Grace Manning ’21
It has happened again. This time not in Pennsylvania, but on our very own campus. We are confronted with the issue of sexual misconduct far too close to home and we are wracked with questions that have gone unanswered. What does this mean for us as students at a Jesuit school that has always been proud of its affiliation with the Catholic faith, and of its mantra that encourages students to be men and women for and with others? What can we do about it? Why is it that people and institutions have known about some of these allegations for over 20 years and yet nothing has changed? Something is very broken and I am forced to ask myself if anything can be changed in order to keep the shell of the Catholic Church intact, or whether there has to be a radical transformation, possibly even a complete destruction and reconstruction of the institution. Most terrifying to think about, however, is whether or not the Catholic Church and our faith is worth fighting for.
An opinion article in the New York Times from this past summer both fascinated and deeply concerned me. The author, Naka Nathaniel, feels so disgusted and disheartened by the lack of action by the Catholic Church in light of all that has happened over the years, that he believes “it is wrong to support the church” by attending mass. He is convinced that the only way to truly move on, heal, and begin to repair is by tearing the institution of the church down and starting from scratch. While I think his actions are radical and not entirely appealing to me, his sentiments reflect those of many people I have talked to recently; people like Nathaniel who have attended church every Sunday since they were born, who have been baptized, made their holy communions and confirmations and are heavily involved in their religious communities. Catholics across the world are now doubting their faith. The questions Nathaniel demands are moving and thought-provoking ones: should all members of the clergy resign? Do we as individuals within the Catholic Church have any real power to change the institution? Or is it as hopeless as Nathaniel and his local priest suggest?
In light of the recent accusations towards Professor Dustin, we strive to feel empowered and inspired to take action by staging peaceful protests and educating our peers and ourselves on the issues surrounding sexual misconduct at school and in the church. It is an opportunity for us to join together in common frustration and determination to make real, lasting change. So, I can’t agree with Nathaniel’s priest who says “you and I have no influence.” We have no influence when we choose to do nothing, when we choose to look the other direction, and when we refuse to acknowledge the wrongdoings of those in our community, no matter how painful this may be. But from the hopeless note that Nathaniel left off on, I interpreted a kind of defeat that could be used as inspiration to propel us forward. When those closest to the church are conquered by anguish and shame, we as students need to find strength in the fact that we are not shaped by the church or unused to allegations of sexual assault, but in fact we have been dealing with these issues our entire lives. They are in the forefront of our consciousness and we have only just begun to fight for change.
In this time especially, I feel the need to consistently remind myself, as we all should, that there are people who are doing so much good in the world. I especially focus on those affiliated with the Catholic church as examples of what the essence of Catholicism is. Father Gregory Boyle, for example, was filmed making a speech at a college graduation, in which he spoke of one of his “homies,” referring to an L.A. gang member who now resides at Homeboy Industries. The video outlines Boyle’s work and is perfectly summarized in a line reading, “His hilarious and inspiring story reminds us all that there is no us and them, just us.” The friend of mine who sent me the video knows I attend a Jesuit college and was reminded of me. This speaks to the students of Holy Cross who remain moved to serve the community through participating in service trips and volunteering at SPUD sites. Holy Cross students are known to give their time in order to work with others to improve the community and the greater world.
We may be too quick today, although perhaps justified in doing so, to assume the worst in humanity, to assume that when we hear of atrocities, abuses and cruelty, that this is the norm. But in listening to Boyle speak, in reading his words in his book, “Tattoos on the Heart” and in seeing the impact of his actions, I am reassured and hopeful that it is, in fact, the opposite and that although this kind of goodness may be more difficult to find, it is unquestionably there. So, can we really resolve to throw away the Catholic Church and all who are involved in it? Because that means throwing away people like Father Boyle and Peter McVerry, working with the homeless in Ireland, and The Hope Foundation working with slum children in India, who do endless good. We need change. That is undeniable. But maybe we can start by adding to the Catholic Church instead of taking away. Allow women to be priests! The role of women has come so far in almost every way, so why not in the church as well? Allow priests to get married and have children! We have become tired waiting alone for others to bring about this change, so maybe the answer is to join together and to ask ourselves actively, “What can we as a community do?”