Today’s post is part 3 of posts prompted after listening to televised reports about the recent death of Aretha Franklin, a remarkable talent known as “The Queen of Soul.” As I heard one of Ms. Franklin’s signature tunes, “Respect” played numerous times, my thoughts returned to other recent headlined news stories and the matter of respect.
In today’s post, I’d like to address the issue of religious abuse, which has screamed from recent headlines. Sexual abuse from trusted religious leaders, I believe, is some of the most traitorous. From stories I’ve been told over the years, I know it’s real and is not limited to only one denomination.
The recent revelation of abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania coincided with my husband’s 50th class reunion. The intersection of the two events created opportunities for significant conversations.
You see, for twelve years, Ron attended Catholic schools. His high school years were spent living at a preparatory seminary. Most of the 16 boys—now older, wiser and grayer—who graduated from the seminary, as well as several priests who taught the boys, attended the reunion.
Although Ron’s religious education was imperfect, he feels mostly grateful, particularly for his high school years. Ron told me that he was aware of sexual abuse, and in retrospect, believes one of his best childhood friends was probably a victim. Yet, he had only the best learning experiences and appropriate treatment by numerous priests who taught in his all-boy high school. One priest, especially, Ron credits as his most significant role model.
Certainly, sinful behavior—often with devastating consequences—exists. It always has, and always will. I will never minimize, nor excuse wounds inflicted on the innocent and feel glad when the light of truth exposes evil.
My purpose in writing this post is not to excuse devastating and inexcusable behavior. It is, however, intended to express thanks to most religious leaders and teachers who reverence God deeply, and despite their imperfect humanity, honor vows and fulfill commitments. These men—and women as well—deserve great respect.
Many with whom I’ve spoken blame God for abuse, especially when the abuse was from a spiritual leader. They remain angry and distance themselves from a Deity whom I’m convinced is all-loving and longs to heal hurts and recycle our deepest wounds for good purposes.
The local church has been an important part of my life since I was a little tyke. I’ve benefited in countless ways from my family of faith. Like most biological families, there are some obnoxious or odd characters within church communities. Some gossip. Others are hypocritical or sanctimonious. Some act as if they ‘know it all.’ A few are cruel or predatory.
Most, and I would include myself in the “most” category, realize we are fallible men and women. From time to time, we stumble, fumble, misstep, misspeak and miss the mark of perfection by a long shot. As we keep placing one foot of faith in front of the other, however, we visualize with increasing clarity what the psalmist David knew about The Good Shepherd:
If you were a victim of childhood abuse perpetrated by an adult you should have been able to trust—parent, neighbor, teacher, coach, priest or pastor—I’m brushing away tears as I type these words, realizing I can never relate to the depth of your suffering. I wish I possessed the ability to ease the pain and shame of the undeserved treatment you endured, but I cannot. I feel the only steps I can take are to encourage you to seek help and to consider the claim of Jesus that He was sent to heal the brokenhearted… (Luke 4:18)
If you did not suffer such abuse, thank God for protecting you. Show compassion to men and women who were victimized. Finally, extend much deserved r-e-s-p-e-c-t to those who attempt in the best ways they know how to show God’s love and who keep discovering ways to grow in goodness and grace.
Blessings to each reading words difficult for this ‘granny’ to craft…