‘If ex-Catholic was a religion…’

Why independent Catholic churches are flourishing

by Jess Rohan

On Holy Thursday, a solemn day in the most sacred week in the Catholic calendar, St. Miriam’s felt like any other Catholic church: The altar featured a crucifix draped with white fabric and a tabernacle, and the Rev. James St. George, also known as Father Jim, was preparing the Flourtown church for a foot-washing ceremony, with towels and washbasins placed on the altar.

But St. Miriam’s is not Roman Catholic, nor affiliated with the Vatican: It’s catholic — with a lowercase c.

It’s one of at least four independent Catholic parishes that cropped up around Philadelphia between 2005 and 2010, nourished in part by the advantages of social media and email. Now with more than 600 parishioners, St. Miriam’s has become perhaps the largest such congregation; like the others, drawing Catholics eager for new ways to practice an old faith.

Its pastor last week noted the sad parallels between the worldwide Roman Catholic Church and the Paris blaze that seemed to rage untouched until it had already consumed part of its historic Notre Dame Cathedral.

“They don’t admit they’re on fire until it’s too late,” St. George said. “And now the whole church is burning.”

The Roman Catholic Church is still the biggest religious institution in the United States — and the world, with about 1.3 billion adherents, according to the Vatican. But fewer and fewer Americans are identifying as Catholic. The clergy sex-abuse scandals, conversion to other faiths, and declining religiosity in general all play a role, according to polls. A Pew study found that between 2007 and 2014, the Catholic Church lost more members than any other religious institution, by a wide margin.

“If ex-Catholic was a religion, it’d be the third-largest in the United States,” said Julie Byrne, a professor of religion at Hofstra University whose book, The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, explores independent catholicism.

Alternative Catholic churches have existed for centuries. The Orthodox Catholic Church, which split with the Roman Catholic Church in 1054 and today maintains its seat of power in Istanbul, has more than 100 million members.

And not all are alike. Some are conservative, offering Mass in Latin. Others are characterized by an openness to concepts and stances that the Roman Catholic Church eschews, including female priests and gay marriage — both of which a majority of U.S. Catholics support, according to the Pew poll.

But most independent Catholic churches are filled with congregants steeped in the traditions of the religion. Byrne said 60 percent to 70 percent of parishioners at the independent Catholic churches she studied had come from Roman Catholic churches.

She said such a conversion comes at a price: The Rome-led Catholic Church has made sure to convey that independent parishes aren’t “the real thing,” suggesting that joining one could jeopardize a Catholic’s salvation.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last week declined to wade into the debate, instead noting that though the church has been “uneven in fidelity to Christ and His word,” it is “the only place where Christ and His word continue to be passed on in all of its fullness and clarity.”

Monsignor James Michael St. George — “Father Jim” — the pastor at Saint Miriam Parish, and Sean Hall (left) greeting members of the congregation arriving for a traditional Holy Thursday service last week. St. Miriam’s is an independent (non-Vatican affiliated) Catholic church in Flourtown.

St. George said he encountered that sort of resistance in St. Miriam’s first year, when a listing for the church’s Catholic services in a local Roxborough paper triggered a letter from Roman Catholic clergy suggesting its use of the word Catholic might “mislead” people. Instead, attention from Roman Catholic churches only helped grow his congregation, he said.

Almost every year since, members of St. Miriam’s have worked to build its infrastructure — painting walls, restoring the stained glass windows, and maintaining the graves on the 12-acre campus along Bethlehem Pike that it inherited from a Lutheran church.

St. George began his path to priesthood at a Roman Catholic seminary, St. Mark’s in Erie, but said he had long felt unsettled by parts of church doctrine, including its positions on LGBT people and women. Such stances had even resonated inside his family’s Italian Catholic home in northwestern Pennsylvania.

“My sister couldn’t serve the altar or read at Mass,” St. George said, “and she would come home and cry.”

Now he’s a bishop in Old Catholic Churches International, part of an independent Catholic movement that split from Rome in 1870 and dates to an 18th-century Dutch separatist movement.

Mother JoEllen Werthman confronted the same kind of conflicts when she grew up Catholic on Long Island decades ago and then, in the 1980s, felt a religious calling.

