Melinda Henneberger wrote and published a column in the National Catholic Reporter back in December 5, 2018 on her reasons for leaving the Catholic Church. She (and many of us) felt a crisis of conscious over the McGarrick revelations and the unfolding knowledge of our church’s continuing sex abuse scandal and coverup.
I shared her pain and her anger and frustration, as so many of us Catholics did, upon hearing the unwelcome news. I wrote this response at the time, mostly for my own healing. I share it here in the hope that it touches other hearts that have been broken by this terrible tragedy.
First and foremost, I want to tell you how grateful I am for your column in NCR. I’ve been avoiding organizing my own thoughts, even as I’ve known I would have to do so eventually. Your column provided a helpful catalyst.
My heart hurt for you, as it does for all of us, as I read your piece. Our hearts have been shattered by this evil…most especially for the first order victims and their families. Their pain is paramount. But, all of us who love the church are experiencing our own personal crises.
I’ve recently been trying to understand and live better our church’s teaching on how to be blessed by the pain and challenges given to each of us. To somehow recognize and be blessed more deeply by His grace that attends painful times.
So, it was in this frame of mind that I prayed for you and for our church this morning. I asked God how my heart should respond to your decision to leave. Is it a signal for all of us to fragment? To exercise Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option”?
If not, how best do I respond? To the obvious corruption that has so gripped our beautiful teachings? To my own confusion and distress? How can I possibly be blessed by the knowledge of this terrible travesty that too many of our church fathers have allowed or enabled … or worse?
And, as I felt emotion well up inside me, I saw Our Lord in Gethsemane as Christ shed His tears of blood. I heard as His words from Sermon on the Mount rang out:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And I looked on at Calvary as He hung in pain on the cross. I heard Him tell Dismis, the good thief, “you will be with me today in heaven.”
Then He gave His beloved disciple and all of us into HIs mother’s care to wait for Him until His return. Mother Mary will comfort each of us, if we allow her to embrace us.
For my own part, as a sinner who wandered and wondered for far too many years before finding the Catholic Church, before being allowed to join in the joyful celebration feast, before being fed and formed by the church’s teaching, before experiencing the warmth and abundance of our Blessed Mother’s embrace, before knowing how or even why I should want to walk with our Lord as He lived and died for us and for our salvation, I have opted to continue to receive and be fed by the Holy Eucharist and, as often as I can, to sit with our Lord in adoration and to pray our Holy Mother’s Rosary .
Is He really present in the host as Catholic teaching says? Can He only be present through the word and exhortation of priests ordained in apostolic succession from Peter? I was told once, ‘It’s a Mystery. We have to leave room for the mystery.’ So, is it true? I don’t know….mysteries, by definition, mysterious. But I do have faith. I believe based on my own personal experience and based on knowledge from the Holy Spirit within me, and my belief comforts me.
I’ve opted to stay — where else can we go, Lord? — and to wait (as much as possible) in joy-filled anticipation of His beautiful face. I know He will come one day and sort us all out. He will cleanse and purify, again and again, each of us and His Church Bride on Earth.
In the meantime I give thanks that you and I and other believers have already been given the end of the story. We know that the sweet incense that fills our beautiful sanctuaries throughout the world will not be overwhelmed by the sin and corruption of Satan’s smoke.
Those priests and bishops will not win, who, through their acts or their inaction, have caused your crisis of communion with the church. Theirs will be a terrible fate.
I pray your mourning for our church blesses you and that you allow Him to walk with you and to comfort you as you wander for a time in the desert. And when it is time, I pray you will again find a comfortable place at His table where we will all rejoice as one church in Christ, where we will all rejoice that we who have gone lost are once again found.
In the meantime I pray He blesses you richly and continuously on your journey.
Yours in Christ,