Flickr graphic by Marco Verch

Fighting with Faith: Hypocrisy

By Matthew Williams

Warning: I discuss the Church’s child abuse scandal in this article, so read ahead at your own risk and comfort.

We’ve all heard the stories of pastors in the Christian Church sexually molesting children, so I see no reason to drop statistics and facts about the issue in this article. (If you are unfamiliar, this video from the New York Times offers a pretty good overview.) Instead, I’m interested in how to respond to the issue.

As some of your reactions may have been, my initial response was revulsion and a desire to have nothing to do with the Church for the rest of my life. Knowing that sexual assault is one of the most traumatizing and livelihood-impacting experiences to which a person can fall victim, I thought that doing so to a child should be something inherently unforgivable by God. How could God continue to love a person who had done irreparable harm to to one of the most vulnerable members of our society?

After years of reflection, I realized that this question was the wrong angle for me to approach the problem. Whatever place in eternity those priests and the bishops who helped cover their tracks  had was between those priests and bishops and God. All I needed to be concerned about was my own path to God and choosing how to let the sexual abuse scandals change my faith.

This is not to say that I condone the actions of priests and bishops involved in the scandal; I still believe that their transgression against some the most vulnerable of God’s creation is unforgivable. I just also believe that my journey to God will not be majorly affected by expending emotional energy on the issue.

Now, given that services are not the primary ways I connect to my faith and that I do not have any children of my own, I can appreciate that others in either or both of those situations might have different answers or be unsatisfied with the answer I have given. I might even give a different answer myself in those situations, but I think that’s the beauty of an active faith and active faith community, that even when we think we can never change, God can put people in our lives to make us change.

If you would like to know/check names, here is a database of Catholic priests who have been accused. (Also, the websites of several individual dioceses have lists that mostly correspond to the database.) So far, I know of no such resource for people in other denominations and religions, but there are plenty of articles and some studies which address the issue.

Recommended Book: It is difficult to provide a universal suggested book because most books focus on a single case or a single denomination. The Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has a good reading list that approaches the topic from a variety of different perspectives and has books covering a variety of different denominations, so I suggest picking a book from that list. I will be reading “Crosses” by Carmine Galasso.

Recommend Film: “Spotlight” (d. McCarthey, 2015) Again, this film only focuses on the Catholic Church, but the questions it raises can be applied beyond just Catholicism.

Next Month: We’ll move into the more personal, doctrine specific issues I have by focusing on what it’s like to be a person who is not healed by God, but sees lots of others being healed by God.

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About Matthew Williams

Matthew Williams is a student at Gonzaga University from Portland, Oregon studying math, physics and film. He recently returned from studying abroad in New Zealand for a semester and can be found hiking or doing something outdoorsy most weekends. When he is not camping, hiking or fishing, he can be found preparing for his PhD in Astrophysics, working on his first feature film, or rocking out with the GU worship band, Thirst. He has been published in a few of the GU student journals, and he is excited for the chance to explore his own faith more deeply through engaging with faith communities all over Spokane during his time as a Wolff Fellow.

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