Yesterday the Archdiocese was forced to release a list of priests who had been accused of abusing children. (This post has the full story and is incredibly comprehensive.) The Archdiocese, on their website, said they had gotten approval from a judge to go ahead with the release when in reality they fought for thirty years to keep the list a secret. Seven of the names on the list had never been revealed before. Like in many other areas priests were moved around from parish to parish (and some left and went to other states). Many of them were not removed from active ministry until much later in life.
It’s hard for me to know what to say in situations like this; I’m not Roman Catholic (and did not grow up in the Roman Catholic Church). I’ve written before about how the abuse scandals make me feel as a queer person who is also a priest and I don’t want to rehash that. While I am furious at the men who did this, I am even more furious at the decades of denial, cover ups, and protection they received from so many people in this diocese (including the Archbishop). And while all of this was going on, the Archbishop was shoveling money but the truck load (nearly one million dollars) into anti-gay marriage campaigns (including sending anti-gay dvds to 400,000 households in the state).
I have spent years being told that I am a fool for investing in Christianity and the church. I have been told that I am deluded, that I am contributing to my own oppression as a queer person, that I am part of a system that has nothing redeeming about it and in light of news like this I have a hard time disagreeing. The church has often made a mockery of Jesus. His message was about resistance to empire, the care of the poor and marginalized, and the in-breaking of God into the world. So often the church has turned his message into a quest for empire, a hoarding of money and resources, and playing God.
Is there anything here that can be redeemed?
Obviously I believe there is because I have dedicated my life to it. But it’s not an easy answer or a simple fix. I can say I believe in the church (universal) and in the good news of the Gospel. But the good news has to be good news for the most marginalized or it is no good news at all. When men in power allow people to get away with abusing children this is not good news. When men in power hide and lie in order to keep their power in tact this is not good news. When men in power believe they are above the law, when they believe they are above protecting children, this is very bad news. The church has failed in epic ways. The trust has been broken.
The thing about broken trust is it can never be fully healed. Certainly you can forgive, you can move on, you can commit to doing better in the future, but that hairline fracture is still there. It remains under the surface just waiting to crack again.
When people get angry at the church it’s hard not to take the vitriol personally. When the woman at Pride yelled at me and told me that there was no place for the church there, or when people told me that I should be engaging the protestors instead of having a table, it was hurtful. In those moments all they could see was my collar and my collar told them I was an enemy. They didn’t understand that the man wearing the collar had also been hurt by the church, that he’d been told he didn’t belong, that he had to work and fight for his place in the church.
There are some who have walked away from the church (and I totally get that). There are others who have created new communities and they tell me, with pride, “We don’t have a priest.” There are some who say that we need to get rid of the priesthood, that priests are no longer necessary because people are more educated now. Instead we should all just be a community of people on a journey together. I understand all of these impulses, but to me, none of them feel right.
Then there were the people who came to the table in tears, so thankful to see a priest at Pride. They were thankful to see a Catholic church at Pride. They want to believe that there is still something beautiful in the tradition they love. And for me, personally, I am called to be a priest and I have talked to a lot of people who want a priest. I don’t think the abolishment of the priesthood is the way to restore broken trust.
In the midst of starting a new Catholic community in Minneapolis, there have been a lot of questions: Why Catholic? What does it mean that you’re a priest? Why does leadership matter? Why does the church matter? These are deep and complicated questions and they come from a place of deep pain; people have been wounded by all kinds of churches, by leaders who were charismatic and charming until they turned nasty, by hypocrisy and power grabs, and by slights both large and small. It’s daunting to step into that world of pain knowing that I am called to this work and with a vision of what a new community could be like. It’s hard to move past all of the pain the church has inflicted so that together we can build something new and beautiful. It’s hard to earn the trust of people who have trusted before and been betrayed.
There is something about the church and the Christian story that I cannot let go of. In the midst of scandal and hypocrisy, in the midst of Christians who are hateful and mean, in the midst of priests who do evil things, I cannot shake this story. So here’s what I believe:
There is power in gathering around a table and sharing the Eucharist. There is power in the body and blood of Jesus and in the way it fuses those who partake into the body of Christ. There is something subversive and messy and beautiful in this Sacrament that I cannot stop thinking about.
The Bible is a beautiful collection of stories of people trying to find their way to God and throughout it shows of a God who is in love with God’s people and who has a special concern for the poor and marginalized.
Jesus matters. His birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection show us something vital about the world, about what it means to be human, about what it means to be fully alive, and about what it means to follow God.
The Christian story gives me a language to explain my experience and it gives me comfort, hope, and a challenge to do better and be more.
There is something radical in a God who cares about the marginalized and poor.
The resistance to empire is one of the most challenging messages of the whole Christian story and it’s vital that we engage with it.
I don’t know what the future of the church or the priesthood is. I don’t know how to restore broken trust. All I can do is pray to be the best priest I can be, to follow God with all that I am, to serve the people God has given me to serve, and to care about the people God cares about. All we can do as a church is to create spaces where people can encounter God, where their lives can be transformed, where they can be changed by the sacraments, and where we can stumble together toward holiness.
In spite of all of the times things have been messed up. In spite of all the betrayers. In spite of every evil thing, I still have hope. Christian life is about resurrection after all.