In the Wake of Another Crisis, Remembering Who the Church is

“I love the Church.”

This is the answer I give when people ask me why I’m on my seventh year of school working on yet another theological degree, or when DC Uber drivers ask why I moved to the district.

I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade and Catholic universities from my undergraduate years to my current pursuit of a PhD in Catechetics. My mom brought me along to daily masses before I was old enough to go to school, and my grandmother taught me the Hail Mary and how to pray to my guardian angel. My favorite classes in elementary and middle school were always religion, and one of the best days of my life was when I stepped into St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time when I studied abroad in Rome during my sophomore year at the University of Dallas. Since my senior year of college, I have been involved in some form of lay ecclesial ministry, and I am preparing to continue catechetical ministry upon the completion of my degree in Catechetics. For most of my life, my love of the Church has remained untested. “Catholic” was the most important part of my identity and the way I’d immediately describe myself to anyone who asked.

Last summer, the sexual abuse crisis challenged this core component of my life and identity. I spent the summer interning at the Archdiocese of Washington, so when the news about Archbishop McCarrick began breaking, I felt like the crisis was unfolding immediately around me. When Cardinal Wuerl, someone who I had long admired for his contributions to the Church and the field of catechetics, started to come under fire for the way he handled reports of McCarrick’s behavior and abuse cases, I was geographically in the eye of the storm. One day soon after the news of the crisis had broken, I distinctly remember leaving my internship one day to see Cardinal Wuerl getting into a car in the parking lot at the archdiocesan pastoral center. At first, my immediate reaction was to be “star-struck” because of how much I admired him; but when I observed myself in this feeling and remembered what was going on in the Church around me, I felt betrayal and sadness—things I had never before felt about my own Catholic identity.

When the details of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report came to light later in the summer, I was shocked and in pain; the Church that had become the core part of my identity was being destroyed. While the events of the report happened years ago, it still angered me that they not only had taken place, but that this was also the Church I had inherited as a future catechetical leader and theologian. It was impossible not to question my own future as a theologian, member of the faithful, and lay ecclesial minister. As more and more reports, stories, and accounts surfaced, the things I loved about the Church were challenged. My anger and disgust only increased as the letter of Archbishop Vigano was released in August, due both to the thought of Pope Francis mishandling reports of abuse and the blatant attempt to use the crisis as an attack on Vigano’s ideological enemies. Not only were cardinals, bishops, and priests refusing to take responsibility for the pain they were continuing to cause, but many also tried to shift the blame onto marginalized Catholics and hijack any discussion of the crisis with their own agendas. My Church was self-destructing.

As the summer months ended, the local Church of Washington, DC was left trying to cope with the Vigano letter, credible accusations of sexual abuse by McCarrick, and the mishandling of cases by various clerics. Through the months of August to December, I attended panels and round-table discussions held by my university, and also spent time processing the events of the crisis with friends, colleagues in ministry, and professors. While it helped to acknowledge my own anger and know that I was not isolated in my emotions about the crisis, these conversations often made it harder for me to find any peace in the midst of the crisis. I heard others blame “the gays” for the crisis, priests who expressed confusion at the anger of the laity, and priests and laity accuse Satan of attacking the Church through the accounts of sexual abuse survivors. Frequently, I had conversations with people who tried to reassure me, by appealing to the embattled history of the Church, that the crisis would pass. Online processing of the crisis also increased my anger; entire organizations and websites declared war on their ideological enemies in the name of “saving the Church,” while bishops and priests continued to fan the flames by taking sides on the Vigano letter.

During this time, my love for the Church had morphed into anger and confusion. I wrestled with the idea that, as a future catechetical leader and theologian, my task would be to form individuals to be more engaged, more bound up with this deteriorating Church. At best, I would be responsible for finding ways to help heal a wounded Church for many years to come. But at worst, I might be involved in engaging others in a Church so systematically broken that my own future ministry might cause more pain. Struggling to hold the tension of my vocation to catechetics and my strained relationship with the Church, I reached out to a former colleague and mentor in ministry. In our conversation, she did not appeal to Church history or blame a certain “side” of the Church; rather, she challenged me to remember Who the Church is, rather than what the Church is.

In my own processing of the abuse crisis, many people have reminded me of this line in the Gospel of Matthew: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  However, because of the conversation with my former mentor, my own healing and peace have started to come from Jesus’ question to Simon Peter and the disciples from the preceding few lines: “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Jesus establishes the Church on the shoulders of Simon Peter after his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. A question of who, rather than what.