“I couldn’t figure out how to have a boyfriend and be a nun,” said Werthman.

When it became clear the Roman Catholic Church would not accept women as clergy in her lifetime, Werthman began to look elsewhere, and found a seminary at the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch to ordain her.

“What will I say to God when I die?” she asked. “Did I follow the rules, or did I answer the call?”

These days, the 73-year-old cleric is married, and leads St. Mary Magdalen in Bensalem, a congregation of about two dozen people out of a building owned by an Episcopal church.

At Werthman’s church, her homily is followed by an open discussion with parishioners. The congregants appreciate being treated “like adults,” Werthman said.

“Most people have never been given the opportunity to explore their questions once they get past being a kid,” she said.

St. George said his church saw an increase in attendance after the wave of clergy sex-abuse scandals in the early 2000s. His parish, which also runs a preschool and kindergarten, has a program called KidSafe, a set of policies concerning child welfare.

Lorraine Cuffey joined the Flourtown church on Palm Sunday six years ago after learning that the church she had been attending failed to remove two priests accused of child abuse. Now, she’s the president of St. Miriam’s board of directors.

Her Episcopalian husband used to avoid Sunday Mass because he couldn’t receive communion with Cuffey. But now that they can receive communion together, “he comes every Sunday,” she said.

For Lewis Salotti and his wife, Ramona, who joined St. Miriam’s three years ago, the independent Catholic church is a perfect mix of tradition and flexibility.

“It was comforting to come here and see the same service and be familiar with it,” Salotti said. But with clergy who can marry and have families, he said, “they are living in the world just like us, and I think that really makes a difference.”

St. George says his church is about bringing everyone together under the “Catholic fold.”

“When the doctrine of the church harms people, you need to look at it again,” he said. “The church shouldn’t hurt people.”

Complete Article HERE!

How Catholic Church used treatment centers to protect priests accused of child abuse

Monsignor William Lynn was the first U.S. Catholic Church official to be convicted of covering up clergy sex abuse. After Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court vacated Lynn’s conviction, he faces another trial this year.

By Ian Nawalinski

In 1995, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned an internal church study on child abuse. The two-volume study surveyed bishops in more than 100 dioceses nationwide about their use of treatment centers to assess and care for priests believed to be sexually abusing children.

The result: 87% of bishops (127 out of 145 dioceses surveyed) reported using treatment centers for clergy accused of child abuse.

Two decades later, following the August release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church — one of three released by the state attorney general since early 2000  — dioceses in multiple states and at least one state attorney general have disclosed their own lists of credibly accused priests.

The Pennsylvania report focuses on many small towns throughout the state.  One of those towns — mentioned more than a dozen times — is an outlier. It’s a town you wouldn’t think to look for unless, like me, you were born and raised there.

In 2002, around the same time the Boston Globe published its bombshell report on sexual abuse of children in Archdiocese of Boston, I was a freshman at Bishop Shanahan, a Catholic high school in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

I don’t remember paying much attention to the Boston Globe report. Nor was I aware that, during this same time, multiple priests accused of child abuse were being sent to a clergy treatment center directly across the street from my high school.

Downingtown is home to the longest-running behavioral health facility in North America still in use by the Catholic Church. It’s a place where  —  according to the reports  —  at least 50 priests accused of molesting children in Pennsylvania were referred for evaluation and treatment.

That treatment time was often referred to in their employment history as “sick leave,” and many priests were inevitably discharged and permitted to return to active ministry. Others were transferred to church-run retirement homes where they received fully paid benefits. The church commonly called that retreat a “life of prayer and penance.”

St. John Vianney Center

Founded in 1946, the St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown is staffed by clergy, psychologists, and nurses. It offers inpatient and outpatient services for behavioral and emotional issues, addiction, compulsive behaviors, and weight management. It is fully funded and administered under the purview of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

In detail, the grand jury report  — much like the 1995 USCCB study  — offers rare insight into the church’s use of “treatment” centers, the psychiatric facilities for clergy with addiction, depression, and sexual disorders, among other conditions. According to the grand jury report, the Catholic Church used these treatment centers to “launder accused priests, provide plausible deniability, and permit hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry.”

The report goes on further to state that Catholic bishops relied on three treatment centers in particular: Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico; St. Luke’s in Suitland, Maryland; and St. John
Vianney Center. All three remain open.

