WILKES-BARRE — There was a time in my life that I stopped going to church.
Raised a Catholic, my mother insisted we go to Mass every Sunday. And I got to know our priests and the nuns and the other parishioners. It was difficult to get me out of bed on any day, especially for school. But on Sunday, only the lure of ice cream with chocolate syrup at 7:30 a.m. got me to leave my room for the kitchen table.
That would then lead me to the front door and our car as my mom drove us to church. It was a Sunday ritual that I continued through most of my life, except for a brief time — well, several years actually.
There were reasons, or so I thought, to not go to church. There were better things to do and, after all, weren’t those detractors right when they said that the church only wanted our money?
This continued for a while and then some life experiences contributed to my unwillingness to return to the church. My mom died at a young age. Why, I would ask. Later in life, my dad fell ill and died, leaving me parent-less and distraught. I was upset, very upset. I didn’t know where to turn.
I turned back to the church.
I visited with a priest at a local church and we had a conversation. I candidly told him about my issues with the church and he responded, answering all my questions. He made me see the light, if you will.
So I began attending Mass every Sunday, rarely missing one in some 23 years now. Actually, I have become involved with my church, serving as an usher at the 11 a.m. Mass every Sunday. It is a time I look forward to every week and I always come away feeling better about myself, my life and my world.
And then yesterday happened. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a report of 884 pages that details massive sexual abuse by priests of young, innocent boys and girls. Some of the accounts are horrific. It is a scandal that rages across six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses, including the Diocese of Scranton, where 59 (at least) priests were named.
And it goes higher, Shapiro said. Monsignors, bishops are culpable here, if not in actions themselves, in their willingness to cover up what has been going on for decades. This report will shake the very foundation of the church itself and it will cause more than pause to its faithful — even me.
And that’s where I am now — wondering to what extent this scandal will damage my church. What will be the real fallout from this? Beyond the obvious inability to justly punish those guilty of these heinous crimes — they will be punished forever — where else will the damage be done?
I worry how many faithful Catholics will now turn away from their church? How many of these priests, who will escape prosecution due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, will be punished by the church they so wrongly served? And when they are, as they should, removed from the priesthood, who will replace them? The church is already having difficulty attracting new priests to the vocation. This scandal will certainly not entice many to run to the front of the recruitment line.
But maybe it should. Maybe those who have thought about entering the priesthood should now see this could really be the time for their calling to be answered. The church needs you now, more than ever.
And maybe it is time for the Catholic Church to re-examine its rules and do everything it can to begin to rebuild itself.
As I discovered 23 years ago, faith should be a part of one’s life. Having faith keeps me going. It guides me through our time here on Earth. As a wise person once said, “Life is short at its longest.”
The six dioceses affected have shown transparency since it was announced that the AG’s report was nearing release. And they should. There has always been speculation this sordid activity was going on throughout the Catholic community. Now we know it is very real.
And now the healing must begin. I pray it will.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.