Sunday, September 23, 2018

Dear Laity

The clergy sex abuse crisis doesn't actually affect me or my family.

One of my kids received First Communion last year. Another's in line for it this year. We love our parish community. Our priest and council already have stringent standards in place for safety, transparency, and accountability. Honestly, we're fine.

Sure, there's corruption and in-fighting over at the Vatican. And yes, there's scandal up in Pennsylvania. There's even evidence that our archdiocese has mishandled clergy sexual abuse cases as recently as this summer.

But ultimately, my own little Catholic world is working A-OK, and it would be a reactionary waste of time and energy for me to get involved with what doesn't actually affect me.

Except, it does affect me. And it is affecting my children.

My older kids -- ages 7 and 8 -- have started to notice a change in our parish. They're confused by strange announcements before Mass, mentioning the need to talk to police officers, and vague homily references about sorrow and young victims. 

Even if I were to quiet their fears within our little domestic church while remaining silent to the Church at large, it would clash dissonantly against my vocation as a Catholic mother.

Saints have testified through centuries of cyclically rotten Church leadership that all laity -- empowered through baptism as priest, prophet, and king -- are called to sanctify, teach, and govern within our faith as sharers in the ministry of Christ.

It's tempting to cloister my family from the scandals of the Church and simply grasp for the Sacraments, only occasionally brushing the edge of her messy bureaucracy. But we have the ability, and the calling, to do so much more.

In scripture, laypeople Priscilla and Aquila interrupt Apollo's teaching to help him more fully teach the Gospel.

To St. Francis of Assisi, a poor layperson with no social or religious standing, the Lord pleaded for him to help reform the Church: "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins."

Yes, we pray and fast and mourn in the quiet of our homes and local parishes. But we also speak truth and seek audience with those who can change the course of Church history.

St. Catherine of Siena admonished Pope Gregory XI in 1376 to quit being a French political puppet and return to Rome: "May ardor of charity be in you, in such wise as shall prevent you from hearing the voice of incarnate demons, and heeding the counsel of perverse counselors, settled in self-love, who, as I understand, want to alarm you, so as to prevent your return... I tell you that you have no need to fear."

When we act and speak in times of crisis, we are not working against the Church. We are working for her.

IApostolicam ActuositatemPope Paul VI encourages the laity in their God-given commission to "build up the Church, sanctify the world, and give it life in Christ."

Far from usurping the jobs of priests, bishops, and cardinals, our voices and actions in times of crisis are the very antidote to saving our Church.

As Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen appealed to the Knights of Columbus in 1972: "Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and your religious act like religious."

If you’re also a lay Catholic mother, wanting to help change the course of our Church, you’re in one of the most powerful positions possible. We hold the audience of our children. We form the hearts and habits of the next generation.

For this reason, I decided to include my kids in the current reckoning within our Church. (This is a loose transcript of the conversation I had with my older kids, ages 7 and 8, about the sexual abuse crisis.)

A couple weeks ago, we participated as a family in a peaceful protest against sexual abuse and cover-up in our archdiocese. The kids jostled over signs and snacks while representing the youth our Church has failed to protect. 

Our message of accountability spread quickly and easily among other laity gathered outside the Co-Cathedral, unaware of the protest scheduled for that day. I received many nods of agreement and quiet words of affirmation as we stood with our signs on the sidewalk. I thanked passing priests for their blessings of my kids.

I can't say the number of police officers who nodded in approval as they walked past. One officer even stopped his patrol car, called out to us, and waved with appreciation and encouragement.

Many commuters, stuck in downtown rush hour traffic past the Co-Cathedral, silently read our signs, which expressed both love and concern for our Church. What an important message for us to share with non-Catholics: we're not naively putting our heads in the sand, denying there's a problem, and carrying on as usual.

Our kids are young, but they’re learning that as baptized Catholics, their voices are important in our Church. They have a right and a duty to speak truth, both in our Church and in the world at large.

Dear laity, dear friends, let's not remain silent in this dark hour of our Church. This is not a crisis our bishops can navigate alone. Their spiritual isolation is what allowed this deep-seated scandal to go unaddressed for so long.

It’s not hypocrisy for those of us also struggling in our various personal sins to call out the egregious sin of our leaders. We’re not virtue signaling when we voice concern. We’re not stepping out of line when we participate in an event organized by laity. We’re not wasting time and energy when we repeatedly remind our bishops and cardinals – in love and respect – that anything short of a complete overhaul of current policies on transparency and accountability is not enough.

When we pray, speak, act, and advocate in unity with others, in response to a very real crisis in the Catholic hierarchy, we are living out our God-given commission as laity in care for our beloved Church.

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