Downingtown, less than an hour south of Philadelphia, is no stranger to scandal involving the church. Most recently, in 2017, a pastor at the nondenominational Calvary Fellowship Church, across the street from Downingtown East High School, pleaded guilty to institutional sex assault, corruption of minors, and child
endangerment after sexually assaulting and impregnating a teenage girl. He was sentenced to up to six years in prison.

Five years earlier,  Monsignor William Lynn  —  who was serving at St. Joseph’s parish across the street from Downingtown West High School  —  became the first high-ranking U.S. Catholic Church official to be convicted of covering up clergy sex abuse. In addition to three priests and a parochial school teacher, Lynn was
charged and convicted of one count of endangering the welfare of a child. He is now free after serving nearly three years of his three- to six-year sentence. He may face another trial on the charges this year.

St. Joseph’s Church in Downingtown remains the second largest parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The recently renovated facade, with its towering white steeple, sits just off Route 322. Every Sunday, parishioners fill the parking lot before Mass. Every summer, the same lot is transformed into the annual Community Festival: a five-day carnival that is a hallmark of the small suburb.

On the opposite side of town is St. John Vianney Center. Unlike St. Joseph’s parish, on display as a beacon to area Catholics, the treatment center is hidden from public view. It sits at the end of a long driveway at the top of a hill, surrounded by trees and nestled between a country club and Bishop Shanahan High School across the street.

The only clue toward its existence is a small sign outside the entrance. It’s a fitting appearance for a place shrouded in a culture of secrecy characteristic of the church itself.

 A look at two cases

One of the four men charged along with Lynn  in 2012 was the Rev. Edward Avery, who  received treatment at St. John Vianney over the course of four days from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 1992. Following his evaluation, the treatment center recommended further in-patient care. Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who had allowed Avery to remain in active ministry for nearly 11 months after his victim first reported the abuse to the archdiocese, approved the recommendation.

Avery was discharged from St. John Vianney on Oct. 22, 1993. In a memo to the church, Lynn shared the treatment center’s recommendations for Avery, which included a ministry excluding adolescents and with a population other than vulnerable minorities. The treatment center also advised that an aftercare team supervise Avery.

Yet Lynn recommended that Avery return to a parish with an elementary school, and Bevilacqua ultimately agreed. Avery would later testify before the grand jury that he continued to celebrate Mass, with altar servers, usually twice a weekend. He heard the confessions of children and was never told to restrict his activities with the youth of the parish.

The aftercare team that was supposed to be supervising Avery didn’t meet with him for more than a year after he ended treatment. Furthermore, the chaplain at St. John Vianney warned Lynn that Avery was “neglecting his duties” and instead “booking numerous disc jockey engagements” to gain access to children. Avery remained in active ministry until Dec. 5, 2003, a decade after first receiving treatment.

Avery’s case is one of many revealing exactly how the Catholic Church used St. John Vianney and other treatment centers to launder accused priests and, in some cases, return them to ministry in defiance of the treatment center’s own recommendations.

And while it’s worth noting that many of the allegations contained within the grand jury report are from decades ago, the case studies involving treatment centers cover allegations ranging from as early as the 1960s to as recent as 2004.

In a separate case, on April 22, 2004, diocesan documents show that Pennsylvania State Police searched the room of the Rev. Ronald Yarrosh  —  then assistant pastor at St. Ambrose in Schuylkill Haven  —  and found a “tremendous amount” of child pornography.

A week later, he was suspended from ministry and placed into treatment at St. John Vianney.

Across the street, I was just about to finish my sophomore year of high school.

On May 12, 2004, State Police filed charges: 110 counts of sexual abuse of children.  Yarrosh was sentenced pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement that included three to 23 months in prison. He was discharged from St. John Vianney on May 3, 2005, and was later incarcerated for nearly four months until his release on Dec. 6, 2005, as a convicted and registered sex offender.

According to the grand jury report, upon his release, Yarrosh remained a member of the priesthood and the diocese granted him residence at a retirement home for priests in Orwigsburg — only a few miles from St. Ambrose parish where he had been arrested two years earlier.

