Sex abuse in the Church – “This is not who we are!”

by Ricardo da Silva SJ

Past weeks have brought with them the painful realisation that there is a profound disorder in our Church, particularly at the level of bishops and priests, that has led to and allowed the gross levels of abuse that are being uncovered.

Revelations of sexual crimes committed by those in positions of authority as recently revealed in the Chilean and US Church, will give others the courage to speak out, report the abuse, denounce their abuser and pursue justice for themselves.

The wounds of abuse are alive in the bodies and hearts of vulnerable victims, regardless of the time that may have elapsed since the abuse. This has led many to produce a diagnostic of the factors leading to the abuse crisis in our Church.

Various people have been blamed for the present scandalous wave and countless reasons have been given. Some of these are reasoned considerations worth investigating. But too many of them are an outrageous clutching-at-straws. Seeking out convenient and unsuspecting scapegoats, thought-up by some to save our Church’s reputation and to prop up ideological, even idolatrous, religious views that can no longer be sustained.

Pondering this sorry state in which we have come to find ourselves, the words of a homily heard at the outbreak of the US priests’ sex-abuse scandal kept recurring: “This is not who we are!”

These words came to me as a soothing balm, and not in a way that minimises or seeks to make me get-over or quickly forget what has happened. Instead, I hear them in a way that enables me to speak and to regain the courage and conviction to pursue my life in the Church. They give me a reason to keep on believing that the Church I/we want is possible.

By saying that this is not the identity to which we attach ourselves we are making an act of faith, hope and love. We are saying that this is not the Church Jesus founded and desires, because that Church proclaims liberty to captives, shows merciful love and compassion and does not break the winnowed reed.

However, lip-service is certainly not enough!

The words of that homily keep echoing in me still, reminding me that I need to work at who we are – as a Church. Far from ignoring or wishing the problems away, it puts them squarely in front of me. I’d like to suggest that they might do the same for you.

They force us to constantly evaluate who we are at any given point inviting us to make the life-giving spirit-driven affirmation: If this is not who we are, then what do we need to begin to address, put in place, do and pray, to begin to move toward a place where we can say: “This is who the Church is”?

It’s time for us to regain our voice, speak-up, break out in song, proclaim the Church we want and say how we think we need to get there.

With these words, I was helped to realise that, indeed, this is not who the Church I belong to is – even though, sadly, it is very much where we are now.

Fr Ricardo da Silva SJ

Fr Ricardo da Silva SJ was born in Coimbra, Portugal and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. He had a career in marketing, communications and brand management before joining the Jesuits in 2007 and has studied communications (SA), philosophy (UK), theology (Brazil) and journalism (USA). He is passionate about liturgical music, communications, and ethics and takes delight in good company and food. He has ministered to a wide range of people in many different contexts, from the elderly to high school and university students, refugees, migrants and the homeless. He has just completed the foundational Master of Science degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. @ricdssj
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