Faith in Catholicism endures abuse scandals

March 21, 2002|By Therese J. Borchard

I ALMOST wiped off the black smudge from my forehead immediately following the Ash Wednesday service several weeks ago. Almost.

I had just read about the Boston priest scandal and my stomach sank with disgust. Like most new moms I know, I immediately thought about my little prince, my 8-month-old son, and about how outraged I would be upon learning that a trusted priest, a family friend, had abused him in any way.

Each morning I sit with my paper and coffee and read about the most recent charge of pedophilia, I experience the same kind of nausea I did when Bill Clinton admitted on national television that he did have inappropriate relations with "that woman ... Ms. Lewinsky."

But I didn't revoke my American citizenship over his misconduct. And I wouldn't dream of doing the same with my Catholic status. The Catholic Church is my family, my home. I would no more desert it than I would a sister with a prison record or an alcoholic father.

In my view, sexual molestation of children is the grossest, most perverted offense imaginable.

It's the most severe violation of a young person's respect and dignity, thwarting healthy emotional, psychological and spiritual development, and often causing irreparable and permanent damage.

I blame the guilty pedophiles for their heinous crimes. But I also blame the press for making pedophilia seem unique to the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse of children happens in churches, seminaries and offices of virtually all religions and professions.

Although the exact number of pedophilia cases in the United States is not known, Father Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist and adviser to American bishops, believes that the rate of child molestation by priests is probably no different from that of the general population.

No profession is without its bad apples. After all, how much confidence would I have in the health care system if I knew about every physician who had been busted for medical malpractice?

I might bury my life savings under my mattress if I knew about all the small Enrons out there. And I know the government is not immune to corruption. I'm not that naive.

Granted, Catholics have committed their share of sins. The Crusades are proof of that. But it does seem that we wear the black hats a little too often in the papers.

Our history is also filled with heroic white-hat moments, like the image of Pope John Paul II bowing his head before the Western Wall in Jerusalem, praying for forgiveness for the suffering of the Jewish people. Or the deep regret he offered to Archbishop Christodoulos, the Greek Orthodox leader, in his visit to Greece, an unprecedented act of reconciliation to mend the rift between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches dating to the Great Schism of the 11th century.

I like being Catholic. Simple, but true. And it's the reason I remain faithful to my religion despite the warts that continually need treating.

I'm also hanging with the curious breed of people called Catholics because of the priests I know and love, especially the one who married my husband and me, who never forgets my birthday, my feast day, my wedding anniversary. Because of the one whom I trust with my life and my son's life. That's why.

Therese J. Borchard is a nationally syndicated columnist for Catholic News Service and co-editor with Michael Leach of I Like Being Catholic (Doubleday, 2000). She lives in Annapolis.

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