I recently reconnected with an old friend and fellow parishioner named Kate. Kate and I hadn’t seen each other in years, so after chancing to meet, we arranged to get together the following week to chat and catch up.
Over coffee, Kate told me why I hadn’t been seeing her at Mass.
“I am so mad at the Catholic Church,” she said bitterly. “What those priests did to those kids… I still can’t believe what went on. Now whenever I see a priest I’m reminded of the awful things that happened. What’s the point of going to Mass if all I do there is get upset?”
Flustered by Kate’s outburst, I had a hard time gathering my thoughts. But I did point out that the sexual abuse of children isn’t a bigger problem in the Catholic Church than it is elsewhere. And I reminded Kate that Mass isn’t about the priest or even the liturgy, but about the Eucharist.
Still, my reply was uncompelling at best. As Kate listened skeptically to my clumsy defense of the Church, I could practically hear her thinking, “Celeste, those poor abused kids could have been yours.
“How can you still be Catholic?”
It was the very question that Christopher Sparks had put to his Facebook friends. The senior books editor of Marian Press, Sparks wanted to “answer the stumbling blocks preventing people from finding Jesus.”
He says, “I asked them to finish the sentence ‘How can you still be Catholic when...?’ “
The resulting hard questions, along with the author’s concise and well-reasoned answers, comprise Sparks’ new book, How Can You Still Be Catholic?: 50 Answers to a Good Question (Marian Press, 2017).
“The whole project has its genesis in my decision in high school to find out if the Catholic faith is true. I'd been raised Catholic, but I'd also been raised to think for myself, to ask questions and expect excellent answers. I'd always known I'd have to start digging deeply into my faith.”
On his blog, Sparks tells the story of “the precipitating moment” in which he took up the challenge of a fellow student who was an evangelical Protestant.
“After that turning point,” he says, “I sought out message boards on religion and apologetics. I wanted to hear the strongest arguments against the faith, and then I went looking for answers.
“Consistently, again and again, I found them. And they were good answers, solid answers to the sorts of questions that are everywhere in the culture today—about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Church and politics, women in the Church, homosexuality, contraception—I could go on.”
I asked Sparks how he would have replied to my friend Kate.
“I'd have started by saying that yes, the scandal was awful, and it's understandable that people would be tempted to stay away from the Church as a result. But fewer than 8% of priests were accused of abuse, even at the height of the crisis, according to the Episcopalian and sociologist Philip Jenkins in his book The New Anti-Catholicism. It's certainly not fair, then, to assume all or even most priests are pedophiles or are ever likely to act that way.
“The point of going to Mass is always to worship God the Father through the liturgy, through hearing the Word of God in the Scriptures and eating the Word of God in the Eucharist. Don’t avoid Mass; that just perpetuates anger and makes it harder to return.
“Go to Mass—more prayers, more Masses, more grace unleashed into the world through your prayer and worship will help heal the wounds and the evil done by sin.
“Go, even if you are tempted to anger—Jesus is waiting for you there!”