As the stories and reports of the crisis continue to flood Catholic consciousness in the United States even today, I hold the tension of my love for the Church and my pain at her discord by rooting myself in Who the Church is: Jesus Christ. In order to remain, although with difficulty, faithful to the Church, I have to allow my love for her to be shaped by who rather than what. The Church is Jesus Christ, but it is also my grandmother who taught me my prayers, my parents who raised me in the faith, the Dominican sister who fostered my love for the Church in middle school, the wonderful pastor and lay women I worked alongside in a parish in graduate school, my friends and colleagues in ministry, the Jesuit and diocesan priests in my doctoral cohort, and the Carmelite community here in DC who have embraced me. Though the entire Church has been ravaged by individuals who have perpetuated a systematic problem of power in the sex abuse crisis, I return to my own experience of Who the Church is to gain strength and continue living out my own vocation.

Colleen Campbell holds a BA in Pastoral Ministry from the University of Dallas, an MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, and is currently a second year PhD student studying Catechetics at the Catholic University of America.


A Spotlight on Abuse: Healing the Wounds of the World through Truth, Justice, and Solidarity

Spotlight is not, at its heart, a movie about the Church. It is a movie about people doing their jobs for the sake of honesty and justice. The reporters at the Boston Globe, committed to truth and bringing that truth into the light, are doing the practical work of the Word without knowing it.

The parable of the light under the bushel gets brushed into a children’s song most of the time, but in the gospels, Jesus is clear: the work of God is meant to illuminate the world. When the Church is engaged in secrecy, cover-ups, and darkness, She turns away from Her call to be the light of the world, the city set on a mountain.

Institutional corruption decays trust in the Church and harms the integrity of our shared mission. Pharisaical attitudes prioritizing hierarchy over justice diminish the Body of Christ for the sake of earthly systems. By failing to care for the vulnerable in our community, we fail to recognize the Eucharistic truth of unity and dignity. We need to remember that our work begins at home — in our own communities — with honesty, vulnerability, and transparency. Read More


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Hard questions we’re not asking Pope Francis by John Allen: “To date, the only concrete diplomatic success to which Francis can point is helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cling to power by opposing Western strikes. The pope had his reasons, including fear for Syria’s Christians in the aftermath of regime change. Yet assuming that Assad reasserts control, the question is whether Francis will use the Church’s resources to promote greater respect for human rights and democracy. If not, his major political accomplishment could go down as propping up a thug.”

The Changing U.S. Labor Force by Anna Sutherland: “Whatever the cause of unions’ decline, however, the future of work in America may be one of low wages and erratic schedules (both of which are hard on families) unless policy-makers find some other way to bolster the power of labor.”

The Neo-Conservative Imagination: An Interview with Patrick Deneen, Part III by Artur Rosman: “I don’t want to paint a picture of utopian bliss in Germany—of course, that’s far from the case—but we ought to look at specific practices in countries such as Germany to begin to think about how better to avoid some of our wrenching instability and how we might better conceive an economy to support family and community.”

Selfie esteem: Body image in a digital age by Meghan Murphy-Gill: “The Catholic Church has a counterpoint to this seemingly superficial approach to image: Humans are the imago Dei, created in the image of God. This alone is the source of a person’s value, not how well she applies eyeshadow or whether her selfies show a glowing girl with a great smile.”

Synod on the Family, Part I by Michael Sean Winters: “The Francis effect is only possible because people are truly hungry for the Gospel and a more humane civilization. No civilization can long remain healthy if its families are not healthy, and the remedy must be found, first and foremost, by placing the bonds of family and society – and the bond of faith, that binds us to Jesus Christ – in their true, liberating promise and pointing out that the autonomy the modern world promises is actually a grim form of self-chosen slavery.”

Everyday saints by Kira Dault: “Those who have come before us—not just the great men and women with their huge footprints, but the mothers and fathers, the children, the friends lost to us—mark the course. In their examples they leave breadcrumbs to follow, clues for how to become the kind of people we want to be.”

The Message of Mercy by Walter Kasper: “So, canon law is not against the Gospel, but the Gospel is against a legalistic understanding of canon law. Canon law should be interpreted and applied in the light of mercy because mercy opens our eyes to the concrete situation of the other.”

Monument Seeks to End Silence on Killings of the Disabled by the Nazis by Melissa Eddy: “The first to be singled out for systematic murder by the Nazis were the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. By the end of World War II, an estimated 300,000 of them had been gassed or starved, their fates hidden by phony death certificates and then largely overlooked among the many atrocities that were to be perpetrated in Nazi Germany in the years to follow. Now, they are among the last to have their suffering publicly acknowledged. On Tuesday, the victims of the direct medical killings by the Nazis were given their own memorial in the heart of Berlin.”

