Anger. Pain. Frustration. Shame.
I have felt all these, and more, over the last few months. Our Church once again is in the midst of a maelstrom. A reckoning.
I feel it ever more keenly as I learn of the actions and inactions, sins and abuses of the very leaders for whom I once worked. Yet I cannot succumb to the temptation to despair. Because the Church I know and love is more than clergy and bishops. Its leadership expands vastly beyond the white collar. Over the last 40 years of my own service in the Church — as an educator, a psychologist, pastoral associate, a member of the Curiae — I have witnessed and taken part in an expansion and inclusion of a lay leadership that have strengthened and renewed the Church.
Lay leaders are leading the education of our children in Catholic schools and in catechesis. Lay leaders are igniting the faith in young adult ministries. Lay leaders are taking the reins of Justice and Peace initiatives in parishes. Lay leaders are directing the work of many of the Church’s humanitarian outreach efforts internationally and domestically.
I am a product of that surge in lay leadership. Yet our Church is not either priests or laity. Our Church is both, each dependent on the other.
Since news of clergy abuse and bishop coverup first came to light, we have been trying to “fix” weaknesses. We have led the nation in establishing child-protection systems. We have demonstrated a zero-tolerance approach to the abuses of power and position within our ranks.
But in light of the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation, all that work pales. Yet still, I’m reminded of a story a friend once told me about one of his many projects restoring historic homes. In the basement of an old Victorian home — one of those forlorn structures whose bones whisper of a former beauty — he found a crumbling wall that had been built to close up what must have once been a window. But as he tried to shore up the wall, it continued to crumble under his care. Finally, he decided to abandon the effort. Instead, he thought to tear down the wall altogether and to rebuild it.
As the wall came down, it revealed a hidden treasure: Two Tiffany stained glass windows, signed and perfectly intact.
To me, the lay leadership, in its myriad walks of life, is that hidden treasure of the Church. So to succumb to the temptation to despair would be to turn from the hope of that leadership — in partnership with the vast majority of the holy men of the priesthood — to heal, to renew and to ignite with Christ’s love our broken hearts.
God’s peace be with you,