Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 30, 2002
'Why do you stay?' asks upset Catholic
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
In speaking around the country, I meet so many wonderful people. And in the past year, I find that not a few have lots of tough questions about the Church I serve. Some ask them with understandable anger, others with a palpable sense of hurt and regret.
But the one question I get asked the most is, in light of the scandals, why stay? One California woman followed up with an impassioned letter. She chastised the Church and wondered why a "good priest" doesn't just "throw in the towel and do good elsewhere?" I wrote her this response.
Dear Lisa:Thanks for your thoughtful and sensitive letter. I appreciated your goodness in writing.
You raise a number of issues that I've been exploring in my mind and heart and soul for many months. This past year, the scandals that have been revealed wounded me and other priests in a profound way. We have given our lives to a ministry we love and believe in.
The priesthood is a wonderful way to live a life that can truly make a difference for the good. It can be a way that leads people to embrace the values and ideals of Jesus Christ. It is a powerful means of forming real community.
The priesthood allows an individual to actively make a difference in assisting the poor. It has also given me the special privilege of teaching and preaching the compassionate message of God's mercy and forgiveness.
When I've felt inclined to "give up" on the Church because of these scandals, I have considered a number of important factors. First, about two per cent of my brothers have done some truly awful things to young people. I detest what they've done, but I need to recall that 98 per cent of priests have done no evil in this regard.
And when examining what many see as institutional dishonesty, what you labelled as "cover-up," understand the frustration and anger these actions have caused. But we need to ask: "Can change occur in the Church if good and ethical people walk away?" I think our job is to stay and insist on reform.
I see the outrage of priests and laity as a healthy expression that can lead to a new springtime for the Church. But I'm convinced that leaving will not strengthen a community of faith that does so much good, and can do even greater good once it becomes more authentic, more fully whole.
So, Lisa, that's why I stay. The Church has accomplished so much that is good and holy. It has also, at times, embraced the venal. But it is still Christ's Church, and he can accomplish through it what no priest or bishop can destroy.
Lisa, I hope you will not give up on this Church of ours. Believe me, it is redeemable. But only if we stay and work for necessary change.
I was recently on a radio program with Dr. Jerry Falwell. He reminded listeners that his and other evangelical churches have no right to gloat at the misdeeds of the Catholic Church; that many of his religious community had histories of sexual sin and institutional corruption.
He also assured us that atonement for those sins over the past years has brought many to the proper way we should be serving God. He called their earlier scandals a "wake-up call from God." Let's hope that same wake-up occurs for the Catholic Church as well.
Thanks for your kindness in writing. Please pray for the victims of past hurt, the restoration of a healthy and holy Church, the priesthood and for me.
With warm regards, I am
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