by: Kathy Vestermark, MA
I'm having a difficult time staying calm, logical and faith-filled.
Betrayal can do that to a person.
And since the recent revelations regarding Carndinal McCarrick's escapades, the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania, and what I watched today regarding hundreds of abuses in Kansas and Missouri dioceses, I FEEL BETRAYED.
I am not a clergy abuse victim, but I am no stranger to the ravages of abuse, sexual or otherwise. The Church should and must be a place where the little ones should be protected and encouraged in the heart and strength of Christ Jesus who said in the Gospel of Matthew, "Let the children come to me". That is an invitation to love, not to abuse and betrayal.
I have read letter after letter, listened to "good and holy men" give stirring homilies about how sickened they are in light of the horrors reported to have been done by clergy up the ranks of the hierarchy. Cover ups, payments as hush money, turning a blind eye when it abuses were a well known fact and reassignments where more abuses took place add up to a devastating problem for the laity -- WE DON'T KNOW WHO TO TRUST.
You may give impassioned homily -- so did McCarrick and his brother priest abusers.
You may offer prayers for the victims -- so did McCarrick and his brother priest abusers.
You may say that "credible" accounts will be turned over to the police -- McCarrick was a lead in writing the Dallas Charter on the protection of children and youth with his brother bishops.
Why should we trust you?
How can we trust you?
It should come as no surprise at this point that I don't believe the hierarchy is capable of self-governance on this issue. But, it may surprise you that I think the solution should come from an unordainable source -- WOMEN.
John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Women in 1995 about the dignity and rights of women in modern society. He wrote: This word of thanks to the Lord for his mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world is at the same time a concrete and direct word of thanks to women, to every woman, for all that they represent in the life of humanity (2).
And that is what women must do now.
We have a job to do in the Church which not only encompasses our dignity, but should be seen as our right -- we need to have a clear and cogent voice in answer to this scandal. This voice must be heard, and sincerely taken to heart by the hierarchy if we are to trust and believe what is written in Lumen Gentium 37 about dignity and rights of the laity:
The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church...They are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. (LG 37)
The way beyond this depravity is through the heart, knowledge and generosity of women. Just as the Blessed Mother played a necessary role in salvation history by bringing Our Lord and Savior into the world, women in this age must follow that example and make Jesus present again in the Church's leadership. And just as Mary was at the foot of the Cross and cried out in anguish at the death of her Son, women in this age, at this horrible time in the life of the Church, must raise their voices high in disgust and anger over the death of virtue within the clergy.
St. John Paul the Great offers another crucial reason why women should have substantial role to play in the reforms that must come following this egregious betrayal. He writes this in article 3 of the letter, barely getting past the introduction and effusive thanks: "Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic." (Letter to Women 3, emphasis mine)
This may be the most compelling argument if ever any was made that women need to be heard and involved in the process of reformation of this systemic problem of sex abuse within the hierarchy. Women have an insight that makes human relations more honest and authentic! If ever there was a time for honesty and authenticity, I would say it's now!
As if speaking to women specifically regarding their involvement in this crucial turning point in the Church, St. John Paul the great says this:
And how can we overlook the many women, inspired by faith, who were responsible for initiatives of extraordinary social importance, especially in serving the poorest of the poor? The life of the Church in the Third Millennium will certainly not be lacking in new and surprising manifestations of "the feminine genius" (Letter to Women 12, emphasis mine).
And there you are. Women in the Third Millennium are called to "initiatives of extraordinary social importance". I would say that this crisis constitutes just that and the "poorest of the poor" are the clergy who need to hear the feminine genius voiced with fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance so that faith, hope and charity can be restored.
Kathryn Vestermark lives in Northern Virginia and is a wife and mother of six children, one with significant special needs. She worked for 13 yrs. in medical education at USUHS on a project to include families of children with special needs as faculty and advisors to medical education. She received her MA in Theology from Catholic Distance University, and has put it to use as a Coordinator/Instructor of RCIA at her parish, Women's Bible Study facilitator, author of a Catholic blog and contributor to other Catholic/Secular publications.