A few weeks ago, as I sat in a Catholic church waiting to read for my niece’s wedding, I was troubled by many questions: Should I receive communion? Should I join in the prayers? What does all this mean to me any more? I found myself automatically joining in the responses even while the debate continued in my head. I remembered to edit the Creed, “for us … and for our salvation …,” and to use “God” instead of “He” whenever possible — personal standards of theological authenticity. But, today, on the “Lord’s Day,” I cannot ignore the debate any longer, especially if I want to get a better night’s sleep tonight.

Family members, friends, and more recently ex-students, have asked me the questions I now ask myself. My response used to be that my abuse by Catholic priests as a child was a personal horror that actually led me to the study of theology, where I met my husband, and to a career in religious education that provided immense personal satisfaction for nearly thirty years. In other words, it was a personal experience of the evil that humans are capable of, but the Catholic Church was not responsible for it. And in fact Catholicism had been a spiritual and intellectual saving grace in my life. The bad people in my childhood were Catholic priests, but all the good people in my life have been Catholics, too.

But didn’t my abusers represent the Church? No, not to me. They represented their own perverted sexual desires and addictions to alcohol, and their personal rejection of Catholic values. They were the antithesis of Catholicism, like dark matter is to matter.

I didn’t understand the irony of that analogy until recently.

Although dark matter remains a theory, many astronomers now believe that it makes up over 20% of our universe and that something called dark energy more than 70%. That would mean that the universe is dominated by dark matter and dark energy. That is how I currently feel about the Catholic Church. From the pope down to local bishops, from official documents to internal memoranda, the evidence is that darkness is at the heart of the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis.

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Marlow knowingly lies to Kurtz’s fiancé when he tells her that Kurtz’s last words were of her. Marlow’s motive was kindness. He didn’t want her to know the truth of the darkness in the soul of her beloved. And today, in the midst of this Catholic horror, I wonder what has been the motive behind the behavior of Catholic officials? Has it been the protection of property, which some also argue is the main reason for denying the option of marriage to Catholic priests? Were they callously and knowingly putting the Church’s reputation before the protection of children? Or were they protecting the innocent and naive faith of the Catholic community? Was it kindness or calumny?

How is history going to judge our leaders for their failure to hold their own actions up to the standards of morality so readily imposed by them on the members of the Church community: honesty, integrity, atonement for wrong-doing, advocacy of the suffering, especially children? Will the last words on this debacle echo Kurtz’s own cry “that was no more than a breath – ‘The horror! The horror!’ ” Or will we look back at this dark moment and realise it was the turning point in the life of the modern Catholic Church?

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