In 2006, according to the grand jury report, Yarrosh took trips to New York City with a 7-year-old. Yarrosh was also found to be in possession of pornography in violation of his court supervision. He was sentenced to
four to 10 years in state prison. In June 2007, the Yarrosh was finally dismissed from the priesthood.

The current president of St. John Vianney, David Shellenberger, did not return requests for an interview.

Time for a mea culpa

I’ve driven past St. John Vianney hundreds of times in my life. I spent four years, every day, directly across the street. And yet, I never knew what that place was until I discovered it on my own, by accident, reading the grand jury report.

Much like the abusive priests written about in the reports, the truth was always hiding in plain sight. If the Catholic Church is serious about reform within the priesthood, it will do more than simply condemn the accused.

The church must acknowledge and recognize that bishops across the country have, for decades, institutionalized a culture that not only fosters abusive priests but also aims to protect the accused and silence victims. Simply put, the only reason child abuse has become an epidemic is because the Catholic Church has allowed it to happen.

What the #MeToo era revealed, beyond a litany of heinous acts committed by sexual predators, is that the allegations themselves rarely tell the full story. Instead — whether it be the Catholic Church or Michael Jackson or Jeffrey Epstein — the full story often involves those in power exploiting their influence and privilege to circumvent the criminal justice system and maintain the appearance of infallibility.

Perhaps the first step toward reform in the Catholic Church is a collective confirmation that members of the clergy are no more pious than anyone else. They are, in fact, only human — some of them deeply flawed — and all of them in need of self-reflection.

Perhaps, a life of prayer and penance is in order.

Complete Article HERE!

Female journalists quit in protest at Vatican ‘climate of distrust’

Editorial board says Vatican tried to discredit them after they denounced abuse of nuns

The announcement was made in an editorial and in an open letter to Pope Francis.

By

The founder and all-female editorial team of the Vatican’s women’s magazine have resigned over what they say was a campaign to discredit them following the publication of an article that lifted the lid on the widespread abuse of nuns.

Lucetta Scaraffia, the founder of the monthly glossy Women Church World, said she had written a letter to Pope Francis in which she explained that the team was “throwing in the towel” because they felt “surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimisation”. The resignation letter will also be published in the April edition of the magazine.

The editorial team of 11 had worked together on the magazine, which has been published alongside the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, since its launch in 2012. “We are very sad,” Scaraffia said.

The decision to resign was taken after an announcement earlier this year that Andrea Monda, the male editor of L’Osservatore, would be taking over at the magazine too.

Scaraffia said Monda reconsidered after the editorial board threatened to resign and the Catholic weeklies that distribute translations of Women Church World in France, Spain and Latin America, told her they would stop distributing.

“After the attempts to put us under control, came the indirect attempts to delegitimise us,” Scaraffia told Associated Press, citing other women brought in to write for L’Osservatore “with an editorial line opposed to ours”. The effect, she said, was to “obscure our words, delegitimising us as a part of the Holy See’s communications”.

An article written by Scaraffia in February had highlighted cases of nuns being raped or abused by priests and bishops, or being forced to have an abortion or leave the church if they fell pregnant as a result.

Pope Francis acknowledged the issue for the first time a few days after the article was published.

He said more needed to be done to confront the issue, while pointing to the action taken by Pope Benedict XVI against a French order after nuns there had been reduced to “sexual slavery” by priests. The pontiff’s comments came two weeks before a landmark Vatican summit addressing paedophilia within the church.

In Women Church World’s final editorial, the editorial board said the “conditions no longer exist” to continue working with L’Osservatore, citing its initiatives with other female contributors.

“They are returning to the practice of selecting women who ensure obedience,” the editorial read. “They are returning to clerical self-reference and are giving up that ‘parresia’ [freedom to speak freely] that Pope Francis so often seeks.”

The abuse of nuns has been widely known for years, but much like clerical abuse against children, the Holy See – the Catholic Church’s governing body – has been silent and failed to take concrete action against accused priests.

Monda took note of the resignations on Tuesday, thanked the women for their work, and added: “In the few months since I was appointed director, I guaranteed to professor Scaraffia, and to the women’s editorial team, the same total autonomy and the same total freedom that have characterised the monthly supplement since the day it was born, refraining from interfering in any way other than to offer my dutiful contribution (regarding topic suggestions and people to be involved).”

