Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Having read 357 pages of the report so far, my heart howls to heaven and at the walls of my church. I want to cry, “Mountains, fall on us” for such systemic failures to protect the innocent and stop people from perpetuating evil. How pervasive is this problem, if these are only the ones we know about in New Jersey, in Pennsylvania, in Chile, in Washington, D.C., in Boston? What about the ones we don't know about? How deep is the filth? What about all the dioceses where a grand jury hasn’t done this sort of work?
Because many of the perpetrators of these acts have died, there is a temptation (a very real one), by those who fear the fallout from this report — and the fallout is coming — to tell those who react with outrage and anger, to “let it go,” because these deeds were done decades ago. I’d say, “Alas that these dark days must be ours,” knowing people had their lives destroyed by abuse and systemic covering up of that abuse, denial of the reality of their pain, and horrible seemingly endless silence of the world in response.
We can’t “let it go.” Catholics respond to injury by healing, to hate with love, to wrath with gentleness, to war with peace, to cruelty with mercy, and all of these actions, are in imitation of Christ, meaning we must begin the work of healing the wounds of this world, by first acknowledging, the wounds themselves.
We can't just let it go because:
(1) The culture which permitted priests to injure children in some cases for decades, required more than the singular perpetrator, it required the willing silence of the bureaucracy of the diocese, of people who typed the reports, took the calls and filed away the letters. Sins of omission allow greater sins to persist. People still need to know, when someone does something gravely evil, no matter their position or power, they must be opposed.
(2) Victims of these abuses often died from the long-term injuries done by uncorrected injustices. We owe these children robbed of their childhood, the dignity of tears, and the promise that we’ll seek to ensure it does not happen to others by our vigilance.
(3) In the Body of Christ, when one suffers, all suffer. Adults should read this report, take it into their hearts, and grieve with those injured, and offer penance and reparations to Heaven for the failure of those in the Church and the community, to safeguard the children physically or spiritually, and the souls of those who did the injuries.
(4) If we treat the actions detailed in this report as a standard deviation, as “only 5 percent” of the priestly population, we fail to comprehend the exponential damage done to whole families, to faith lives, to the laity, both in those communities and in the world. Sin does not happen in a vacuum, and its effects are legion. We cannot ignore or look away, or this will surely happen again and next time, it will be even worse because we will have been warned, and yet preferred to do nothing.
(5) These could have been our brothers, our sisters, our daughters, our sons, our parents, our cousins, and they all were someone’s sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and all of them our brothers and sisters in Christ, who came to people who have taken vows to God to serve His bride, and have instead, injured, raped and lied. We cannot know all ends, but we do know Jesus said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks will come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be thrown into the sea than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
We must pray for each and all of them, because otherwise, there will be a plethora of millstones to go around, both for what people did, and for what people did not do.
All it takes for evil to prevail, is for good people to do nothing. How many people of goodwill in the administrative bureaucracy of the Church, in the dioceses where this took place, did nothing? How many people at schools and in the pews pretended it was a rumor, or made up? How many did nothing in Chile? How many did nothing in Pennsylvania? How many people forgot, being Catholic means standing up not for what you might gain in this whole world, but for what you might lose by failing to stand up?
That’s why we cannot let this go. This scandal is about all the sins of omission by seemingly good people. People ignored reports of abuse and misconduct because they protected the institution over the innocent, because they honored the positions men held as priests, over the rights of the most vulnerable.
This is another wake-up call for the Catholic Church, and while the gates of hell will not prevail against the Bride of Christ, we’re all responsible for our part in the siege. So now, the laity and clergy must know — no one gets a pass.