What Do We Change if We Stay?

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October 7, 2018 by lucieromarin

Articles abound urging people who are leaving the Church to remain, so that they can, by remaining, save the Church (I think it’s just assumed that this is someone they’d want to do?) Well, obviously I haven’t left, so to some extent, I do agree with Mary-Beth Bonnaci when she says that ‘the Church is ours, not theirs,’ meaning that the Church belongs to the faithful, rather than the criminals.

However, I think it’s worth looking at why people who leave are not convinced by this. Let them be heard with empathy, rather than treated as merely defective in intellect or will.

The first reason the ‘disgusted Catholic’ has left in disgust is because he knows that the Church is not going to change because he remains in it. This promise is delusional. If the presence of faithful Catholics in the Church had any power over scandal, the scandal would not have happened in the first place. It was precisely because the bishops felt they could rely on lay Catholic loyalty that they acted as they did. Those worthies do, in a certain sense, own the Church. There is nothing to take back, and even if there was, why is it the duty of the betrayed to do so? This question is not answered, and the disgusted Catholic who decides to remain is not going to suddenly outrank a bishop and have the ability to advance new actions or ideas in the day-to-day running of things, and such apostolic endeavours as he undertakes will still be subject to the good favour of his superiors, which means that it will still be all about whether or not the bishop likes you or your parish or your friends.

Second, the disgusted Catholic knows that such change as has occurred was precipitated almost entirely by those media reports which uncovered the cover-ups. You can talk as much as you like about  how the media makes like difficult for ‘the good people in the Church trying to change things’ but apart from the fact that you don’t actually know who any of those people are, you can see plainly (assuming that they exist) that they do not have a single drop of influence comparable to a headline. The sight of people leaving in droves promotes change of a sort. It is the sight of people remaining that helps those in power to think that things are mostly okay.

Third, the Church has built resistance to change into those very movements which are supposed to promote it. For example, Towards Healing was established as a direct response to the abuse scandals. However, the manager of the Professional Standards Office, after acknowledging that my experience was one of abuse, told me that I was not eligible for support from Towards Healing, because my director was not a Diocesan priest. I was born and baptised in this Diocese, employed by its agencies, and a volunteer in its service, and my director was given his place by the local Ordinary, but because his religious superior lives in another country, I am not considered a subject for pastoral or financial support. The support the Church offers you depends not upon who you are, but upon who your abuser is. That’s one hell of a clause to sneak into your pastoral care. Broken Rites can give you more examples of defects in of Towards Healing here. Bear in mind that these defects are deliberate.

The Office of Safeguarding and Ministerial integrity was established in response to the abuse scandal. I was able to offer emails, receipts and invoices which demonstrated the medical consequences of my director’s behaviour. I was told that as I had no witnesses to the exorcisms themselves, I had nothing. I can tell you, that if a person responsible for safeguarding does not know that it is in the nature of abuse to be conducted in private, and that, therefore, most cases of abuse will always rely on the victim’s word alone against that of the abuser, the Church is not going to change.

Catholic culture is a collectivist culture. The primary duty of the collective is to preserve the collective, and you preserve the collective by making it look good. This means, that in many cases, the most devout members of any collective will be the person’s least likely to speak plainly or to act boldly concerning those things which make the collective look bad. Why? Because to do so might get them hurt.  Sharing pious memes with friends who already agree with you does not count as fighting for the truth. Praying the Rosary in secret where no one can get you does not count as fighting for the truth. You’ve fought for the truth when you’ve been isolated, rejected, gaslighted or attacked by your own people for its sake. You’ve suffered for the truth when you’ve been life-imprisoned for a crime you didn’t commit because your Diocese was so hopeless, and no one will ever, ever fund your retrial.

And now I have come up against a mystery I cannot explain. While I’ve hit my head against a wall of conservatives who genuinely seem to think that sharing pious memes with people who already agree with you constitutes fighting for the Church, and while I admit that plenty of trads have been responsible for enabling my director as they did, I also have to admit that, in this hour, I’ve heard individual trad (and trad-friendly) voices right around the world issuing a genuine call to the Church. I mean that for these writers and speakers, remaining in the Church, adhering to Her teachings and worshipping at Her ancient rites is entirely compatible with dead-on assessments of the reality of grooming, rejections of simplistic gay-blaming narratives, and rejections of victim-blaming narratives infused with clerical privilege. Traditionalists are supposed to be a backwards folk, are they not? Why, then, are these voices rising from this culture? I don’t have an answer; all I can say is that I’ve seen it and it would be a lie to pretend that I haven’t seen it.

They do not prove to me that the Church can change, and, more importantly, they don’t try to prove it. They offer no false promises. They do show that Catholics have options other than leaving or staying and talking patronising rubbish. And, for those of us to whom spirituality is as instinctive as the attraction to music or art, for whom both the loss of spirituality or the commitment to pious rubbish would be a denial of the self, theirs is a good way.

The tone of this post has been fairly grim! More later on the more ancient way.

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