As the “summer of suffering in the Church” continues to unfold, so too does the shocking reality that more Catholics, not just select bishops, are in denial. Some members of the laity want to pretend the crisis is an invention of the Catholic and secular media, prominent lay Catholic leaders and activists. Highlighting the denial problem is a listener of mine, who has written to me twice over the past three months insisting that the situation is being blown out of proportion. In fact he has decided he can no longer listen to my show or Catholic radio in general because he is so annoyed by what he is hearing. And, as an old saying goes, if one person writes or contacts you personally, there are probably about 100 more who feel the same.
There is nothing wrong with someone saying they don’t like a particular media outlet or needing a break from all the bad news. I don’t think anyone gets that better than those who have to be the bearers of the stories that break our hearts, bring us to tears, and cause many of us to lose sleep at night. It’s another thing, however, to completely deny a problem as serious as the one we’re facing right now.
What frustrated me the most was this listener’s lack of sensitivity to the continual plight of many victims. Even if this person wasn’t interested in getting involved in lay efforts to promote change, at least show some sympathy for current and past victims of sexual abuse.
One abuse survivor whom I interviewed has been able to — thanks be to God — keep her faith, forgive her abuser and move on to the point of helping other victims. But hearing the news stories and reading the horrible accounts in the Pennsylvania grand jury report brought the pain back again. How many others are re-living their life-altering experiences? And how — given the gory details of the abuse and the corruption that allowed, in many cases, the abuse to go on — could anyone not at least express sympathy for the abused?
In both emails, especially the most recent correspondence, the listener never once mentioned feeling anything at all except annoyance in general:
“I am a catechist, play drums at Mass and sing in the choir ... [and] NO ONE in any of those ministries is talking about what you like to call Crisis. Not one person is talking about leaving and becoming Methodist or Baptist or Lutheran ... [T]his drumbeat of woe is getting very old. ... You and your guests are WAY more worried about this than us. We are not fragile. Our faith is in God not man. We know men sin.”
Could it be, as one of my listeners suggested, that perhaps the discussion is hitting too close to home for him? Perhaps he knows an abuse victim or has someone in his family that was abused and has not been able to deal with the pain yet? How many victims were forced into silence by someone in the Church or at home for the very same reasons?
Maybe he doesn’t want to accept that this is an issue we all have to deal with. If we deny the problem exists, then we don’t have to lift a finger and can go on pretending everything is fine, right?
But, it has never been only up to the clergy. Scripture is clear when it says “we are God’s co-workers” (1 Cor 3:9).
Yes, unfortunately it seems the words of an old country tune, “Queen of Denial,” are coming true. So, we need to pray for everyone who feels this way; pray for open minds and softened hearts. And in the meantime, let’s pick up the slack for him, roll up our sleeves and continue to do whatever we can to take, as Benedict XVI reminded us, “co-responsibility” for our Catholic Church.
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).