An unspoken truth about teens who flee the Catholic church by Jennifer Mertens: “Young people must be valued as active, respected and fully engaged members of our faith communities. Teens long to be taken seriously, to be heard, considered and included. As adults, we do not possess or control the living revelation of Christ. We journey together with our youth.”

Encounters with a drinking culture in college by Carlos Mesquita: “I asked some of my friends why they drank to excess, and while some just said they enjoyed it, many responded that they were drinking to forget something or to relieve stress. They described trying to avoid or escape some part of themselves.”

The Greatest Threat to Our Liberty Is Local Governments Run Amok by Franklin Foer: “Only a strong federal government can curb the autocratic tendencies burbling across the country. Libertarians worry about the threat of local tyrants, too, but only abstractly. In practice, they remain so fixated on the perils of Washington that they rigidly insist on devolving power down to states, cities, and towns—the very places where their nightmares are springing to life.”

The Catholic casino conundrum by Mathew Schmalz: “The message was simple: You can gamble, but take it easy. Do so temperately — within appropriate limits….But given Pope Francis’ strong stand on our obligations to those in need, it is difficult to see how to justify gambling of any kind, since the money that we might so cavalierly wager does not belong to us alone.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Separation Anxiety by Anna Nussbaum Keating, America: “We spend our lives accruing honors trying to prove that we have value, when what truly makes us happy is to contribute to our communities in a meaningful way, to love and be loved.”

UN report on Vatican and sex abuse may hurt reform cause By John L. Allen: “Over the years, the Vatican sometimes has been accused of being spectacularly tone-deaf in its response to the abuse crisis, and God knows there’s merit to those perceptions. Now it may be the UN that’s off-key, restocking what had been the diminishing ammo of those inclined to defend the status quo.”

“Your brother’s blood cries out from the ground!” by Carol Glatz , CNS: “Pope Francis often holds up Cain’s cynical words and attitude of indifference as a rallying cry against the apathy and outright complicity shown in today’s world to the crime and horror of human trafficking. At least 21 million people have been forced into modern-day slavery and many of those were caught in the snares of traffickers. Some experts believe human trafficking will soon overtake drug and arms trafficking as the most lucrative criminal activity in the world.”

How to Spot a Paranoid Libertarian by Cass Sunstein: “As a general rule, paranoia isn’t a good foundation for public policy, even if it operates in freedom’s name.”

Nurture these attitudes to form basis of real love by James Sheridan: “Love that consists of caring, understanding, respect, appreciation, acceptance and trust needs to be intentionally nurtured by married couples. Husbands and wives bring different perspectives, different histories, and different attitudes to a marriage. They have a great deal to learn from and give to each other.”

Pope says relativistic ideas of marriage lead to divorce by Francis X. Rocca: “Pope Francis said contemporary ideas of marriage as an arrangement defined by personal needs promote a mentality of divorce, and he called for better preparation of engaged couples as well as ministry to Catholics whose marriages have failed.”

Farm bill hurts hungry Americans by John Stoehr: “With this bill, the Republicans have said loudly that corporations with billions in revenue are more important than children.”

Woody Allen, nihilist by Damon Linker: “There is no justice. From Plato’s sociopathic sophists to Friedrich Nietzsche’s ambition to ‘sail right over our morality,’ this has been the conviction and the insight of the nihilist. These are Woody Allen’s philosophical compatriots.”

Elizabeth Warren To Obama: Stop Putting Forward So Many Corporate Judicial Nominees by Jennifer Bendery: “Seventy-one percent of his nominees have practiced primarily for corporate or business clients, which means that among Obama’s judicial picks over the last five years, corporate attorneys outnumber all other kinds of attorneys by three to one.”

Saint Josephine Bakhita, Witness of Hope for Victims of Human Trafficking by Cardinal Donald Wuerl: “Our Catholic teachings on social justice, human rights and the God-given dignity of all human life offer a moral and philosophical foundation for confronting the modern evil of human trafficking.”



Around the Web: Articles on Pope Francis

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Our Populist Pope by RR Reno: “Now it’s certain. This will be a populist papacy. Denunciations of unfettered free market economics in Evangelii Gaudium—’an economy of exclusion and inequality’—attracted a great deal of attention in the secular press. But for the most part commentators ignore the fact that Francis’ populism has a very strong ecclesial dimension as well.”

