Is the Catholic Church Beyond Redemption?

A few weekends ago, Naka Nathaniel stood up during a Mass in Atlanta and confronted his priest about the Roman Catholic Church’s response to the Pennsylvania sexual abuse cover-up. In an Op-Ed essay last week, Mr. Nathaniel wrote about balancing his already complex relationship with Catholicism with his role as a father raising a 9-year-old son in the Catholic faith. He concluded that the church can no longer be reformed from within. “I’m mad at the church administration,” he wrote. But, he added, “I’m also angry at the congregation. I’m upset with the people who aren’t demanding that every member of the clergy resign.”

We published more than 900 responses to the essay, many raising the same issues as Mr. Nathaniel. A selection of comments, edited for length and clarity, is below.

Abusing the trust of the faithful

I long ago left the Catholic Church and I never felt the same level of comfort and pride that the author described in his relationship with Catholicism. Yet I was very moved by his obvious love for his church and all that it meant to him growing up. So I find myself even more angry and disgusted with the church, not only for the horrendous abuse of children with all the attendant psychological damage but also the significant trauma to believers who were not physically abused. A source of comfort to many has been forever sullied and it is hard to believe that the Catholic Church can be redeemed. Shame on the church for abusing children and shame on the church for abusing the trust of the faithful and destroying all that they held dear in their faith. — Judith C. McGovern, West Haven

Not all priests should be tarred by the same brush

“I’m upset with the people who aren’t demanding that every member of the clergy resign.” Really? And should they all resign, en masse, who will raise their hand to minister to the poor, the suffering? Who will devote their whole lives to this cause, as Catholic priests (and nuns) have done? Because there are more than 35,000 priests in this country alone, and the overwhelming majority are not criminals. I, too, am angry and disgusted by this horrific behavior, including the abhorrent moral transgression of the cover-up by officials. But I am asking that not all priests be tarred by the same brush. — Ed, Charlottesville, Va.

Reform must happen from within

You can’t possibly ask that every ordained member of the church resign. Catholicism is as much a culture as it is a religion. As hard and as terrible as it is, the only thing we can do is try to make it better and make sure it never happens again. When I say “we” I mean me, and you, and your priest, and the pope and everyone in between. Whether you’re going to be there to see it happen or not, it’s your choice. But this easy (and impossible) way out you’re asking for is unreasonable. — Ana Carolina, Brazil

Not the appropriate place

Wanting every priest to step down is absurd. And standing up in the middle of Mass is wrong. Catholics have every right to be outraged. Don’t contribute. Walk out. Stop going to church. Write letters. Change your religion. Have laws changed. Whatever. But there were other people at Mass because they draw — or on that day needed — comfort in attending Mass. No one person had the right to deprive them of whatever they derive from Mass. — Richard, Louisiana

We should all stand up in the pews and speak

We should all stand up in the pews and speak. Letters to the nuncio are wasted paper. Prayers are misplaced energy as well. I sincerely hope there is a national commission, as there has been in Australia. If the civil authorities leave lay people to change this themselves, nothing will happen. We already know nothing will happen if we leave the church to reform itself. — Jennifer, Bronxville, N.Y.

As a no-longer-practicing Catholic, I am glad to finally hear someone say this. With a child in the second grade who would be making her first communion next year, there is absolutely no way I could look her in the eye 20 years from now and tell her that we had been willing to bring her up in an institution that for so many decades has facilitated the abuse and rape of children and has done so little to correct the problem. There is no justification. — Julie, Kansas

Proud of my work with the Catholic Church

I was brought up Catholic, and I am not a Catholic now, yet I work for the Catholics teaching English at a tiny Catholic college in Indiana. We work to bring a college education to woefully underprepared and often terribly poor students. The recent revelations from Pennsylvania detailing the decades of child rape make me sick, and I am glad that I have not given my allegiance to the church hierarchy, its dogmas and its sexual politics. Nevertheless, I am proud of the work I do with the Catholic Church. My point is simply that the church is big, and there are good things it is doing, despite the ugly criminals hiding behind the collar and their enablers in the hierarchy. — Chris Buczinsky, Arlington Heights

The church won’t change until donations dry up

Sadly, the church is just a big business. I left the church after the birth of my first grandson. I was raised in the faith and raised my son and daughter the same. They both attended parochial schools. My son served on the altar at the request of a local priest who was later identified as a predator. Thankfully, my boy was not a victim. The church will not change until the donations dry up. Frankly, I no longer need an intermediary. — Fran, Massachusetts

Protest by withholding your money from financially supporting the church. It’s that simple. Give instead to a local charity helping the poor. — Marshal Phillips, Wichita, Kan.

Hiding in the bureaucracy

As long there are human clergy, there will be human problems. Every denomination has problems like this, whether Christians or Jews or Muslims. The difference is that the Catholic Church is a large organization, unlike any other, with a centralized bureaucratic structure that has either been myopic or has just swept this under the rug for self-preservation. — Mike, Wilmington, Del.

Attitude toward women must change

Mr. Nathaniel, you are courageous and sincere. So please address the central dilemma of the (wealthy, established, hierarchical) Catholic Church. It is a muscular, strictly patriarchal, worldwide religious institution. It requires male priests to be celibate, or at least pretend to be celibate. You and your church need married priests, female priests. Why is this so hard to see? — Deborah, Ithaca, N.Y.

@Deborah, I, too, would love to see married and female priests. However, the crime of pedophilia will not go away with these actions. The problem lies with the hierarchy of the church which allows for men in charge to take action with no one to answer to. This led to individual priests continuing to commit crimes after being shielded by their supervisors. Predators choose to be teachers and coaches, too, but supervisors who don’t stop them have others to answer to, unlike the bishops who allowed crimes to go on unchecked. — MBM, Wakefield, Mass.

Are there other options for your faith?

If Mr. Nathaniel is convinced that the church is unreformable, the obvious solution is for him to look for a better church. I know a number of people who left the Catholic Church because of the scandals and found Protestant churches that satisfied their religious needs. I know three female ministers, one of whom just got married — so much for a celibate male clergy out of touch with normal life. — Charlesbalpha, Atlanta

Stay and be a saint

Naka, I share your outrage at what has happened. I share your desire to see real change and an end to the clericalism that fueled this crisis. So does our Lord Jesus. Don’t forget our Lord. In your Op-Ed you never mentioned Jesus. The church is not like the Boy Scouts or the Lions Club or the Red Cross. As you know, over the centuries there have been times of church corruption, some far worse that the present sad time. Into those times Christ calls and equips saints — men and women like Athanasius, Francis and Teresa of Avila — to reform and renew the church. Leaving the church does nothing but cut you off from Jesus. Stay and be a saint. — John, Charlton, Mass.

@john Leaving the church sometimes brings one closer to Jesus. — siobhan, Boston

The church will find a way

I am saddened about the abuse but I trust that the church that has been around for 2,000 years will find a way. The Catholic Church educates, cures, and supports millions of people today around the globe. I attended Catholic school and am grateful for it, and the church is now educating my children. The church is made of humans, good and bad; those guilty of abuse should be punished but not all are guilty, and I think most are extraordinary people with a calling to make the world better. Reform, yes, but I pray the church will always be around as a source of good that brings comfort and helps billions of people. — Diana, New York, N.Y.

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