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

Faced With an Ongoing Sexual-Abuse Crisis, What Are Catholic Parents to Do?

“I think it’s different for parents. We have to protect our children. That’s our No. 1 calling in life, and that comes before everything.”​

By Julie Beck and Ashley Fetters

As it has been for decades, the Catholic Church is in the midst of a crisis, one whose long reach has traumatized thousands and left one of the world’s oldest institutions struggling to find a way forward. In late February, the Vatican held a high-profile conference on the sexual-abuse crisis—the revelations of decades of abuse, by priests in different parts of the globe, of children, adult seminarians, and nuns. During the conference, Pope Francis called for “concrete change, though the Atlantic reporter Rachel Donadio wrote that, on the whole, the meeting seemed largely to be a “consciousness-raising exercise,” out of step with the “zero tolerance” that many victims’ advocates in the United States have been demanding for priests who use their power to abuse. It seems the crisis will likely drag on as the Church’s highest authorities continue their slow-moving reckoning.

What is an institutional crisis for the Church is a personal crisis for the faithful. Lay Catholics are left to grapple with what this crisis means for them, their families, and their faith. Parents in particular often feel acutely conflicted. How can they not worry about sending their children to be altar servers after reading about priests taking advantage of altar servers in the past? At the same time, devout parents who deeply love the Church naturally want their children to receive its spiritual benefits. What are they to do?

Some decide that they simply can’t reconcile their faith with decades of abuse and the subsequent cover-ups, or that the best way to protect their kids is to leave the Church. Laura Donovan, 30, says the child-sexual-abuse crisis is the reason she’s parted ways with the Catholic Church. Donovan, a social-media manager based in Los Angeles, had drifted away somewhat from her Catholic upbringing by the time The Boston Globe revealed the extent of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of Boston-area priests’ child abuse in 2002, but when she learned just how widespread the problem was, she says, “ultimately, that’s what made me think, I don’t want to go back to a Catholic church again, and I certainly don’t want to raise my own children in a religion like that.”

The Pennsylvania grand-jury report that revealed 70 years of abuse by more than 300 priests came out in August of last year, around the time Donovan’s first child, a son, was born. After becoming a parent, Donovan felt called back to Christianity and wanted to raise her family in a Church, but she and her husband “made the call not to raise him Catholic.”“

I don’t necessarily think anything would happen to him,” she says. “I mean, it could. But I’m just thinking, What would he think of us if we brought him to that church even after all of this had unfolded? … Let’s say he was raised Catholic, and then he learned about all of that—about the sex abuse worldwide that had been going on for decades and covered up—and then came to us and said, ‘How could you have raised me in that religion?’ I wouldn’t have an answer for him.”

Eventually, Donovan’s son was baptized in the Lutheran Church, and Donovan herself was confirmed as well. Her husband grew up attending a Lutheran church, and when Donovan first attended with him, “I felt really comfortable there,” she says. “It had a lot of elements of what I like about the Catholic Church—it’s old, it’s structured, but it doesn’t have that big scandal, obviously.” Still, she misses some of the Catholic traditions she grew up with: the songs, the rosary beads, the congregational sign of peace, “praying to saints and thinking about angels.” Today, when Donovan prays, she has a hard time not instinctively making the sign of the cross.

It’s difficult to know just how many people have left the Catholic Church as a direct result of the sexual-abuse crisis. But across the United States, the Catholic Church is losing members at a faster rate than any other religion, with more than six former Catholics for every recent convert as of 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. (The second-fastest-declining religion in the United States was mainline Protestantism, with 1.7 former congregants for every new member.) From 2010 to 2016, the percentage of American adults who describe themselves as Catholic dropped from 25.2 percent to 23.5 percent. While it’s unclear whether the abuse crisis is the main reason Catholics are leaving the Church, a 2016 Public Religion Research Institute report found that people who were raised Catholic were more likely than those raised in any other religious tradition to characterize their departure as a direct result of “negative religious treatment of gay and lesbian people” and/or “the clergy sexual-abuse scandal.”

Other Catholic parents, though distressed by the Pennsylvania revelations and earlier reports on the crisis, are committed to the Church.

