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Why I am staying Catholic

In a way, it’s hard to blame people who pack up and quit. But quit the Church? No. Here are some reasons why not.

(Image: Xavier Coiffic | Unsplash.com)

This column is being written on the eve of a much-publicized summit meeting of bishops from around the world whom Pope Francis has summoned to Rome to discuss the sex abuse scandal but will appear after it. No matter how that gathering turns out or what the media make of it, the thoughts that follow will stay the same.

A couple of weeks ago my parish’s weekly bulletin plugged a session titled “Why Stay Catholic?” Very likely many parishes around the country are having similar sessions as reports of Catholics leaving the Church multiply.

In a way, it’s hard to blame people who pack up and quit. The media pummeling over sex abuse that the Church has received for months—years, in fact—has taken its toll on morale, and the widely held perception that the authorities are dragging their feet on reforms certainly doesn’t help.

But quit the Church? No. Here are some reasons why not.

First, the Church in the United States has made enormous strides in owning up to the existence of this problem and doing something about it.

Yes, bishops of an earlier generation were calamitously slow in responding to the evil as it spread in the 1960s and 1970s. And yes, it took devastating media coverage of abuse and coverup to galvanize the hierarchy into adopting mandatory reforms 17 years ago. And yes again, the bishops have yet to adopt a system for holding bishops accountable. (They tried last November, but the Vatican said not yet.)

But the fact is that the system put in place in 2002 has worked. The names of abusers currently being released by dioceses throughout the country are ancient history, not current offenders. The 12 months ending June 30, 2017 brought only six verified allegations of newly occurring sexual abuse of a minor by a Catholic priest in the United States. Since four of these situations concerned the same individual, that means only three priests overall were involved.

On another front, the Pope’s action in removing ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the priesthood in the face of his gross misdeeds was an obvious, necessary step. Still very much on the table, though, is who facilitated McCarrick’s rise to the heights of the hierarchy even though his perverse conduct was widely known, or at least rumored, in some clerical circles. Pope Francis has promised a scouring of the Vatican archives to find answers, which are likely to extend through the last three pontificates, including his own. The results of that investigation can hardly come too soon.

Meanwhile, the question of what role, if any, homosexuality in the clergy has played in the sex abuse scandal and other troubled areas of Church life cries out for examination. Publication of a book by a gay French journalist alleging a heavy homosexual presence within the Vatican itself underlines the need both here and in Rome for serious fact-finding, though certainly not a homophobic witch hunt.

In short, despite real progress in the United States in providing significant safeguards against future abuse of minors, the Church—in America, at the Vatican, and many other places—now faces an urgent challenge: to find fact-based answers to several pressing questions involving sex and the clergy and to adopt whatever new reforms the facts may dictate.

For some Catholics, this may be a reason to quit the Church. For others it is a reason to stay—and, in staying, to be part of the growing body of concerned, loyal Catholics lobbying for reform. My vote is with the latter group.


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About Russell Shaw 178 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide and the highly acclaimed American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America.

30 Comments

  1. 4 things:

    1. I remain a faithful Catholic, assenting to all of the Scripture, Tradition, Creed, and Catechism up through the 2013 Conclave for Homosexual Apostasy.

    2. I know that Pope Francis and “his teammates” do not share the Catholic faith, and they have said and done plenty in their long public lives to prove their infidelity, including harboring fiendish unrepentant abusers, and persecuting the innocent ofvThe Lord, as they did to the priests and sisters of the Franciscan Friars of The Immaculate (FFI), and now do to the Little Sisters of Mary Mother of the Redeemer.

    3. I recognize that the objective of Francis and his team is to destroy the Catholic faith, and as such they are the enemies of my wife and children and family and Catholic friends and faithful everywhere.

    4. I will fast and pray as commanded by Jesus, that the evil spirits oppressing The Church of The McCarrick Establishment will be driven out.

