A week or two before I moved to Indiana and started my job at Our Sunday Visitor, my dad and I were driving home from daily Mass when he asked me what my experience was with the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. At the time, I told him how, as a young adult who had then been too young in 2002 to know anything was out of the ordinary within the Church, the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse wasn’t something I really thought about. Yes, I knew the impact it had on the Church, leaving victims and the faithful in the pew wounded, and I knew reform had taken place and was still taking place, but the clergy abuse crisis had never personally shaped how I viewed the Church, or at least not in the way it had for others.
That reality changed less than a month later. Within a few weeks of moving to Indiana to begin my job with Our Sunday Visitor, the news dropped that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been removed from public ministry after a report was made public about his alleged abuse of a minor.
In a large way, my entire experience working in the Catholic press has been overshadowed by the scandal regarding this high-ranking prelate. But I know that for many of you and most of my colleagues, this was already the reality. I just happened to step into the boat as the second major wave hit.
In the weeks since the Vatican released the long-anticipated McCarrick report, I’ve been thinking about my dad’s question from over two years ago. As a young adult, how had the clergy abuse crisis affected my experience and understanding of the Church?
Well, in some ways, I always knew that precautions needed to be taken. I attended my parish’s youth group in an era when Virtus training for volunteers was mandatory. And while my teenage brain might have scoffed at the requirement that I, too, as an 18-year-old and recent high school graduate, had to complete the training to help with the same retreat I had attended and helped with multiple times before, I also understood why it existed.
At the same time, I was blessed with numerous holy priests at my parish and school who never made me feel unsafe. And summer after summer, I met new seminarians through our diocese’s Totus Tuus program, many of whom are now priests. They, too, always radiated the joy of the Gospel and never led me to fear or unease.
But there was a nagging understanding that people had left the Church because of clergy abuse. Even the faithful who stayed continued to struggle deeply with this reality — my dad included, who has been a high school theology teacher for most of my life and one of the most devout people I know.
And now I’m the adult. Now I’m the one reading the headlines and editing the articles and hearing the homilies. And I’ve realized that the biggest way that I personally, as a Catholic in my 20s, have been affected by the crisis is what it’s done to the Church as a whole.
How many of my peers were never brought up in the Faith because the news of clergy abuse led their parents to leave the Church? How many of my peers grew up seeing priests as abusers instead of ministers of God’s grace?
The sinfulness of the people in the Church has never made me doubt my faith. We have 2,000 years of history to remind us that this is nothing new. But I mourn for those who felt the need to step away from the Church Christ himself established and from his presence in the Eucharist because of the failings of its members.
At the time of writing this article, I have read much of the full report detailing how Theodore McCarrick rose in power despite rumors of his abuse of priests and seminarians. It is sickening. It is disheartening. But it also doesn’t change how I view the Church as a whole. Not really. But I know that is a blessed and privileged perspective.
So, while my part is small, I will do the work — both as an editor and as a person of prayer — to help renew the Church. Because in the end, it is all about bringing people to Christ — both clergy, religious and laypeople alike.
Ava Lalor is assistant editor for Our Sunday Visitor and editor for Radiant magazine.