A Survivor’s story: ‘I weep, but I stay and I serve’

September 25, 2018

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” - Matthew 19:14

“On behalf of my brother bishops, I offer that only by confronting our own failure in the face of crimes against those we are charged to protect can the Church resurrect a culture of life where the culture of death has prevailed,” Daniel Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement.

Once again we find ourselves reliving the horror of learning of the complicity in crimes against children by members of the clergy and hidden by bishops more concerned with reputation than the harm done to our children.

Make no mistake about it, not only is this a moral failure on the part of those priests and bishops involved, it is a criminal act. I weep. I weep for the children, adolescents and for their families and loved ones. I weep knowing of the lifelong physical and psychological scars frequently caused by abuse. As a survivor myself I bear those scars.

Yet I stay. Not only do I stay, I serve as a leader in the Church. Why? Because the Church is the people of God. The Church is full of good and holy people who share Christ’s message of salvation daily. The Church is not the evil doers. The Church needs me. The Church needs my voice at the table as it needs every survivors’ voice at the table. The gates of hell shall not prevail.

The key question arises — what do we do to stop the madness?

I suggest the following:
a. Come clean. Open the secret files and let the chips fall where they may. Transparency of the past is the only real way to transparency in the future.
b. Make reparations. Words and prayers are not enough.
c. Allow lay leadership, women and men, to be partners with our bishops.
d. Hold those complicit accountable as a layperson would be held accountable. The double standard must go.
e. Listen. Listen to the cries of the people of God — we are the Church.

In the words of Katie Prejean McGrady: “We, the faithful, can only begin to trust again when our bishops say confidently and transparently that they will unearth whatever horrors remain secret and do everything in their power to prevent this from ever happening again. We can only begin to heal when we are confident that they can lead us far from sin and closer to Jesus because they are avoiding sin and seeking Jesus themselves. At this moment, we need our shepherds to stand with us, their flock, and not merely flock together.”

I would be remiss in not sharing how this latest news impacts young people.

Listen to their voices:
- “I don’t know if it’s just in my area, but no one my age seemed to trust the priests to begin with. I need the Church to prove to us that we can trust the priests and the hierarchy of the Church again.”

- “The greatest thing I need from the Catholic Church is accountability. I need for the Church I grew up in to own up to the evils within it, and to take public action towards these cases.

- “I was disgusted by what the priests have done. My heart went out to all of the victims because I personally have friends who went through similar situations and I’ve seen what it did to them. Later, I realized that the priests were not acting as men of God, but instead as humans. This new understanding helped me overcome that obstacle that made me question my faith, and instead strengthened it.

May we take to heart these voices. Let us assist youth in navigating the tumultuous waters by listening, affirming their concerns and feelings and guiding them to the hope that is Christ Jesus.

I will end with the good news — the news that keeps me going — and that is the simple fact that I have worked for this imperfect institution since 1979 and have known hundreds of good and holy women and men, religious and clergy, who love God and serve the Church honorably. They are my hope, certainly. Let them be hope for all of us. But ultimately my hope and my faith lies with no earthly institution, but rather with Christ and his promise in Matthew 28:20 “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” 

Timothy E. Colbert is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.