Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
December 27th, 2010

Why Are They Still Here?

Given the painful revelations of the sex scandal, why are Catholic churches not empty?


Every Sunday, all around the globe, a minor miracle is occurring that has gone almost unnoticed: despite continuing revelations about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, somehow the churches aren’t empty. Despite all the terrible news about the Catholic Church sitting at the top of everyone’s RSS feed for days on end, it was still standing room only at the Holy Week events. While it is strictly anecdotal evidence, people are still coming to church even when the reports of the sex scandal are so dire. Can you imagine any other organization on earth weathering this type of negative publicity over this long a period and still being able to function?

So we asked young Catholics themselves why they still come to church. Is it simply out of obligation? Do they defend the church? Are they able to see value in their faith despite institutional mismanagement?

Bill McGarvey, Joe Williams and Brittany Janis visited a parish with a large young adult population to ask that question and several others. This video is a small sampling of the many thoughtful answers we received.

But we would like to hear your thoughts as well…

Share your thoughts about the scandal, the Church’s response and your own spirituality as reflected in what is going on. Submit your comment below, or upload a video response on the video’s Youtube page — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnuN1eG3dk4.

Originally published April 15, 2010.

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  • Deacon Chuck Hankins

    Jim, I don’t believe that “It’s ok because everyone else does it too” is an accurate assessment of the responses of the readers or of the Church leadership. The probem of abuse and overlooking it is bigger than priestly celibacy, or the Catholic Church. Attacking or even ending priestly celibacy will not solve it. It rests in the tendency of people in positions of power and poor supervision abusing their power. The denial and failure to deal with it is not peculiar to Catholic bishops. To condemn these things in people in the Catholic Church is correct. But if we only advocate for the abused or those who have a potential to be abused in this portion of the population, then we do a great disservice to the much larger group of abused by ignoring their existence. We must not be distracted by the attack on side issues and work to solve the problem of abuse for all children, no matter who abuses them.

  • dee

    First of all, I think the way the church continues to deal with this issue is a textbook case of how NOT to respond to a scandal. Somehow, the Vatican still doesn’t get it. A friend recently sent me a commentary charging that the pope should go on trial for the 1980s Oakland diocese scandal. At first, I was taken aback, and then I wondered what Jesus would do. I don’t think he’d be hiding behind immunity as head of state…
    I am a Virtus facilitator, and during the first day of my training, the trainer informed us that when the scandal broke, the church wanted to address it, but the insuranc
    e company advised against it. I wondered if anyone upstairs considered that we are not Catholic Church, Inc, but the Body of Christ!
    Finally, I firmly believe that much of this behavior would not have been perpetuated if priest were allowed to be married. Please hear me out–I understand that celibacy is not the issue. Practically speaking, though, surely a priest (or 10) would have come home and told his wife that Fr. X from St. ABC’s had molested a child and was going to be transferred. That kind of transparency is not possible in the current structure.

  • Jim

    V: Yes, sexual abuse happens lots of places and the media seems to be focused mostly on the Catholic Church. However, your “It’s OK because everyone else does it, too” defense seems to be an attempt to distract us from the church’s problem.

    You also don’t mention the bigger problem which is the Church’s response to the sexual abuse. THE CHURCH LEADERS HAVE SPENT DECADES COVERING UP THE ABUSE AND SIMPLY SENDING THE OFFENDING PRIESTS TO DIFFERENT PARISHES so they have a new group of children to abuse.

    Now we hear from the Church leaders that we should pray for the priests who have abused children and pray for the Church itself. But they say ALMOST NOTHING about the well-being of the children — those who were victims. The Church leaders seem not to care at all about the children who were abused. Contrary to what you say, they don’t appear to have learned much at all about how to deal with the abuse.

  • Deacon Thomas Evrard

    Ordination to the diaconate was a blessing (2000). The clergy abuse scandal (2002) took me on a roller-coaster ride of dashed expectations. Bewildered by the behavior of the those to whom I swore obedience, and the discovery through prayer and spiritual direction of both the dark and light of the Church, I was prayerfully shocked into the belief that the Holy Spirit is working patiently to change the church. Why was I surprised? The hierarchy are supposed to examine their consciences! If one does a poor job they resign! If in any of my many occupations in life I was told perform a task through collaboration and gathering facts….and I ignored the boss and hid the project (if you don’t pay attention—–it will go away) I would have been fired! What’s so difficult about that?
    Fr Peter is so right. There are too many very good, holy and prayerful people in our Church who mirror Christ that I have to look at them and stand with them to support the Church. Our leaders have shown us what to do through poor strategies, bad choices and bad example.

