Sex abuse & clericalism

Having grown up Catholic in the 1950s I was encouraged as we all were to go to confession regularly, even weekly. It was all right until I reached my teen years when, being a healthy young boy, I started to have somewhat embarrassing things to confess on Saturday afternoon. It was uncomfortable to make a “thorough examination of conscience,” and more uncomfortable to have to enter that darkened little room, get on my knees, and share it all with a priest. I tried very hard to have “perfect contrition”—that is, to be sorry for my sins because they offended God, not because I was afraid of hell’s eternal flames. I tried, and I failed: I was afraid of going to hell, there was no getting around that. Still, with all of its inherent difficulties, I always felt better after confession and absolution. I walked home a little lighter having been forgiven for my sins.

The recent news out of Pennsylvania has been unsettling for the church once again. As a compensated victim of priestly sex abuse I’ve had to relive the day I was harmed when I was an eleven-year-old altar boy. Every time I think I’m over it, I’m reminded that I will never be over it. I’ve learned to live with it better over the years, but the memory lingers on even as I approach my seventy-first birthday. Thinking about it now brings me back to confession, which we call reconciliation now. Even though I believe the Holy Spirit to be the head of our church, the fact remains that the institutional Catholic Church is run by our clergy. Among the clergy are some of the most holy men I have ever met, and I thank God for them. But I also feel that as a church it’s past time for our clergy as a group to seek reconciliation. I’m not talking about the sin of sex abuse, for not all priests have committed that sin. No, I wish for all clergy to make a thorough examination of conscience with regard to another issue. I ask all priests, monsignors, bishops, cardinals, and the pope himself to ask themselves to what extent they feel they are different from or above the rest of us.

Jesus had a lot to say about such things, and he didn’t mince words. He finally brought a little child into the midst of the disciples and told them that this was what they should strive to be. It’s time for reconciliation. It’s time we were a church again instead of The Church. It’s time we talked to each other—clerical and lay—as coequal, fellow children of God. It’s time to start over, to get on our knees and wash each other’s feet. We’ll feel lighter on the way home.

 

Paul Tapogna
East Islip, N.Y.

Published in the October 5, 2018 issue: 
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