Since the end of May, there has been consistent protesting about the evil of racism in our country. The protests have led to greater and broader discussions about how racism is manifested by creating and allowing unjust systems that threaten the health and safety of our brothers and sisters of color.
During a protest, I viewed a sign that said, “I don’t understand, but I stand with you.” What an honest statement from a person who recognizes they do not experience this injustice, but are willing to listen, support and walk with those who are less valued because of the color of their skin.
This was one of many phrases I have seen and heard over these few weeks as hundreds of thousands of people have marched in the streets or spoke out to shed light on the darkness of racial injustice in the many systems of our country.
As I immersed myself in the news and discussions about the state of our country and the call for reform and systematic change, I realized there are many parallels to this issue and how the church has faced the sexual abuse crisis over the past 20 years.
The current pursuit of justice is a call for deeper awareness, understanding and systematic change from millions of voices. It is a similar plea from the many who have sought validation, accountability and change due to sexual abuse by ministers representing the Catholic Church.
“End the silence, End the violence,” was also a sign that was held during another protest.
We know from experience in the church that abuse thrives in the darkness of silence. In silence, there is no awareness, responsibility or accountability.
But with a willingness to listen, provide support and understanding, serve as an advocate and ensure a safe environment that protects and promotes healing, change can happen.
When it came to addressing abuse in the church, bishops and all Catholics had to recognize and acknowledge this reality. The process of acknowledgment did not come without feelings of anger and disillusionment. In the beginning, there was a denial of the facts, ignorance and minimization of the problem, blaming of victims and attempts to seek easy and quick answers.
Acceptance of the problem and its many causes came with the realization that the system had to change and everyone in it had to give up some of the old ways of doing things in order to have a more just, healthier and open community of faith for all.
Of course, Catholics profess their commitment to the dignity and respect of all human life and seeking justice because it is our foundational call of Jesus.
Some had to face their discomfort of talking about the issue of sexual abuse. Others had to recognize that ministers can betray our precious and most vulnerable members and that some leaders had abused their power. Tangibly, all ministers, clerics and laity had to humble themselves and consent to trainings and background checks. Catholics were asked to invest in the education of children and members, the cost of accountability and the healing process of our brothers and sisters who were victimized.
But with persistence and each person’s willingness to recognize the need for change, the offering of healing and making accommodations, we began to see change. This required empathy, love, humility and effort from those not directly impacted and it will always require an ongoing commitment from leaders and the faithful.
Pope Francis on June 3, 2020, spoke directly to all people of the United States. He reminds us of the dignity of all people and our responsibility to acknowledge and seek justice:
“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”