I was 10 years old and in Catholic school when The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team broke open the history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and the fallout has been ongoing for the past 20 years. For survivors of abuse, of course, the fallout has been going on for most of their lives.
I don’t have any memories of hearing about the scandal at the time (on account of being, you know, 10) so I asked my mom (I won’t tell you her age, but it was old enough to have memories). Mom said: “I remember a lot of parents being very upset and angry, especially parents who had felt lectured to by priests about sexual matters … people being really upset that money they had pledged and donated to their local parish would be going to settle claims. Especially while the bishop was living in a virtual mansion. And then, of course, the diocese closed two out of the four Catholic schools, after the one-two punch of paying out settlements and then spending half a million dollars for the anti-gay referendum. Parents were so very angry about this. I remember telling your dad, ‘I’m furious. I can’t imagine what it would be like to also feel betrayed by my own church for this.’ ”
My grampy, who was so Catholic he preferred the Mass to be in Latin and literally did not die until a priest was summoned to the hospital to perform last rites, always thought bishops and the church higher-ups were con men. He had a point. I grew up in the aftermath, with the rot and the horror at the heart of the church spilling out everywhere.
My Catholic education was a very important part of making me who I am, for better and for worse. If the Catholic Church doesn’t like the loud, queer, anti-patriarchal feminist I’ve become, well, that’s on their shoulders. Among the many things I learned at St. Patrick’s and McAuley were how to be a good writer and how to think critically.
When I read that the Diocese of Portland – which covers the whole state of Maine – was suing to stop the state of Maine from removing the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, I wasn’t surprised. But I was surprised at the statement it put out about it, which reads, in part: “The issue is more broadly about whether history can be rewritten because a current generation regrets what occurred in real time in a former generation. That is simply outside the authority of any legislative branch of any democratically elected government.”
Was the person writing that statement trying to make the diocese sound as arrogant, cruel and villainous as possible? Did they stop to think about how out of touch and uncaring its own words sound? Sorry for taking the Lord’s name in vain and everything, but oh my God, how hard would it have been to write something along the lines of: “We sympathize with the victims and apologize for the past sins of the church. We oppose lifting the statute of limitations because we are worried that paying out settlements would cause us to be forced to close down our soup kitchen/food bank/medical clinic/refugee program/[insert other good works project mostly run by laypeople here]”?
But no. It decided to accuse victims seeking justice as “trying to rewrite history.” Ye shall know them by their fruits.
I have met so many wonderful Catholic laypeople in my life (and several awesome nuns). I have seen them work hard, every day, performing acts of service and love and devotion to the community around them. Just a few weeks ago, I got another donated box of Playboys to sell for charity, and I had to arrange the pickup time around the donor’s Mass-going schedule. The shepherds of the diocese are not worthy of their flock.
The Catholic sacrament of reconciliation, also known as confession, is a really good psychological tool for humanity. It is! It’s very helpful to be able to confess your wrongdoings in confidence and then to have an authority figure tell you to do certain concrete acts in order to make up for it. It helps put our psyches (or, if you’re more spiritual, our souls) at peace with ourselves and with our community. If only the church at large followed its own instructions.
There’s been stop-and-go fits of accountability, of records being released at different speeds by different factions of the church. Most of it does not seem to have been done particularly willingly. And then there’s the acts of penance. Who tells the authority figures what they must do in order to be forgiven?
I reached out to Jesus Christ, in whose name the Catholic Church exists, for comment, and he said: “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6). Compared to that, monetary damages don’t seem so bad.
Personally, I hope every survivor finds as much peace and justice and happiness as exists on this earth, and I hope that they sue the collar off the church. It’s time to burn it down till nothing be left but the tiny mustard seed of faith I know is in there, somewhere.
Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial.