May 29, 2002 News & Features » Cover Story


The Hypocrisy 

There is really only one word to describe all I am feeling: heartbroken.

Remember Jesus' words in Matthew 7? "Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."

The church has been telling us for hundreds and hundreds of years how to live our lives correctly, what is right, what is wrong and what is punishable by the eternal fires of hell.

Putting children in harm's way over and over again, protecting criminals — even battling with victims for years in the courts — and not seeming the least bit remorseful for any of it, just might qualify for that last category.

Suddenly, I am a member of an institution that I would probably call no less than evil if I were an outsider looking in. And the situation has only brought to the fore issues that formerly were mere irritants to me, just under the skin. It has made me see clearly the hypocrisy I had conveniently avoided thinking about for years — the condemnation of divorce while maintaining the sham of annulment, the church's refusal to let women and married people be priests, the intolerance (and now scapegoating) of gays, the out-of-touch stance on birth control.

But it goes deeper than that. I'm not just some country-club member upset by some of my club's policies. Being Catholic is who I am. I always thought of it as an immutable part of my identity: I am a wife and mother. I am a daughter. I am a writer. I am Italian. I am Catholic.

As Catholics we have been asked to accept the doctrine, the moral authority of the church and the infallibility of the pope without question.

Well, guess what. I now have a few questions.

How can cardinals such as Law and Egan, who shifted these criminals around silently, sleep at night behaving the way they have toward the victims and the people of their own church? How complicit have even innocent priests been all these years in maintaining a kind of code of silence about the church's dirty little secret? How much blame does the pope bear? Am I supposed to believe that he didn't know about or even authorize an estimated $1 billion paid out to victims by the American Catholic Church during his papacy? How can a church that has done so much good in the world have sinned to this degree? Which one is the real church — the one that has helped the poor, the sick, the lonely, the disenfranchised, the imprisoned and the hungry, or the one that tolerated the rape of its children? Can they both exist simultaneously, and how am I supposed to reconcile the contradiction?

If the church is not pure, is it really even the church of Jesus Christ? Were my sisters, friends and I ever really safe in the church we loved as our second home? Will the church devote more than lip service to protecting my daughter and all the church's children, or will it continue to protect itself? Which course of action will help effect change — staying and working inside the church or punishing the church by leaving and taking my money with me?

Should I stay or should I go?

Who am I if I am not Catholic?

I don't have the answers. I have only recently found the nerve to utter the questions.

I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade. My grade school sat within a few blocks of two other Catholic grade schools. I lived around the corner from an all-boys diocesan high school, which was the brother school to my high school. I took my SATs there and went to dances and carnivals there. Both the boys' high school and the Norbertine priests who taught there were very much a part of our faith community.

There was a young priest there in the 1970s and early '80s who was the subject of raised eyebrows and sniggers. He always seemed to travel with a phalanx of boys. He said Mass at our church every now and again. Many people found him charming and charismatic. I, along with many others, found him creepy. When I was in high school he allegedly had some kind of altercation with a student. There were murmurings about molestation. Just like that, he was gone. And now, the Philadelphia papers have revealed that he, too, is under investigation.

After the church scandal broke (but before the news about our neighborhood priest did), my parents and I were talking about this past business, and my mother said, "That turned out to be a false accusation. The boy admitted he lied."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"It came out afterward."

"That's what they said?" I pressed.

My mother's eyebrows arched and for a few seconds we all fell silent, suddenly realizing that everything we ever accepted without a single doubt from our church now falls under suspicion. S


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