by: Claire Swinarski
The sexual abuse crisis. The celebrity speakers who turn out to have more than a handful of skeletons in their closets. Popes who make serious errors, priests who give me spiritually manipulative advice in confessionals, Bible study leaders who leave the faith altogether.
Too often, I open up my social media feeds to see more news about a Bishop who covered up sexual abuse, a priest who was abusing his flock, or a Catholic speaker whose behind-the-scenes behavior makes the devil stand up and applaud. It’s incredibly disheartening.
If you look around, you see how our greater culture responds to any kind of failure, real or alleged. Cast the person out. Make seven-tweet-long-threads about the damage they’ve done to the world. Cut them out of your life; even better, consider cutting yourself out of the church they claim to belong to. After all, why stick around a church with so many broken, imperfect people? Surely, there’s a better solution somewhere.
But when I open up my bible, I’m reminded again and again that these actions simply aren’t aligned with the gospel message. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, offer the stranger our cloak, and above all else, remain faithful.
I understand, all too well, the feeling of being let down by a spiritual leader. But as Father Mike Schmitz has said time and time again, when we feel angry with Mother Church and her broken leaders, don’t leave the church. Lead it.
If nobody in your area seems to care about people experiencing homelessness? Start a food drive. If you recently attended an event where the speaker made racist or sexist comments? Write a thoughtful pushback you can publish on Medium. If the priest at your parish is exposed as an abuser, be the kind of Catholic that creates space to sit with survivors.
You may not be in the place to take concrete steps to try and change your church community, local pro-life movement, or spiritual circle. You may need to take a few months to simply pray, receive the sacraments, and work on healing. That’s 100% fine—if you feel like God wants you to simply pause from engaging with church leaders outside of regular sacraments, that’s an acceptable response.
But maybe this experience is actually an invitation to be part of making earth look as it is in Heaven. If you’re feeling like God has put a rush of energy on your heart, channel that energy towards being an effective leader in the church, not just complaining and shaming. You don’t need to be ordained to be a leader. The very purpose of the second Vatican council was to encourage laypeople to be leaders in the church and dismantle toxic clericalism. Waiting for a priest to come along and change the culture of your parish, or for your college chaplain to put a stop to unholy activities at your Catholic center, simply isn’t a viable solution.
Lastly, cling to your faith. Use this painful experience as a reminder that every single human being is walking around with brokenness and wounds. Even the Catholic social media influencers who seem to have everything together, just dancing along a path of sourdough bread and speaking gigs to Heaven, have walked through difficult seasons, and done things they likely regret.
Whenever people let us down, we can remember that we have a Lord who will never do the same. Our God is unfailing, unwavering, unchanging—and in that, we can always take peace.