A recent opinion piece in Nova Scotia’s provincial newspaper chronicled the frustrations of a lifetime Catholic who decided it was time to give up. "Like other Catholics, I can relate and empathize with some of the woman’s complaints," Cambell writes. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

The question remains: To whom shall you go?

  • May 4, 2018

A time to search and a time to give up. 

A recent opinion piece in Nova Scotia’s provincial newspaper chronicled the frustrations of a lifetime Catholic who decided it was time to give up. The woman convinced herself it was time to throw away an affiliation to the Church that had been an integral part of her 62-year existence.

“I love my Church’s rites and, most especially, the beautiful sacraments that have helped to sustain me throughout my life,” the woman wrote.

She said she felt forced to leave the Church because of documented cases of pedophilia and coverups of crimes against children. Sounding exasperated, she described what she considers the Church’s “hypocrisy” regarding homosexuality and contraception and the ingrained institutionalism that she believes has thwarted the progressive efforts of Pope Francis.

She also raised the issues of female priests and of a celibate clergy, wondering how she could assure daughters and granddaughters they are not secondary Catholics with no place as decision-makers in the Church. Unable to accept the status quo, she said she had to tearfully walk away.

Several responding letter writers agreed with her. Many came from women. The marginalization of female followers is certainly not a novel complaint.

Following well-publicized sexual abuse cases in the Antigonish diocese, then-bishop Raymond Lahey negotiated compensation agreements in 2009 with victims. Two months later, Lahey was forced to resign after being charged with importing and possessing child pornography. Catholics throughout the province were devastated. Archbishop Anthony Mancini of Halifax tried to assuage the wounds of clergy and the faithful with a letter read at Masses across the province.

“What I want to say is: Enough is enough,” Mancini wrote. “How much more can all of us take? Like you, my heart is broken, my mind is confused, my body hurts and I have moved in and out of a variety of feelings, especially shame and frustration, fear and disappointment, along with a sense of vulnerability, and a tremendous poverty of spirit. I have cried and I have silently screamed, and perhaps that was my prayer to God: Why Lord?

“What does all this mean? What are you asking of me and of my priests? What do you want to see happen among your people? Is this a time of purification or is it nothing more than devastation? Are people going to stop believing, will faithful people stop being people of faith?”

The archbishop answered his own questions by suggesting God’s reply would be, “Be still and know that I am God.”

He concluded with some advice.

“People, priests, bishops are human, and failure to see, recognize and care about this will continue to produce inhuman expectations and give rise to inhuman behaviour. Another lesson is that failure in pastoral leadership is also connected to a misunderstanding of the diverse relationships which are needed to hold together the community of faith. Bishops, priests, deacons and lay ministers are not superheroes; leadership among the people of God is not about power, it is about caring.”

The Church is a vehicle of Jesus Christ, a vehicle driven by the flawed leadership Mancini alluded to. Still, the Church is essential in helping us profess, express and share our beliefs in Christ.

In Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus asked the disciples if they wanted to walk away from His tough teachings. Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

The opinion piece was heartfelt and serious but it did remind me of an anecdote. A crusty old pastor watched from the altar each week as a parishioner who sat near the back of the church quietly exited Mass immediately after communion. The priest finally had enough and one Sunday he left the altar and went out the back to confront the parishioner.

When they met, the priest said curtly, “Leaving early.”

“Me, too, Father,” came the parishioner’s quick reply.

Like other Catholics, I can relate and empathize with some of the woman’s complaints. But, respectfully, I might reply: Leaving early? And to whom shall you go?

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)