments, they will be given the grace to work through all their spiritual challenges. Whenever I am tempted or attacked, or whenever someone pushes my buttons, I know the first thing I have to do is run to the sacrament of Reconciliation. Our focus should be on Jesus and not on the transgressions of sinners!  

Finally, I am reminded of the words of Henri J.M. Nouwen, who wrote:

“Over the centuries the Church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it. Its history of violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulation of people and ideas, and constantly recurring divisions is there for everyone to see and be appalled by.

“Can we believe that this is the same Church that carries in its centre the Word of God and the sacraments of God’s healing love? Can we trust that in the midst of all its human brokenness the Church presents the broken body of Christ to the world as food for eternal life? Can we acknowledge that where sin is abundant grace is superabundant, and that where promises are broken over and over again God’s promise stands unshaken? To believe is to answer yes to these questions.”           

(Dorothy Pilarski, a professional speaker and consultant, can be reached at www.dorothypilarski.com.)

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