Faithful Catholics are understandably distressed over the scandalous revelations about our church. Sexual abuse of minors, sexual harassment of seminarians, cover-ups by bishops are all part of the mix, not to mention financial malfeasance for good measure. People may wonder, “What can I do about all this?”
I offer my Three and a Half-Step plan for reforming the Church.
This plan is NOT for people who have specific vocational expertise to offer. If you are a canon lawyer, investigative journalist or retired FBI investigator, I won’t presume to tell you how to do your job. My plan is for ordinary people, without such specialized knowledge.
And yes, you read it right: It is a Three and a Half-Step Plan. Here are the three full steps:
- Speak out.
Let me explain each one in turn.
Step 1: Pray.
You better believe we need to pray. The recently revealed sexual and financial corruption is far too deep to address through natural means alone. Yes, of course, we need to use all of our skills and knowledge. But these problems have a supernatural dimension to them. Don’t be stupid: We can’t get this done on our own.
During the worldwide Rosary Coast to Coast Oct. 7, the Ruth Institute’s contribution drew more than 800 people to Lake Charles, Louisiana. In all, the Rosary Coast to Coast comprised more than 1,000 participating locations in the U.S. and an additional 57 around the world. I have no doubt that some of those people were praying for healing for our Church.
Prayer allows us to tell God we are sorry for any ways in which we have enabled or participated in the current mess. There have been many sins of commission related to the scandals within the Church. But for most of us, sins of indifference and omission are more likely the issue. Prayer also reminds us that we are the creatures and God is the Creator. We owe him everything.
When we pray, we can listen to what God wants to tell us. I have found that sometimes when I am trying to figure out what to do or not do, an answer “just comes to me,” during prayer. We can get guidance about what specific actions we should take or not take. Given the huge range of issues that deserve the attention of faithful thoughtful Catholics, receiving direction toward one or another is no small blessing.
Step 2: Learn.
I’m sure most people reading this column in the Register know roughly what is going on in the Church right now. But you may feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problems. We really need to know what we are talking about, or we will discredit ourselves and our cause.
Faithful Catholics need to be informed about the current situation. For instance, the Ruth Institute prepared this backgrounder that addresses the disproportionate number of male victims. This is a manageable amount of information to absorb.
We also need to proclaim the Church’s teachings about marriage, family and human sexuality. Be prepared to explain what the Church teaches about divorce and premarital sex and contraception. Learn about the evidence that shows the Church has been right all along: if we lived these teachings, we would have better lives.
And we would not have sex scandals involving priests preying on young men. So yes, we need to be prepared to explain what the Church teaches about homosexual activity and homosexual identity.
Step 3: Speak Out.
People inside and outside the Church need to know that faithful Catholics want transparency. We want the truth to come out. We are not interested in protecting the Church’s reputation at the expense of innocent victims.
Another advantage of speaking out is that we will embolden the clergy or Church employees who have information about abuse and cover-up but who have been afraid to speak up. We will comfort the victims, some of whom have been seeking justice for years.
Speaking out could include: signing a petition, sharing information on social media, writing to people in authority, including bishops, priest, or governors or congresspeople. Speaking out could also include talking with your friends and neighbors. Whatever you do, keep in mind these two points that we absolutely must convey:
- We want the truth and justice regarding clergy sexual abuse and the cover-ups. Justice includes punishment for the guilty clergy, protection for the innocent clergy, and restoration for the victims.
- The Church’s sexual teachings are good and true and correct, and none of this would be happening if people had lived up to them.
Step 3½: Repeat!
I count it as a “half-step” because you don’t really have anything extra to remember.
I’m dead serious about this. The “Repeat” step is very important. Let’s say you’ve done one round of Pray, Learn, Speak Out. I absolutely promise you: You will not get it all correct and complete on the first pass! You might stumble on your words. Someone might ask you a question you can’t answer. Maybe you make a mistake. Maybe someone gets mad at you. Maybe you get mad.
Your next move is the crucial move: You MUST NOT QUIT!!!!
Go back to Step 1 and Pray. “Lord, what did that person really want to know? What were they thinking? What was I thinking?” Or, if everything went well, you could say, “Thank you, Jesus! That was fun! What do you want me to do next!?”
I’ve been preaching Church teaching since roughly 2001. Trust me on this. You are going to make mistakes. The only way to improve is to keep reflecting on your encounters with people. You might as well do your reflecting in front of the Blessed Sacrament or with a Rosary in your hand.
Repeat the “Learn” step. Go ask someone for advice. Look up the answers on the internet. We’ve got a bunch of stuff (and I do mean a BIG bunch of stuff) at the Ruth Institute website.
And then, by all means, Speak Out again. You will improve. And you will make a difference.
Just remember: Pray. Learn. Speak Out. Repeat.
Together we can reform our beloved Church.