My mom was the one who told me. And the only word I could think to respond with was “ew,” which is a horrifically simple reaction to learning news that is equally horrifying and evil.
I recently discovered that a priest who used to be in my home diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was charged with possession of child pornography.
This just seems to be the most recent story in an ongoing series. It’s something we’ve become all too familiar with seeing in the news, especially since last year’s premiere of Spotlight, a biographical film of a team of investigative journalists who uncovered widespread child sex abuse by Catholic priests.
I grew up in a Catholic environment. Both of my parents are Catholic. I went to Catholic grade school and high school. And I really appreciate having that upbringing, even though I have stepped away from the faith as I became older.
When I see these types of stories unfolding in the news, I feel heartbroken and betrayed that this institution of faith that I was brought up in is plagued with this evil.
Obviously this is not an issue exclusive to the Catholic Church. Child sexual abuse happens around the world, secular or otherwise. The fact remains, however, that there is a pattern of this abuse in the Church, and it is not something that can be easily explained or remedied.
I’m not writing this as an attempt to explain why this is happening or how to fix it, even if I can’t help but wonder why. Why is this such a prevalent issue in the Catholic Church? I’m not sure anyone can really answer that question. It would be like asking why is there evil in the world.
Instead of dwelling on impossible questions, I’m writing this to hopefully raise awareness and spark discussion. Too often our society does not address, or even acknowledge, the ugly side of humanity. We gloss over racism, discrimination and, yes, sexual abuse. Add faith or religion into the mix and these situations can get even messier.
But the fact is child sexual abuse does exist, and it shows up in the places we least expect it.
“It’s still shocking every time. We’re not numb to it at this point,” said Katie Edwards, a senior civil engineering major and a practicing Catholic.
Edwards said she thinks sexual abuse cases within the Church might receive more attention simply because they are related to the Church.
“A lot of attention is drawn because, to the public eye, priests are the utmost figure of trust,” she said. “At the same time, it’s important to realize there’s not a standard of perfection expected among priests because they’re human, too.”
Edwards explained child sexual abuse is not strictly the Church’s problem to deal with, but all of humanity’s.
“Until we solve it on a human level, it’s not going to necessarily be solved on the Catholic Church level,” Edwards said.
“It really is a crime against humanity,” said Fr. Rob Walsh, a chaplain at this university.
In addition to recognizing the universal nature of the problem, people also need to consider the fact that these cases of sexual abuse in the Church, though there are too many, are isolated. These acts do not represent the Church or Catholicism in any way.
Melanie McLean, a freshman special education major, believes that “one person, no matter what, cannot reflect an entire religion.”
Your religion is about what you believe, not about how other people have acted, McLean explained.
This is not always the way society looks at situations, though. People might allow these instances to shape their view of the entire Church.
“This taints the priesthood in a way because some people might lump all priests in, which is prejudiced, but that does happen,” said Fr. Walsh.
According to Catholic teaching, the Church in and of itself, as an institution of faith, is perfect.
The Church has a divine nature, explained Fr. Walsh, “but it is comprised of sinners.”
That is to say, there is evil in the world, and the Church is not immune to it. However, that doesn’t mean church officials are not trying.
Fr. Walsh said that the process of becoming a priest is very involved. During the application process and his time at seminary, he had to go through multiple psychological evaluations, interviews and background checks.
“The Church is trying to do better at this,” Fr. Walsh added, “because of the desire not just to serve every human being, but most particularly to protect those who are defenseless.”
There is no argument that sexual abuse of any kind, regardless of who committed it, is a crime and needs to be stopped. The only way to end something so widespread in our society is to educate and promote discussion about it. Nothing will ever change if we don’t first acknowledge that something needs to be changed.
In my research for writing this piece, I came across an article by Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times that asked, “why is sex abuse in the Catholic Church still a story?” It’s been happening for years. It is still happening. And there are survivors out there. Goodstein wrote that as long as there are survivors of church sexual abuse, there will be more stories to tell.
I can only hope that in the future, stories like the one my mom told me, Spotlight portrayed and Goodstein wrote about, stay in the past.
Featured Photo Credit: Featured photo courtesy of Shannon O’Toole on Flickr.
Rosie Kean is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.