I formally joined the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2014, but my belief had been Catholic for months before that. Since that time, I have remained certain that becoming Catholic was the single best decision I’ve ever made or will ever make. Closeness to Christ through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist (communion) is something I could never again live without. Unity of belief with the successor of St. Peter, the Pope and all the Saints and repentant sinners of the last 2,000 years is beautiful.
In the roughly four and half years since I joined the church, I never, not once, thought about leaving. I was baffled when former Catholics among my friends and family talked about their decisions to stop practicing, especially because many of their reasons were not doctrinal. I couldn’t understand how you could give it all up, especially if you still believed everything.
A few weeks ago, when the news of the abuses committed by then-Cardinal McCarrick came out, I thought about leaving the Catholic Church for the first time. I thought about leaving again when the grand jury report came out of Pennsylvania. I thought about leaving a third time recently when Archbishop Vigano, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States (essentially the Vatican’s U.S. Ambassador) wrote a letter alleging that not only did Pope Francis know about McCarrick’s abuses, but actually withdrew ecclesial sanctions against him.
I don’t know if Pope Francis is guilty of what Archbishop Vigano is saying, and I’m grateful that I’m not the one tasked with making that determination. I pray for wisdom for whomever has that monumental task.
In the Nicene Creed, the summary of our Catholic faith that we pray at every Mass, we profess belief in a church which is “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.” McCarrick, hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania and around the country over the years and maybe even my pope are not holy. So what am I professing belief in?
I’ve thought about leaving the Catholic Church three times in the last weeks when it never crossed my mind before. But despite the frequency with which I’ve entertained the thought and the wickedness of the actions around me that prompted those thoughts, leaving the Catholic Church was never really an option.
The Gospel reading at Mass on Aug. 26 was from John chapter 6. Jesus had just told the crowds that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” The people listening were understandably shocked and protested, saying,“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”, but Jesus didn’t change what he was saying, and as a result, a lot of those who had followed him left.
But Peter, the leader of the Apostles, when asked by Jesus if he would also leave, had a profound response: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
These words have been on my tongue for the last several weeks. As ugly, sinful, dirty and evil as members and leaders of the church can be, there’s nowhere else for me to call home.
As much pain as it has caused me — which pales in comparison to the pain felt by those who were victimized by those who should be beyond reproach (cf. Titus 1:7) or even the mere appearance of evil (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:22) — I could never give up the sacraments or communion with the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, Prince of the Apostles and Bishop of Rome: the pope.
I will pray for a church that is holier than ever, and I’ll do what I can to contribute to that holiness. The church is my home, and I can’t give up on her.