It is that rarest of summer weather combinations: a full breeze, clear skies and low-to-no humidity. But it is also one of those rare spaces in life where new realizations crack open. On Thursday night, I sat in a parish hall meeting room for Virtus Training, the program required to volunteer or work in organizatons or facilities in the Diocese of Bridgeport. Over 20 people had signed up, and chairs for the walk-ins were added. As a veteran of many public education safe school trainings, I had a cynical skepticism about what this program could offer.
What I experienced was unique: there was an initial focus on victims and survivors, and a tender compassion for the suffering the abuse of children creates. There, too, was a reality check: images and voices of perpetrators. And there was the broader context of what abuse does to a family and a parish. The films were powerful, spoke for themselves; the discussion afterwards was brief, clearly focused, and there was a profound understanding of the responsibility each person possesses in choosing to believe and to participate in a Catholic community.
It was matter-of-fact, not sanctimonious or righteous. The facilitator gave clear examples of how the program and its policies are being practiced and pursued with an emphasis on the idea that we are all individuals. Ordination is no longer protection, and the church exists in the broader context of secular law. To protect the vulnerable, legal means are utilized. Most importantly, the presenters displayed confidence in these efforts to protect others and housed that in the sense that we are all part of a community that merits meaningful communication among adults regarding all forms of interaction and behaviors.
The element of faith was not wanting: survivors clearly addressed the complexity of that issue. I juxtaposed that with the frustrated anger of a Washington Post writer who had contacted me in regard to the sexual abuse issue within the church. Several dioceses had released lists of abusers with dates and data; his persepctive was about the hypocrisy and failure of the Catholic Church, his own alienation, and his view that faith is literally incomprehensible. My perspective was different, inconsistent with the information he gathered. While he courteously acknowledged it, he did not include it or go further with suggestions I made. I honestly wished he could have seen and heard what happened that night.
Like the harvesting of wheat, the life of the Church expands and contracts over time. What endures through the trials is the reality of faith. I learned that the Catholic Church is actively dealing with the horrors and tragedies exposed over the last decades. Reform is beginning, as it always has in the times of crisis. Reform brings further change, and there will undoubtedly be pitfalls and waverings, problems and new attempts at solutions. The reality is that there are people, young and old, actively willing to take that journey and become part of the solution. Not everyone is walking away.