My friends all know that I am a Catholic, because I have always been very open with them about my faith. So, when the news broke about Cardinal McCarrick, who long served in my home archdiocese of Newark, and the grand jury report was released in Pennsylvania where my father now lives, many people asked me, “How can you stay when the Church is so corrupt?”
I think my answer surprised them. I told them, “I stay, because the clergy are not the Church—I am. The Church is the millions of people of faith who sit in the pews every Sunday and then go out into the world to do good.”
I stay also because my Catholicism is so deeply rooted in my identity. My ethnic heritage, my family life, and now even my professional life are intertwined with my faith life. To walk away from the Church is to walk away from who I am.
Most importantly though, I stay because this is where I find God. I stay because through the sacraments and prayer I nurture my relationship with God. Where else would I go? As a Catholic, I believe that in the Eucharist I become one with my Savior. That cannot happen anywhere else.
We all have different reasons for staying. I believe, however, that we all need to think about my initial response to my friends. Now, more than ever, those of us who are not clergy need to stand up and claim our Church. We are the Church. We cannot be “consumer Catholics” who just show up at Mass on Sunday and then walk away. We need to engage. We need to be willing to take on leadership roles in which our voices are heard.
Many Catholics are hurt and angry and feel betrayed by this latest wave of abuse scandals. They have every right to those feelings, and we must address those feelings in our faith communities to begin working through them. At the same time, we need to understand our role in making sure that it does not happen again. We need to listen with open hearts to the stories of victims. We need to be vocal, engaged members of our parishes who will not be quiet until we know exactly what is being done to prevent future abuse. We need to be willing to serve on lay review boards or as secondary ministers/volunteers, so NO adult is ever left alone with children.
We are not powerless. We have a voice. We must use both. It is up to every single one of us to answer God’s call to St. Francis of Assisi: “Rebuild my Church.”