A good many Catholics have been hurt personally and intensely by the Church – by fellow laymen, by priests, nuns, and bishops, and even by the imperfect way doctrine itself is conveyed.
It’s all very well for the non-wounded party to look on and say, “Ah, but that wasn’t the Church itself that hurt you. That was just one bad apple. How can you throw away your whole faith over one bad apple or even a dozen bad apples? Is your faith that shallow? Don’t you want Jesus?”
Easier said than lived.
A friend said she used to make the same argument until she herself was betrayed in a horrifying way by Catholics who held themselves up as examples of faith in action. She says that, for a while, all she could see when she went to Mass was hypocrisy. She constantly wondered whether all the Catholics there were like the ones who had betrayed her.
Her intellectual faith was still intact, but her ability to practice it continues to be embattled. She has to make the choice, over and over again, to be there for the good she knows is present, without denying the bad that was and is there, too.
And it must be a very powerful good, to keep us coming back and making the effort to work past that rupture. Good itself must be more powerful than evil.
I have experienced this same thing myself, in a minor way. It was not a representative of the Church that wounded me, but someone else, a long time ago. I want to tread very carefully because I cannot know what suffering other people have endured, and I would not presume to tell anyone else what to do. All I can tell you is what I have experienced.
The other day, I realised I wasn’t angry anymore. It’s taken many years to get here.
I haven’t forgotten the injuries done to me, and I haven’t persuaded myself they weren’t that bad. If anything, I can now see more clearly now how awful they were. But the relationship is valuable enough to me that I now choose to make the relationship be about the good things that are there, rather than the bad.
I choose this relationship freely – not because the bad in it is all that I deserve, but because I have enough strength and clarity to see the good things that I want and need. I choose them freely because I want and need what is good.
I don’t chide myself for memories or emotions. What happened, happened. What was bad was actually bad. How I feel is how I feel. But it is sometimes possible to get the point where you can acknowledge these things, accept that they happened, and still eventually (not immediately!) decide that you’d rather have something else, something better.
There is far more peace and autonomy in freely deciding to embrace the good in a relationship than there is in being a psychological slave to what was bad, even if the bad things really happened.
Is it possible to apply this kind of thinking to one’s relationship with the Church? I don’t know. It’s complicated, teasing out the difference between our relationship with fellow Catholics, our relationship with the institutional Church, and our relationship with God Himself.
What I do know is that transformations in the heart take time – whether it’s the more mild kind of thing I experienced and worked through, or whether it’s the kind of transformation that allows a wounded victim to find Jesus again in the centre of a thorny mess of hypocrisy, sin, and abuse from fellow Catholics.
Again, I don’t mean to speak as if I understand more than I do. But I do know that goodness is stronger than evil. I do know that, eventually, we all face a choice about which we will choose. And I know that freedom and peace do not come about when we try to minimise, stuff down, or work around the evil we have lived. We cannot deny that a place of pure evil is where Jesus allowed Himself to be. And he can be found there still. Perhaps if we meet Him there, looking frankly at the evil we have suffered, we can also find our way to what is good.