    • Last summer, Pope Francis asked that McCarrick live a life of prayer and penance until a thorough investigation of allegations against him took place. He took residence at St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria beginning on September 28, 2018. Mr. McCarrick will continue to reside at the St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria until a decision of permanent residence is finalized.

      My question, since the church says it isn’t supporting his living expenses, who is paying!? The Friary? If my husband was found quilts of fondling children he would be in prison! This is wrong, totally unacceptable.

    • I was part of Sisters Minor of mary immaculate and this order under patrizi was abuseive and neglectful of her sisters. I was refused medical attention forced by patrizi to leave the hospital. I was physically mentally spiritually abuse I witness abuse and neglect of other sisters in the order which gave me no choice but to leave. She even helped cover up priest abuse and tolerated and allowed sexual assault of her sisters by other sisters in the order by having a closed meeting with church official Alcoholism was tolerated and patrizi would put unfit superiors into authority torturing sisters and breaking thier spirits, souls, bodies and minds down, so as to make them submissive to do evil things. severe punishments were given, like beating, starving and imprisonment.

      Medical attention or going against doctor wishes was perpetrated by Patrizi Kovacs and other sisters were superiors. There was no charity and most of us sisters lived in fear not of God but of Patrizi and Kovacs. For some reason or other the church allowed this for years because of her family name Patrizi which is tied to the Vatican. I have reported the abuse I suffered at the hands of Patrizi and Kovacs to my diocese so they know. They knew since 2003 under administration of bishop Dupre There was racism in the order where an African American sister would be called a black dog frequently by her superior. She left. Other sisters were stuck in countries because thier visas ran out and one particular sister was stuck in Italy.

      There was a death of an Italian sister who was imprisoned and not allowed to see her family she did not get medical attention and she had lung cancer. Another sister who was Polish was put in an institution against her will she called me for help. Another sister nearly died because she was bleeding internally she is American and if it was not for her doctor she would not be here today. October 4 2014 a document from the Vatican was addressing patrizi that the order she founded and other orders she started were abusive and she no longer allowed to find another order. The Vatican disbanded the order as away to avoid accountability and responsibility of the abuse committed

  2. Excellent comments Chris. The day is coming soon when these abominations will all become manifest. Jesus will not be mocked.

    • Chris, we share your sentiments, Also, we will contribute only to lay groups active in this restoration.struggle. Church leadership will remain obedient to Francis.

  3. Mike Aquilina’s book Good Pope, Bad Pope is a good read in these difficult times, to remind us that the Catholic Church has had pretty horrific Popes in the past and still survived. While good Popes help strengthen the faith, ultimately what keeps the Church going is Jesus Christ.

    • Amen Johan, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body of Christ, the pope merely his steward. The faithful steward is a blessing to the Church; the unfaithful as like the one sitting now is a bitter curse.

    • This is not just another case of a bad man occupying the Chair. For all I know, Francis could be an Eagle Scout. The problem is that he uses his office to promote a false gospel. I don’t know what the solution is, but we must stop telling ourselves that this is the same old problem that we’ve had before. It isn’t.

    • I totally agree! We don’t go to Church because of the priests, we go there because that is God’s house and where we are fed by Christ. I am confident that Christ will once again clean out His house, remembering that not all priests are evil; the majority are good, holy men of God. Those Catholics who leave the Church are just using this as an excuse to abandon their faith. Such a pity.

    • They go only when they are resisted. Those now in the Vatican seeking the destruction of all that is holy and beautiful of the RCC will not retire quietly. But you know that, Cajetan. Francis plays for keeps. His successor is already in-processing. Bet on it.

  4. Chris in Maryland, I too agree with your comments. For me a sad day. But also a joyful day, knowing Jesus will never leave his Church, and knowing we in turn will cling to him.
    As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Josh 24:15

  5. “But the fact is that the system put in place in 2002 has worked. . . ”

    I’ve admired Mr. Shaw for years, but I must point out why the above statement is “true”:

    It’s true because now-Mr. McCarrick engineered that “system” to exclude himself and his fellow prelates from any accountability. Forever.