“It’s not something that changed my day-to-day practice of the faith, and I couldn’t see how it possibly could,” says Kendra Tierney, a 42-year-old writer and stay-at-home mother of nine children, ages 1 to 16 years old. “If you believe that the Catholic Church is the one founded by Jesus Christ, there is nowhere else to go. Jesus asked Peter, ‘Are you going to leave me also?’ and Peter says, ‘To whom shall we go?’ This is how I feel.”

Tierney was raised Catholic and says her faith deepened after she became a mother, when she started to shape her family’s home life around the liturgical year. That was the inspiration for her blog Catholic All Year. She says she wasn’t paying much attention to the news when the 2002 Boston Globe investigation came out, “so for me, the first big punch in the gut was late last summer, when the [Pennsylvania] report came out.”

She sees cases of abuse as “failings of personal holiness,” and rather than “sitting back and saying, ‘This is a terrible thing; this is a threat to my children and my faith,’” she wanted to do something in response to the news. Along with some others in the Catholic community online, Tierney launched a campaign to promote a month-long period of prayer, fasting, and sacrifice, as an act of reparation to God for the sins of abusive priests and the bishops who covered up their actions.

“For the whole month of September, our family observed kind of a Lent,” she says. “We gave up all treats, desserts, and sodas, all TV and video games, and we added in a special prayer from a book called In Sinu Jesu, a prayer of reparation for priests. We are all sinners, and if we can each improve as a member of the body of Christ, if I can raise holy sons and daughters, that’s going to help the Church.”

One Catholic father, a 35-year-old in New York City, seems to be feeling torn between raising a holy daughter and protecting her. (This man asked to remain anonymous, because he works for a Catholic organization and worried there could be consequences at his job if he spoke freely about the Church.) He grew up in a Hispanic Catholic family and went to Catholic school for middle and high school, and though he didn’t go to church much in college, he says he grew closer to the Church after he met his wife. “She was much more devout than me,” he says.

The man says he and his wife have not yet discussed how they feel about raising their daughter, now 2, in the Church, in light of the sexual-abuse crisis. “We’ve just been numb,” he says. Plus, with the stresses of parenting a 2-year-old, the family hasn’t had a ton of time to go to church lately anyway. “But I’m not going to deny that part of it is a real distaste for all this news that keeps coming out,” he says.

A couple of days after the Pennsylvania report was released, he posted on a Catholicism subreddit, asking whether it was reasonable to be wary “of priests with very poor social skills or [who] appear awkward?” In the replies, some people chided him, saying that just because someone is awkward doesn’t mean he’s a predator, but the man still feels like he needs to trust his gut if someone seems off to him.“I think it’s different for parents,” he says. “We have to protect our children. That’s our No. 1 calling in life, and that comes before everything. You’re not worried about the Church or school—you’re allowed to judge and be cautious and not feel guilty about that, because you’re a protector.”

Nonetheless, he still hopes to send his daughter to Catholic school when she’s older, and for the Church to be part of her life in some way, even if he’s still thinking through how exactly to handle it. “[Catholicism] is wrapped up in identity for a lot of Hispanics,” he says. “I want my daughter to find her own way, but there is a place in my heart that still hopes she ends up being part of the faith. There’s a lot of beauty in the Church. Even if you just want to look at Christ as a historical figure, that’s a great model for how people should treat other people.”

Among families who are still part of a Catholic church, some parents have begun to rethink the level of their children’s involvement in the church community. The Catholic dad in New York City, for example, said, “I probably would never feel comfortable with my daughter being alone at a church by herself without parents around.”

In 2018, after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report, Chris Damian, an author and attorney based in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, co-founded YArespond, a group that hosts events for young Catholic adults to get together and discuss the crisis in the Church. At a meeting in August, more than 100 attendees gathered in the basement of a Minneapolis church to express sentiments including worry, disillusionment, anger, and grief. According to Damian’s blog, one attendee said, “There’s no way I would let my child be an altar server.”

It’s an understandable position to take, says Kirby Hoberg, 28, a blogger, actor, and mother of three who helps YArespond organize and host meetings—especially given that, historically, altar servers have spent more time alone with priests than have other children in a congregation. “I hear that a lot, and I see why people would do that,” Hoberg says.

