Recently during one of my daily radio programs, I invited listeners to call in with their questions and concerns regarding the current scandals facing the Catholic Church. On the air with me that day to offer advice, perspective and Catholic direction was Father John Riccardo of the Archdiocese of Detroit. In addition to being the pastor at a very large and active parish, Father John is also an author, a much sought-after speaker and the host of one of our most popular programs on Ave Maria Radio and EWTN, “Christ is the Answer.”
The callers were all very concerned, asking about the best course of action they should take individually as well as within their parishes and dioceses. There were a lot of emotions expressed: anger, frustration, feelings of betrayal, as well as a deep sadness for the victims of sexual abuse past and present. One caller in particular was truly despondent; so much so that he told us he was ready to give up and walk away from Catholicism all together. He had had enough, he explained, and just didn’t see much hope for the future of the Church.
Thanks be to God, many other callers came to the man’s rescue, including one man who had been sexually abused by a family member years ago. He shared how, through the sacraments, he was able to find healing for himself and, eventually, forgive his abuser. He also expressed how he didn’t think he would have gotten to that point without the gifts of our Faith.
In addition to that brave caller sharing his story, I also told our listeners that walking away is never the answer because we would actually be walking away from Jesus himself; the same Jesus who founded the Church on the rock of St. Peter and who promised us that, no matter how bad the attacks and whether those attacks come from outside or inside, the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. We would be walking away, Father John added, from the greatest gift we have: Jesus in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith.
The time on the air with Father John and our listeners gave me the chance to share something that kept me from walking away years ago when I was going through a time of persecution within the Church. While that painful period no doubt pales greatly in comparison to what sexual abuse victims experience, it was definitely a dark and troubled time for me; a time which had me seeking the guidance of the same holy priest that was on the air with me. I shared with the radio audience how a simple question Father John asked back then has stuck with me ever since.
He asked me: “Is the Eucharist real? Are the Church teachings about Jesus in the Eucharist true? Are all the other teachings you write and speak about true?”
Of course, I knew what he was getting at. If we really believe in the Eucharist and the other beautiful teachings of the Church — which in my case, especially where my marriage and my own spiritual salvation were concerned, quite literally saved my life — then one doesn’t walk away when the situation gets really tough. If it’s true, then we stay. We stay to fight for those truths and help others fight for them as well.
Over the centuries in the history of our Church, it has often been the laity that was responsible for getting the battered and often bruised barque of Peter back on course. Now is not the time to abandon ship. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get busy through prayer, fasting, respectful and direct feedback and involvement, and help guide the Church through these latest troubled waters, all because she carries with her the cargo of truth.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95).