  • Fr. Peter Petroske

    The scandals have had an incredibly huge impact on the church at all levels.

    I had a classmate who left the priesthood, not because of an allegation against him, but because he could no longer tolerate the lack of integrity on the part of the bishops of the church. He said, “I can no longer give myself so completely to an institution steeped in denial and dishonesty.” I told him that I couldn’t agree with him more. He then asked me, “Then why do you choose to stay?”

    It gave me a lot to think about. Through much prayer and reflection, I came to the conclusion that I choose to remain in priestly ministry because so much of what I do is more about the Gospel call to holiness and how I share that with the people out there in the pews and very little to do with poor leadership and bad choices made by our bishops, and even our Pope. I am daily inspired by the faith of the “folks in the pew”; their faith strengthens me for the work and ministry that matters in their lives. THEY are the reason I get up every morning eager to bring the Gospel and Jesus into their lives as a priest.

    Pray for the priests who work so hard in the midst of those who have sinned and brought so much pain into the ministry by their own sins. No one lives as an island; if nothing else, these scandals demonstrate that clearly. The Body of Christ is wounded and is hurting.

    We are a sinful church ministering to a sinful people.
    Fr. Peter Petroske

  • Cris

    We, the lay people, are the Church. The Holy Spirit is working in the Catholic Church to wake us up to our responsiblity on earth to live how Jesus taught us. If we leave, nothing will change.

    Also, the abuse is out in the open now in the Catholic religion. It’s time that the abuse is revealed in all religions with men in power and control, in order to protect children everywhere. But, many of those religions hide the abuse with the threat of violence, shunning, or locking victims away in mental institutions. These situations happen right here in the U.S. It’s time the media put light on the abuse in these horrible situations in other religions.

  • Paul

    It seems that some of the responder said what I thought deep inside. The church has been my stronghold for the all my life. Leaving the church is not compatible with life. Kudos to Mr Garvey, the responders both in the clip or the article!

  • V

    Here’s the thing.

    Sexual abuse is possible where human beings with relevant urges, exclusive supervision, and children are present. The media acts as if *only* catholic priests ever fall in this particular way.
    “See what horrors celibacy brings?” they crow. Well, they are wrong.People who can and do have sex are also found to be guilty. Go figure.

    The reality is that public school teachers, child care workers and so on are also susceptible. However, if a priest does it, the rest of us are much more likely to find out about it, where as public school teachers are sent to “rubber rooms” with pay, because God knows you can’t break a union contract! (At least here in the US) Yet, only John Stossel seems to be upset about this.

    Yes, I believe the holy catholic and apostolic church to be the true heir to Christ. Leaving because some human beings did some bad things does not make sense. It would be like committing suicide in order to leave the idiotic and sinful human race.

    Second, it appears that the Mother Church, as a body, actively learns from the mistakes of it’s members over time. This is much preferable to newer organizations who might be warped or destroyed by such public shame or upheaval. History witnesses this much of us. No civilization on earth has lasted as long as the Church.

    The world holds us to a higher standard. May we all aspire, consecrated, religious, and mass attendee alike, to be fractionally worthy at least of this sentiment.

    Finally, the world may never learn an important lesson: just because not everyone can live up to a higher standard,doesn’t mean that the entire body of believers are hypocrites.

  • Matt

    It would be really great if we could have a Church administered here on Earth by men without sin. However, the only sinless man in the history of Creation being very inconveniently unavailable for the purpose, we have to settle for the one He left behind for us in the care of His disciple Peter and his successors — sinners all, just like the rest of us.

    I go to this parish or that one for a variety of reasons, most relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But I go to Church for Jesus of Nazareth, son of man and Son of God, our eternal savior. Nothing any mortal man ever does can make the Real Presence of Christ less real, less present, or less Christ.

    The Church is not the Rotary club. You don’t come because you like the crowd, and you don’t leave just because something one of the other members did offends you. To come is to embrace God, and to leave is to reject God.