    And it’s not only “bishops of an earlier generation” who were, and are, the problem. Many bishops sitting today have been accused, as they were reminded last November in the USCCB meeting that Cardinal Cupich successfully shut down. Where’s the justice? Why are they exempt?

    Let’s “move on,” and avoid the “Rabbit Hole” (which is actually the Memory Hole)?

    We cannot successfully “move forward” without “looking backward” – with the cold eye of truth, transparency, accountability, and justice.

    Many Prelates are undoubtedly opposed to that necessity. They are in denial, but their number is apparently legion, both here and abroad, and concentrated in the Vatican.

    Because the USCCB wants to act “united,” this faction’s objection to transparency, accountability, and justice will prevail. They will never allow a full and honest investigation of anything.

    The rot will remain.

    I’ll tell you why I’m staying in the Church: because it’s the only Church founded by Christ to save sinners, and I’m one.

    As far as our sellout bishops? I am fond of the observation of Professor Peter Kreeft:

    “Judas was the first bishop to take a government grant.”

    Pray for Holy Mother Church and her wayward sons.

  6. This article is a complete fail.

    There is one and only one reason to be Catholic: The Catholic Faith is true.

    No where in this article does Shaw even mention truth. Attempting to justify staying based on the actions of men is absurd. Obviously, Shaw spent too many years as a spin doctor for the NCCB.

  7. I remain in the Church, just not in the Novus Ordo Liberal Modernist Church of Vatican 2 . In 1997 we left our local parish and went to Detroit to the nearest SSPX Chapel and have never looked back. 22 years and still there. Maybe Rome will return to the Church sometime soon. One can only hope.

  8. Russell, the archbishop of St. Louis is retiring soon, he who reportedly advised chancery officials in trials in abuse cases in St. Cloud diocese to just say “I don’t remember” regardless the question. He also used that response himself in depositions for cases in Minneapolis. Before the Vatican simply announces who our new one is to be, do Catholics in St. Louis have any channels to demand that the announcement of the new archbishop comes with a full report on any and all dealings with clergy abuse or sexual scandals, in fact any cases of criminal acts by anyone he had authority over, as well as sworn testimony from him about when he first heard anything about the notorious activities of exCardinal McCarrick. Do we have a right under canon law to demand a full account from the Vatican on what they know about the man who may head our archdiocese for years to come?

    • The short answer is no. The process is under Pontifical Secret within the control of the Church establishment which makes the inquiries, not the other way around. The laity–indeed anyone outside the candidate in question, including clergy or prelates who are not part of the vetting process–have no say in the matter. Now if there were an Episcopal or Lutheran setting, that might be a different story.

  9. I agree with much of what Mr. Shaw has written. There are problems in our Church which immediately and efficiently must be addressed. I will never leave my faith; there are too many reasons and people why I won’t. Unfortunately, many others can only look at the bad and rely on that for a reason to miss the beauty and strength of the Catholic church.

  10. No, the church in the west has not made enormous stride against clergy sex abuse sir and the summit by Pope Francis was evasive and finger-pointing, give me a break. Pope Francis put some of the blame on families. Church heirachy has a moral obligation to protect its children and the church heirachy are not taking very seriously the sex abuse of children. They must (seriously) cleanse the church of homosexuals and molesters now.

  11. We stay in the Church in order to have confident access to the sacraments. Providentially, we can draw from our history of a millennium and a half ago…
    Back then the Donatists heresy flourished in North Africa. The Donatists held that clerics who had caved to (torturous) persecution had lost their sacramental role, and that their celebration of the sacraments was not valid.

    The Donatists persisted from the middle of the 4th century in St. Augustine’s time, and then lingered until the 8th century when Islam swept across all of North Africa and all of the-some 250 bishoprics in North Africa disappeared altogether. (Sound modern?)

