People ask how I can do my job as a Catholic editor and journalist these days without being depressed.
Actually, it is depressing. How could it not be? The church I was baptized into when I was two weeks old, the church that I have attended, wrestled with, studied and love is hurting. Again.
So are the people who serve it. Priests have once again been attacked on the street by vigilantes angry at the stories of child abuse. Pastors break down and cry as they apologize to their flock.
Colleagues are asked how they can in good conscience work for such an evil organization. Family members roll their eyes and suggest this is why they left years ago. The news media is in full throttle, and social media is volcanic in its fury.
But what is most impossible to ignore is the hurt of the victims as their stories see the light of day. It is very difficult for anyone who has not felt this kind of betrayal to understand how shattering it is. When a parent or a stepparent, a neighbor or a family friend abuses, it crushes one’s trust and breaks one’s confidence. The world is no longer a safe place. It will never be a safe place.
To deal with this unimaginable betrayal and pain, often memories are buried, feelings denied, self-hatred papered over. Until one day it can no longer be hidden and the dragon crawls out from its lair, laying to waste all around it.
For others, the betrayal is never suppressed or forgotten, making it difficult to get beyond the wanton destruction of one’s equilibrium, often leading to an increasingly frantic effort to run from the pain.
Now imagine if the person who did all of this to you was someone who works for the church, who has a role of some authority, who might be esteemed for his holiness, who is associated with God. Imagine what that does, and one can only be in awe of those who survive abuse, find some measure of forgiveness, recover some measure of normalcy.
All of this is depressing. It is also disheartening to see priests and bishops one knows, perhaps even admires, and discover what was done, and what was not done. To imagine that those in authority failed to protect the innocent and the vulnerable for reasons that are not always clear but always seem unworthy — this is difficult too.
The waves of accusations are bad enough, but the crisis also is amplified by divisions in the church that some are trying to exploit. People are making ideological points off of the pain of our family, the church, targeting those they already disliked, pitting people against one another. It only adds to our humiliation and shame.
So yes, it is depressing. And it will be for some time.
Some Christians think of the faith as a warm electric blanket, Flannery O’Connor once wrote. Instead it is the cross. This is our cross. We have to accept that. We are called to pray for our church, to pray for our good bishops and our sinning bishops, to pray for our many, many good priests and our sinning priests, to pray for our hurting communities. We are called to pray for each other.
In these dark days, we are reminded by the psalmist that our hope is in the Lord.
“Answer me, Lord, in your generous love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; hasten to answer me, for I am in distress” (Ps 69:17-18).
Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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