(Apologies to those who do not like to mix politics with religion and faith. This is one situation where I felt it necessary to speak directly to what is happening around us, offer a perspective that we as Catholics uniquely have, and encourage each of us to consider how to act on that.)
Last week, we were thunderstruck by sexual molestation allegations against a politician made by a woman now in her 40’s about when she was an underage teen. While the conversation has circled around how to handle this candidate and that election, this isn’t a new situation.
We’ve been here before — “we” meaning Catholic leaders and the Catholic Church. It’s been over 20 years since the first major, public accusations (that I can remember) were made of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. (Cardinal Bernardin in Chicago was falsely accused and is my reference point as I lived in Chicago in the mid-90’s.)
Haven’t we learned a few things that our political leaders might find useful? If nothing else, avoid making the same mistakes we made?
What have we learned? Among the many things, these four come to mind.
- We must protect victims from being further victimized, and comfort and care for them as the Gospel calls us to.
- We must care desperately for the small and powerless as Pope Francis reminds us.
- Integrity, honesty, and trust are virtues we must strive for.
- When trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain (thank you, Jane Austen).
What did we as Church experience as a result of the sexual abuse crisis? We learned that institutions like the Church lose when they are not perceived as being compassionate and supportive to those who have been victims of any inappropriate behavior.
Now what (as a graduate school professor would say)?
We have an opportunity to bear witness to these lessons among our local leaders. Write them. Email them. Call them. Let them know that this is what we as Christians expect from our leaders.
Our political leaders represent us. Now is a good time to let them hear your voice — a voice of compassion, comfort, and care for those who are victims. Remind them of what they stand to lose. As a parish leader, you may have watched as Mass attendance got smaller, collections went down, and those you cared about struggled to remain. Let’s remind our community leaders that they don’t have to end up on the losing end, and how to get there.
If I have missed a lesson, please share it in the comments.