A dose of caution is enough to make some Catholic parents comfortable with their kids being involved in church activities. Chris Mayerle’s 12-year-old son, for instance, not only is an altar server but knows how to serve Mass in Latin, which apparently makes him in quite high demand in their home state of Utah. The Mayerles—Chris, his wife, and their seven children (some of whom are adults)—have moved around a good amount, since Chris was in the Air Force for a time. In each place they’ve lived, they’ve vetted churches and priests—“parish shopping,” as he puts it—before settling down with a congregation.

“We became very, very selective about which priests we would be around, and which priests we would let our children be around,” Mayerle says. “Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve been close to our priests. We have them over for dinner. You can get a sense when things are not quite right with a priest. But we never put our kids in a situation where they’ve been alone with a priest or where they could be compromised.”

The way a priest says Mass, Mayerle believes, is one clue to his personality, and that plays a role in whether or not Mayerle will trust him. At the first church the family went to in Utah, “the priest just skipped over major parts of the Mass,” he says. “That was off-putting to us. One of the things we look for is when they do things the way they’re supposed to. In other words, they’re obedient—it means they’re probably obedient to their vows also. When they just start winging it, it means they view themselves as their own authority, which I don’t think is healthy.”

Of course, many Catholic parents, while dismayed by how the scandal reflects on the Church as an institution, still trust their own parishes and priests. They say their churches have routine audits, training for adult volunteers, and policies that prohibit priests from being alone with children. Some Catholic parents we spoke to mentioned that their priests openly discuss the issue and share in their grief, and that the leaders in their churches seem willing to engage with parishioners in discussions on how to make Catholic churches safer places. Others emphasize that they believe the vast majority of priests are morally sound leaders, and that only a small portion have been accused of inappropriate conduct.

But perhaps the biggest change from earlier eras, when some of the abuse described in the Boston and Pennsylvania reports occurred, is that for some of today’s Catholic families, priests are not put on a pedestal. Several parents we spoke to for this piece said there is less of a sense among Catholics today than in decades past that priests are infallible, or more incorruptible than the average person. And so they teach their kids to be wary of inappropriate behavior from all grown-ups—priests and other spiritual leaders included.

“You want your kids to have respect for people in positions of authority, but perhaps overemphasized respect for the clergy allowed this culture of abuse to last in the shadows as long as it did,” Tierney says. “They’re not superheroes; they are humans. We are all capable of sin, and that’s the conversation I’ve had with my kids. You trust your gut, and if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.”

“It’s not that I would treat my priest differently from the way I would another grown-up, but I am very, very cautious about leaving my children alone with anyone,” says Haley Stewart, the writer behind the Catholic blog Carrots for Michaelmas and a 33-year-old mother of four in Waco, Texas. Her children are seven months, 5, 7, and 10, and she says she has talked about bodily autonomy with them from a young age.

“We start really young by teaching our kids the anatomical names of their body parts, saying, ‘This part of your body is not for anyone else to touch,’” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a big scary conversation with a small child. Also impressing upon them that if someone ever does something to your body that you did not like, that is not your fault, and you need to tell Mom and Dad so we can make sure you are safe from that person.”

Kirby Hoberg has noticed that the younger Catholic parents she knows seem angrier about the recent wave of sexual-abuse revelations than do older parents she knows who were adults during the first phase of the crisis, in 2002. “I think I was turning 12 when the news started to break … We watched things like the Dallas Charter [come into effect] and really believed that things were being taken care of,” she says. “I’m noticing a lot of people older than me [seem to feel] very helpless. Like, ‘We tried once, and now it’s gone.’”

Hoberg expects that Catholic parents of her generation will be reckoning with the aftereffects of the sexual-abuse crisis for years to come. “It’s going to be a long road,” she says. “The kids aren’t going away, and these questions are only going to get harder [as they get older].”

She’s uncertain, she adds, about how she might handle a future in which her son decides he wants to go to seminary—a sentiment that Chris Mayerle, the Utah dad whose son is an altar server, echoes. His son has expressed interest in becoming a priest, and if he were to follow through, Mayerle says, “we’d be excited, in all honesty. The Church is in great need of renewal, and it’s gotta start somewhere. But whatever seminary he wanted to go to, we would vet very closely.”

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