    Leaving the Church because some priests have committed sins which horrify me (because I’m not personally tempted to commit them myself…as opposed to the ones I _am_ tempted to commit, and have committed in the past…not to mention the ones I might commit in the future) would be like reacting to your neighbor’s dog relieving itself on your lawn by burning down your house.

  • Nancy

    I’m a cradle Catholic, and will always be a Catholic. I love my faith, and believe in it with all my heart and soul. That being said, the Church hierarchy’s handling of the abuse scandals is disappointing, even infuriating. It’s true that priests are men, but they are also appointed to a position of trust – perhaps the deepest trust that is given to any human being outside of those that are the closest to us. The priests involved in the abuse violated everything sacred about the position to which they were appointed, and in many cases it was known by others in the Church hierarchy, and nothing was done. Children and young adults suffered, and this should never be acceptable, particularly in the Church. Abuse of children should never be accepted as mistakes. Anyone culpable in the abuse should be held accountable, including the Pope, if appropriate. The Church needs to openly address the abuse scandals, hold accountable those who are involved, and be open and transparent in their efforts to right the wrongs and move forward.

  • Lynn

    I think we need to remember that the Church is about Jesus and as long as our Church is centered around the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings then we are moving in the right direction. We also need to remember that priests are men, humans. Mistakes will be made. We need to figure out a way to address it and help them and heal.

  • mairie

    nice to see that common sense still does exist. Of course pray, and care for those in need and try (?) to make sure it doesn’t happen. But Jesus was called to heal the sick and asked us to follow him – you can’t turn your back on the church when there are so many of us committed to being the people God dreams. Walking away achieves nothing.

  • Mary

    It amazes me that during times such as these, people forget that not everyone is bad. I grew up in the Catholic faith, I had numerous male and female parish teachers, as well as male priests, and I was never once abused, nor was anyone else. A few bad apples truly do ruin the bunch.

  • Daniel

    Inspiring article. I think we should pray that everyone does the right thing.

  • John

    “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” James 5:16(NASB)

    We need to hold each other accountable and continue to pray for strength and salvation. To pray, that as a community, we avoid the near occasion of sin. It’s easy to believe the lies of the devil and accept our walk into sin. And no man is free of it. Only though prayer, will our enemies will be vanquished, our branches trimmed, our community flourish.

  • Alice O’Neill

    A compelling piece, Bill. For the interviews, you asked excellent questions, and the subjects’ answers spoke to the deeply complex nature of faith. To understand this issue in all its dimension, it was helpful to hear both the outrage and the commitment to the church as a community.

  • Steve

    Kat, if you are worried about sexual abuse at your daughter’s school, I’d be a whole lot more worried about the teachers than any priests. The statistics on sexual abuse by teachers dwarf priests by any measure.

    While ANY abuse is abhorrent, statistics still show that the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse is perpetrated by parents, extended family members, and teachers. Still, priests should be held to a higher standard.

  • Will Kenworthy

    An interesting approach to the question, Bill. You’re right about trying to find a way to discuss this that hasn’t already been done. A very thoughtful video. Thanks.

  • Kat

    Prayer prayer prayer. I feel so badly for the victims, for the good priests who get a bad rap, for our entire church which has been pigeonholed into the child abuse church. There is so much more than that! But I think in order for the beauty to show through, we have to be very serious and sincere about rooting this out. It is an evil through and through, and if we cannot face this obvious evil among our own ranks that doesn’t speak well at all to how we’re doing. We will survive as a church, but it will be fairer and more advantageous to go at this with everything we have. Priests who notice things going on at the seminary level and on up should call eachother out. The lay have to hold our leaders accountable, as well as ourselves. First of all, zero tolerance. My daughters still go to Catholic school, but my husband (who recently converted) and I had a serious discussion about their safety in school. It’s come to this, but it is the reality: are my children going to be safe? How can they protect themselves? I hope that Benedict will be God’s Rottweiler on this tough issue; he may be well suited to the task if he sets his mind to it.

  • Zeb

    I just can’t think about it. What could we possibly do? Maybe it’s true that this is mostly a media generated situation in which the pope is innocent and the Church is being judged unfairly, but that becomes harder and harder to assume. As long as it is the true faith with the valid sacraments I will be Catholic, and even if the worst is true it won’t be the worst thing the Church or the popes have ever done, but this is a situation where I feel like I have to turn my attention away from the magesterium and toward God and the real heart of the Church. And of course support the full implementation of civil justice, as far as that goes.

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