Didn’t you know how important they were?

Like many Catholics these days, my mind has been so full of the Church’s sexual abuse scandal that I hardly know what to do. I hardly know what to write. I hardly know where to begin.

But over and again as I read the accounts of abuse and cover-up, I return to one elemental, heart-rending cry:

“Didn’t you know how important they were?”

I imagine the abuser staring at his prey, the bishop staring at a pile of unwelcome paperwork, and I want to shake them both by the shoulders.

Those children – didn’t you know how important they were?

When I stare at my own children, when I notice their outlines – the places where their hair, their skin, their eyes meet the world, I see the brush-strokes of a master. I see art. I see treasure.

I stop to consider my children – their personalities, their histories, their particular sets of talents and challenges – and I am struck by the enormity of their presence. Each, so full of his own ideas, so full of possibility, seems to contain an entire universe.

Someone stared at those children, the ones who were abused, that way. Their mothers, probably. But if not their mothers or their fathers, then definitely God the Father, who could number every hair on their heads.

Didn’t you know how important they were?

Didn’t you, Father? Didn’t you, your Excellency? Your Eminence? Didn’t you, lay brothers and sisters who knew things, but didn’t tell? Who suspected, but didn’t help?

Didn’t you know how important they were?

That’s the angriest, most sincere cry of my heart right now. It has called out many times, in many situations, regarding victims of terrorism, war, abortion, racism, harassment, and other sin. But this time it’s got an edge.

It is harsher for being directed at people who should have known better.

Our Church is the one that speaks about the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. It is the one that protests at abortion clinics and detention centers and execution chambers. It is the one that testifies to the importance of each individual life, no matter how humble.

Men who promised to serve that Church should have recognized the sanctity of their victims’ lives – of their subordinates’ victims’ lives.

Instead, some treated those children as objects. Abusers saw them as pathways to pleasure, as perks of power. They were things to them, to be enjoyed and used up.

Those who covered up the abuse saw its victims as problems to be smoothed over, as causes of scandal rather than results of it.

Too many of today’s bishops seem to see abuse victims primarily as public relations disasters.

Didn’t you know how important they were?

Don’t you see it now? Now, when we are so well acquainted with the sins of the past? Now, when we can see how those sins wreaked havoc on victims’ lives? Now, when we see the effects of those sins rippling outward, driving people away from Christ?

We are a Church in crisis. Because of the abuse and the cover-ups and the sin that undergirds it all, yes. But also because of what this situation says about us – about what we value. Too many of us have cared more about trappings than people. The trappings of office, of power, of achievement, of reputation, even of liturgy and politics.

While our society has grown ever more factionalized, ever more tribal, so have we in the Church. And the danger here (the relevant danger; there are many) is that when we think in terms of tribe, we cease to properly value individuals.

Priests may rush to the defense of their brother priests, bishops to their brother bishops, conservatives to the champions of their causes, liberals to theirs. We don’t want to think ill of our kin. We hate to think that a favorite son of our neighborhood, our city, our nationality, our side could possibly do evil. We are convinced that our goals are so worthy, they’re worth brushing aside the faults of their proponents.

What I want to know is, will we keep walking this path? Will we read news articles and bishops’ statements and the Vigano testimony and believe them only insofar as they align with our preferences? Or will we – clerics and lay people alike – resolve to seek the truth wherever it leads us?

Will we remember the cry: “Didn’t you know how important they were?”

Will we value the victims of the past and present? Will we value the youth of today? Will we be brave enough to challenge the people and the systems we’ve loved? Or will we cling to trappings, unable to let go?

 

To listen to an audio recording of this post, please click below:

 

These Walls - Didn't you know how important they were

 

7 thoughts on “Didn’t you know how important they were?

  1. Julie, you have a powerful way with words. Words that need to be said and heard throughout not only the Catholic Church, but the enter world. The innocence of our children is a blessing. Thank you for bring their voice!

  2. I like the idea of the past tense here: didn’t you know how important they were. I pray that it is truly in the past because I worry that you might need to use the present tense: don’t you know how important that are! I’m so suspicious now. So much cover up, so many lies, so many, many involved. How do I know it’s in the past only?

  3. Well said. Perhaps the ultimate sin is to abuse the innocent. I have lost all faith in the church leaders. They are no better than gangs or members of crime syndicates, protecting their own at the expense of the most vulnerable.

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