Posted by: frroberts | February 29, 2016

Repost: Some thoughts after having watched Spotlight

50 years ago, A Man for All Seasons, a film about Saint Thomas More, won best picture.  This year a film about the cover up of priest sex abuse won.

When I was in college, I met Bernard Cardinal Law several times.  I attended a retreat he gave for young men discerning the priesthood and he personally invited me to study for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston.  At another event with the Cardinal I attended while I was still a Harvard undergraduate, I learned that his eminence was disappointed that in all of his years as Archbishop of Boston, he had never been given an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Harvard.  I did learn that in conjunction with one of his class reunions that he hosted an event at the archbishop’s mansion (since sold to Boston College to pay for settlements with abuse victims) and he did get some compliments for his digs.

I made my decision to enter seminary in the summer 2000.  My studies began in the fall of 2001.  The Boston priest sex abuse scandal broke in the Boston Globe in early January 2002.  In route to the Providence airport to fly back to Indiana for the Christmas holiday in December 2002, I heard on the radio that Cardinal Law resigned as the archbishop of Boston.

My path to the priesthood and my years as a priest have not been the easiest.  I am in my fifteenth year of giving my life to Church and two of those have been spent on a voluntary leave of absence.  The first came after a year in seminary.  The second time around came after the end of my first assignment.

I have to be honest that some of my struggle with the priesthood has been internal and it would hardly be appropriate to discuss the nature of my difficulties in a public forum.  Many people in a wide variety of vocations experience difficulties.  Four of my siblings have had to pick up the pieces from a broken marriage with varying degrees of success.  Based on the lives of my siblings, I should not be surprised that I have not found the priesthood to be a walk in the park. I am very much a work in progress and pray that I will reach my dying day being able to say that I kept my vows and helped more people get to heaven than I turned off.

One of the things that made Spotlight a very difficult movie for me to view was that I did not feel like the storyline heaped unjust opprobrium on the Catholic Church.  I did not see anything on screen of which I was not already aware before watching it.  It struck me as a well-acted, directed and produced film.  In a word, the ordinariness of the film gave me pause.  It seemed to be saying, “we are telling the story of a colossal injustice about which everyone knows.”  I would have felt better had I been able to identify an agenda.  I could not.

After watching Spotlight last week, I was reminded of another element of what has been a constant struggle for me ever since the Herald broke the scandal just as my second semester of priestly formation began, which is a crisis of confidence.  Cardinal Law was just one of many bishops who shuffled criminals who used their collars as a means to abuse children sexually.  In my experience, many, many people believe that most Catholic priests are sexual perverts because of what they have seen in the media.  I can’t blame them.

After I returned from my second voluntary leave to parish ministry, I met my old supervisor from the job that I had when I was on leave for lunch wearing my roman collar.  During our lunch she informed me that she thought most Catholic priests were child molesters, but that she knew that I was one of the exceptions.  This statement came from a practicing Christian and a person who I believe to be of above average moral integrity.

It is easy for a busy priest to lose sight of just how much the clergy sex abuse crisis has discredited the Church in the eyes of most Americans.  I often ask myself why I see so few young people at Mass on Sundays or why parents who were born south of the border seem to be the only ones who want to have their children baptized in my parishes.  Spotlight reminded me that the dominant narrative in the ambient culture in the Western world is that the Catholic Church and the Catholic priesthood in particular is a symbol for hypocrisy and corruption.  It finally has begun to sink in for me that my old supervisor is the rule, not the exception.

By the late 1980s and 1990s Catholicism had become so unfashionable that Harvard refused to give an honorary doctorate to an alumnus who was a member of the College of Cardinals and it seemed unfair, but the Church as an institution still had enough plausibility to impress. Today, I would not dream of attending a class reunion because I would not want to have to face my classmates as a Catholic priest.

Perhaps, being a priest, I should have more faith and not be so skittish in the face of ridicule and shame.  I have little doubt that I should.  Walking down the street and being called a pedophile just because I wear a collar has certainly happened to me more than once.  I try not to wonder how often people think that without saying it when they see me.  I pray that with God’s help I will have a greater capacity to see these realities from a more supernatural point of view.

Watching Spotlight made me wonder if one of the reasons why I have not yet done so is that I would much rather pretend that the priest sex abuse crisis had never happened, which makes me think that I should face the music for being a priest at those class reunions in order to be reminded just how much damage has been done to the Church’s image and ability to proclaim the Gospel in the past decades.  And the sad thing it is not likely to get any better in the foreseeable future.

“[Jesus said], In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33


Responses

  1. I think you need to go to your class reunion. Even though it might be difficult for you, trust God to give you the grace to give witness to Him among your peers. Plus, I would hope that it would be fun for you to see your classmates. Go and enjoy your friends. Trust God to take care of the rest.

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  2. Father,
    The priests who were abusive were not true priests and certainly do not represent the Church, which is perfect. I am so grateful for you and all of the holy priests, which is the vast majority, that have sacrificed everything to shepherd God’s people. Jesus, the perfect priest, was persecuted, so of course you will be too. You are being persecuted for something you did not do, just as Jesus was. I think you should attend your reunion and be representative of the self-sacrificing face of a true priest. The more of the truth people see, the more likely they will be to reconsider their misguided views on the priesthood. There are bad people in every profession and every organization that ever existed. The priesthood certainly has the smallest percentage of bad people of any group. Thank you for your sacrifice and your example of holiness to all of us. We are so blessed to have you as a priest. Thank you for your sacrifice Father. May God continue to bless you.

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  3. Father………..good for you to be willing to state your feelings on the matter. One of my children was baptized by a priest that was later found out to be a molester. When I found out, my anger was not directed to the priest, but rather to the bishop that I believe had full knowledge of the situation and placed my family and the entire congregation in harms way. Sad to say that I still harbor that anger. But instead of blaming the Church and taking it out on her and her faithful servants like yourself, I know that the whole issue is/was one of immoral men, and not the true institution that Christ founded. I choose to put my Faith in God, and not men.

    Yes, I do wish the Holy Father had done a wholesale firing of the Bishops responsible for covering up and allowing the continued abuse, but he did not. That would have shown to the world the internal outrage over the issue, and gone a long way to heal the wound.

    I continue to admire priests like you who persevere and continue to do the work of the Lord. Please do not lose heart. There are many faithful Catholics that need your guidance and inspiration. May God continue to bless and guide you.

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  4. Father Roberts,
    As I have said to you in other times. You are one of the those priests that will go up and high. Do not limit yourself because what other have done. It is the way of the world and what has happened in the Church happens in every other area of our lives but it is not made public. This is not an excuse for the Church but it is a truth.
    I know that you are a good priest a priest that I feel honored to have met and to have had the fortune to receive Communion from your hands.
    May your faith grow and be strong. I am not forgetting about you in my daily prayers.
    Go to your class reunions if that is what you want to do. Believe me you are not going to be the only one that is wondering what will the others think of me? How will they see me?
    You are a strong priest Father Cristobal, you can stand straight and confident that God is with you. Remember “Si Dios esta conmigo, quien podra contra mi?”
    Saludo con afecto,
    Aida Uriarte

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