It is like any other Sunday. I sit in the pew with my ankles crossed and back rigid, absentmindedly twirling my silver ring around my finger.
As the deacon preaches from the pulpit, my mind begins to wander per usual. But then his voice catches, and I glance up. With tears welling in his eyes and a solemn tone, he addresses the 500 Catholics before him:
“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what I can say besides thank you. Thank you for being here. You don’t have to be here, and I can’t blame those who are not.”
It was one of the few times I had seen a grown man cry.
The entire congregation that day knew about the scandal surrounding our faith. It was the elephant in the room.
According to the New York Times, there was a report “commissioned by the German bishops’ conference detailing 3,677 cases of abuse by at least 1,670 clergymen from 1946 to 2014.”
In a similar vein, it was also reported by the New York Times that a grand jury in Pennsylvania found that over about 70 years, more than 1,000 children were said to have been sexually assaulted by more than 300 Catholic priests.
So why was I-- and the rest of the congregation-- here? Why amidst these truly awful scandals did I faithfully execute my obligation of attending church on Sunday?
At first, I guess I assumed it was because it is all I’ve ever known. I was what people called a “cradle Catholic.” Ever since Nov. 27, 2000, that word “Catholic” became synonymous with my identity. It always has been and always will be a part of me.
And it was reinforced every day from kindergarten until eighth grade when I attended St. Paul, a private Catholic school in Westerville.
I never had to think about “why.” It was easy to just accept that this was what everyone at my school believed. Now, at Orange, I do not have the comfort of being surrounded by people with these same beliefs.
I must be confident in my religion without the security of a cohesive group. And now, with everyone seeing these scandals in the news, I can’t help but wonder if the taint they put on Catholicism should make me reconsider my beliefs.
But then I remember my time at St. Paul. It was filled with all-school masses and prayer sessions, priests sitting and laughing with us at lunch and telling us how much we are loved. Priests who walked around at recess and asked us about our days just because they cared. And none of it seemed to align with the stories of abuse on TV.
What I realized is that faith and religion are complex. The Catholic church is more than a relatively small group of deviant priests and those who may have tried to conceal the scandals. It is a belief, a way of life and a support.
While priests are the holy leaders of our faith, they do not make up the entire faith. Our centuries-old beliefs grounded in the New Testament and the people sitting next to me in church-- the people who been there for me for as long as I can remember-- are the foundation of Catholicism.
Priests are human and flawed, and I won’t let the weakness of a few make me question my entire belief system. And the few that have committed truly awful acts should not taint the image of the loving and inspiring priests that I and many others have interacted with.
Even with that being said, the strength of the Catholic church and its following does not rest on the shoulders of the scandal; its strength comes from the community of believers.