    The Donatist tactic was to establish parallel diocese within most of the Catholic dioceses. (Again, modern?) Of this general period one fairly recent Islamic apologist (Maulani Muhammed Ali, 1924) reported: “In short, Christianity—last of the revealed religions of the world—was practically defunct. It had lost all driving force towards moral reform.” (Again, modern?)
    Along the way Donatism was refuted, and mostly suppressed, largely with the help of the disintegrating Roman Empire. The upshot is that regardless of clerical apostasies, the ordinations remain intact and the sacraments received from even betraying hands remain valid. (The silver lining for today.)

    THIS is the reason for remaining in the Catholic Church. It’s about reliable access to the sacramental REAL PRESENCE (CCC 1374: “body and blood, [AND] soul and divinity”). We are free to indwell (always today) the divine interior life of the Trinity, just as that divine life comes to indwell each of us.

    So, the gates of hell—-moral gangrene, the smoke of Satan, clericalist evasion and double-speak-—will not prevail.

  12. In the meantime while we in the pews wait for a resolution to the Church’s homosexualist issues and for a time when we can face a confessor with a lot more confidence of his orthodoxy and being straight, we’re still left with what seems like a political civil war split with the hierarchy clearly on the extreme left of us, while at the same time burning more and more incense including talk of “unleashing the gospel” of course the NAB version

  13. The foundation of the church is still the same even if the current institution leadership (Pope, Cardinals, Bishops) looks corrupt and unable to examine its conscious in a full and meaningful way to get to the root of the problems. Ignoring an examination of homosexuality impact on the abuse crisis (both minors and seminarians). Ignoring accountability for past decisions of leadership that let the abuse fester and grow. Many in leadership do not want to hurt any feelings it appears.

  14. Thanks, Charles. But I recall being told by good source that so-called priests councils are sometimes extensively consulted but they also must pledge secrecy. Didn’t mean to imply I was asking from Lutheran or Anglican bias. Jim

  15. I’m wondering exactly what the author Russell Shaw means by a “homosexual witch-hunt”. Does he think unrepentant and practicing homosexuals should remain in the priesthood?

    • Fred, this is what is meant by “homosexual witch-hunt”. Assume by some miracle you were declared to be the Pope starting tomorrow. How exactly, Pope Fred, would you go about identifying and eliminating homosexuals from the clergy?

      • Neither identifying them nor eliminating them would be particularly difficult. The problem is a lack of will to do the right thing.

  16. Yes our very spiritual life depends on the sacraments. Keep your money and gripe all you want but if you stay away from the sacraments you are just killing yourself. Is your charity (love of God) that strong that you do not need this source of grace He gave us? This is a temptation of the devil to lead you away from the true Church. Stay with your parish and start a Eucharistic Adoration chapel and be the most fervent one to use it.
    M. Virginia

  17. Catholic means universal and in my personal view could be used to broaden the meaning of the word Church to include the Eastern Orthodox founded by t Apostles in Antioch AD 37 and have Apostolic succession while their Sacraments are recognized as valid and hold on to tradition for dear life with a recognition of the Pope as first in honor only and all bishops as equal, that is to say they recognize the Pope in all but the Juridical power he has claimed for himself and so in essence there is another valid and worthy path to follow Christ even more fully as the early Christians did where most Churches were independent relying solely on local bishops. They are of course not without their own problems which usually are matters of geographical differences, Patriarchal squabbles involving power but not so much juridical power as changes in the Eastern Churches can only be made by agreement of all the bishops and patriarchs accepting and ratifying same and with each country or group of countries being autonomous there are no where near the problems found in the West with modernity and radical trashing of traditions via Vat. II being the most obvious along with the sexual scandals that followed with the 60 s sexual revolutions. Bottom line is you can make a change and still be Catholic, traditional and with valid Sacraments without the corruption and scandals that come from abuse of power so dominating the Western Church.

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