The heart of Pope Francis’s mission by EJ Dionne: “But American liberals and conservatives alike might be discomfited by the pope’s criticism of “the individualism of our postmodern and globalized era,” since each side defends its own favorite forms of individualism.”

Pope ramps up charity office to be near poor, sick by AP: “A few times a week, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski takes a few off-duty guards with him in his modest white Fiat to make the rounds at Rome’s train stations, where charities offer makeshift soup kitchens that feed 400-500 people a night. Often they bring the leftovers from the Vatican mess halls to share.”

Would Someone Just Shut That Pope Up? by Patrick Deneen: “Of course, all along Catholic teaching has seen a strong tie between the radical individualism and selfishness at the heart of capitalism and liberationist sexual practices, understanding them to be premised on the same anthropological assumptions.”

Pope tells theologians ‘sense of the faithful’ is not majority opinion by Francis Rocca, CNS: “Pope Francis said the church must pay attention to the ‘sense of the faithful’ (‘sensus fidelium’) when exercising its teaching authority, but never confuse that sense with popular opinion on matters of faith.”

Pope’s words and examples draw analysis and plaudits by Patricia Zapor, CNS: “Gerson, an evangelical, said he thinks the reason what the pope says and does is so powerful is that ‘he talks like Jesus and acts like Jesus.’”

Vatican announces new papal advisory commission on sex abuse by  Joshua McElwee, NCR: “Pope Francis has ordered the creation of a new commission in the church’s central bureaucracy tasked with advising the pontiff on safeguarding children from sex abuse and working pastorally with abuse victims, the Vatican said Thursday.”

The Domestication of Indifference by Michael Sean Winters, NCR: “Pope Francis has pricked the consciences of all who will listen. It is one thing to prick a conscience and another to shape it. May Pope Francis have a long life so that he can continue to challenge us all to look at those areas in our lives where, in the face of injustice and evil, we throw up our hands and turn away.”

The Joy of Evangelism by Robert Barron, RCR: “He knows that if Catholicism leads with its doctrines, it will devolve into an intellectual debating society, and that if it leads with its moral teaching, it will appear fussy and puritanical. It should lead today as it led two thousand years ago, with the stunning news that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and the joy of that proclamation should be as evident now as it was then.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Why Paid Family Leave Is Good for Everyone (Even People Who Don’t Use It) by Nanette Fondas: “The impact of family leave legislation, whether state or federal, is felt well beyond the direct benefit an individual worker receives. Parental leave and similar policies hold potential to reduce workplace bias and stigma faced by all women and men with caregiving responsibilities.”

Does Being Joyful Mean I Can’t be Sad? by Fr. James Martin, SJ: “Sadness is a natural response to pain, suffering and tragedy in life.  It is human, natural and even, in a way, desirable: sadness in response to a tragic event shows that you are emotionally alive.  If you weren’t sad from time to time, you would be something less than human.”

Sex abuse scandal keeps priests from healthy relationships with young people by Gerald Kleba: “The clergy abuse, the scandal of the cover-ups, and the subsequent ‘Protecting God’s Children’ program, which decrees that a priest can never be alone with young people, had made that impossible. No young priest today has a chance for the quality intimacy that makes celibacy worthwhile and compelling, because his life will have to be spent at arm’s length from the very youngsters who are the most in need.”

Everything I Can Do by Joey Kane: “God loves me because God made me. He made me just the way I am, and he loves me just the way I am. Because I have a good sense of humor, people feel more comfortable around me. Sometimes someone in my class says that he feels embarrassed to be around me. On the other hand, this same person asked me to sit at his table. This is a good example of the way it should be. I should be treated as if I don’t have Down syndrome. In fact, I do not even think of Down syndrome as being a disability, but many people think it is.”

A Better Life by Matt Kane: “Without diversity our world would be stagnant and our thoughts without purpose, for it is often through our differences that we are able to enrich the lives of those around us. While it is true that my parents’ act of social justice saved the life of only one person, it served to transform the lives of countless people in my community, whose world would be a little less bright, less full, were it not for Joey.”

Food stamps work, so why are we cutting them? by Melinda Henneberger: “Responding to poverty by paring back nutrition programs is like answering a rise in diabetes by slashing insulin production. And as Pete Gallego (D-Tex.) argued, almost all of the recipients are either children or elderly.”

A Free Miracle Food! by Nicholas Kristof: “The latest nutritional survey from The Lancet estimates that suboptimal breast-feeding claims the lives of 804,000 children annually. That’s more than the World Health Organization’s estimate of malaria deaths each year…if we want to save hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe a step forward is to offer more support to moms in poor counties trying to nurse their babies. ”