This post was originally published at YArespond.
On August 28, more than 100 Catholic young adults gathered in the basement of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis to discuss the abuse crises in the Church. As we began our small group discussions, we asked each participant to keep in mind the diversity of the room. Some had very personal relationships to these crises. Some identified as liberal, others as conservative. We told everyone, “It’s very likely that people in here hold views that you find offensive, or that I do.” But we encouraged everyone to ask questions and to seek understanding, to resist the impulse to debate and correct others.
We often come back to the image of the need to “sit down in the living room together” and talk this out. Before we can respond, we need to know where everyone is at. These notes were taken during those conversations, and we are sharing them so that you can see the diversity, and also the unity, among the Twin Cities Catholic young adult community. The following is not meant to represent every Catholic young adult, but to provide you with some of the responses shared by those gathered.
Anger, despair, doubt
Many expressed frustration and sadness. People felt shameful that this was happening in the Church. Some said this made them sick, while others said they weren’t even shocked by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report because these situations are so “rampant” in the Church. Others said the report made them sad and feel “dead.” Many expressed feelings of hurt for those who have been abused. At least one person said he’s embarrassed to tell people he’s Catholic, and others worried about scrutiny of family, friends, and coworkers for their decision to remain in the Church. Another said:
“A big factor for my own leaving of the Church has to do with these abuses.”
In addition, many expressed feelings of helplessness to handle this, especially as the laity. One person said, “It’s hard to see ‘action items’ having any impact. This falls on the shoulders of the hierarchy.” For some, this brought up feelings of fear.
For many, these crises have changed the way they think about their own children. One participant said that, while these issues impacted her in the past, these issues are really “hitting home” now that she has kids. Another said, “As a person who works with youth, I could see why parents would want to pull their children and possibly leave the church.” This person also distinguished between “the church” and “the faith,” arguing that such parents may choose to still practice their faith while choosing against participating in the institutional structures of Catholicism. One person expressed an inability to trust priests. Another said:
“There’s no way I would let my child be an altar server.”
Many expressed that priests represent the Catholic faith, and so abuse by clergy results in broken faith.
Responses from Church leaders
Many expressed frustrations that these issues have led to a “civil war” among Church leaders. They said that this shouldn’t be a political debate. Many feel confused about who is leading and questioned the authority of cardinals, bishops, and even the pope. One person said that this is particularly challenging, because the rich tradition of the magisterium distinguishes Catholics from other Christians in a big way. One convert expressed believing that the archbishops and cardinals are an “old boys club.”
Hope and moving forward
Nonetheless, some expressed hope and a need to move forward. One person said she is bracing for this problem to get much worse before it gets better. But others expressed that this seems like a “turning point” for the Church. One person described her faith shaken but felt a continued commitment to the Church.
Many expressed finding hope in the conversations happening in the young adult community and described them as “monumental and crucial.” They expressed that involvement is extremely important and that the amount of participation gives them hope. But some also expressed the need for continuing education, sharing concerns about laity leading and educating in areas that are not their specialty. Just as persons without medical training should not try to practice medicine, some expressed concerns about lay persons providing training on abuse who themselves haven’t had professional training. Thus, they emphasized the need for continued education and the involvement of professionals.
More of my thoughts on the abuse crises here.