Students Question the Catholic Church in Light of Sexual Abuse

By Anna-Louise Cobau

For as long as I can remember, the Catholic Church has been an integral part of my life. My family attends Mass every Sunday, and I attended Sunday school for nine years. When I was in eighth grade, I was confirmed and became an official member of the church. As a part of the Catholic community, I was shaken to my core when news of sexual abuse within the church took the national media by storm.

A recent report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice quantified that 4,329 priests and deacons were accused of sexual abuse. Catholics everywhere responded in outrage and confusion at the incomprehensibly high number of victims and perpetrators. The church has attempted various reforms to combat this new information, the most recent of which was on June 13 when the United States Roman Catholic bishops voted to install a new oversight system to prevent future abuse.

These reforms were too little too late for many parishioners. Many felt deeply betrayed by an institution they looked to for moral guidance and chose to leave the church altogether. The effects of these wide-scale crimes also had a grievous impact on the teenagers within the church, including me; we are at an age when we must start taking our faith into our own hands, choosing what, if anything, we will follow and believe. The immeasurable pain that this scandal has caused our community is forcing us -- many for the first time -- to question who exactly we are listening to every Sunday.

When Juliana Capizzi, a teenager in the Catholic Church, was asked if the scandals affected her comfort in attending confession and listening to the priest’s sermons, she replied, “Oh, of course!” She went on to describe how close the scandals were to her parish and her concern for those near to the convicted abusers, noting that “[she] was a little shaken up.”

Personally, I believe that the teachings of the Catholic church and the abuses that took place within it should be thought of separately: there is an important distinction between the institution and the criminal actions of the individual.

Other young churchgoers seem to agree. A former B-CC student said that the scandals “add hypocrisy to some of the teachings,” but that the core morals remain the same. So while the effects of the abuse is certainly felt among young people, we appear to still value the church’s teachings as separate from the abuse that took place.

As I continue to explore my faith, these abuses will have a significant impact on my choice of whether to stay a member of the church. However, to me, the church's fundamental teachings in no way excuse the horrifying acts committed, and the crimes should not be the only reflection on an institution whose main tenant is love.

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