It sometimes feels like being the bridge between two angry worlds. And it’s heartbreaking – not because people are angry, but because people have such good reason to be angry.
I’ve recently had opportunities to meet men and women who have been incredibly hurt by members of the Church. Priests, Christian family members, and spiritual mentors and guides have hurt them physically, sexually, and emotionally. I’ve heard stories of physical and emotional abuse, rejection, and hatred at the hands of Christian leaders. I’ve looked into the pained faces of beautiful men and women and received words of anger about the Church and Her members.
I used to think that when people leave the Church, it’s because of an abstract decision to rebel, a moment of weakness coming from a cold and mistaken rationalization. But now, perhaps more than ever, the world knows this is not always the case. As a Catholic, I’m especially aware of the ways in which Church leaders have very concretely hurt the most vulnerable members of the Church.
And as I’ve gotten to know some of these victims, I’ve realized that, even if those most directly responsible will not accept culpability, I must. At Spiritual Friendship, we tend to call upon our churches to make us more fully members of the Christian community. We long to more fully serve the Church and to love and be loved as fully integrated Christians.
But if we wish to more fully be a part of the Church, we must also accept the burdens, pains, and sins of Her other members. As a Catholic, I am culpable for the sins of my diocese. And when a victim of abuse or hatred has anger or resentment towards the Church because of these sins, my vocation calls me to be the recipient of this anger. If I am to be an advocate of justice, I must suffer for the sins of my Church – not because I am ashamed of Her or reject Her, but because I know that She is called to be purified through suffering. I am called to be a servant of my Church and my diocese, and part of my service must be a willingness to die for the sins of Her members, just as Christ has died for my own sins.
My vocation is to reject the legally protective and infuriatingly abstract sound byte of, “Mistakes have been made,” and to instead preach the words, “I am truly sorry.” We must have the humility of a priest I heard pray to God for forgiveness “for the sins of our diocese”. This calling is especially important for gay Christians, because our gay brothers and sisters have so often been the victims of the selfishness and pride of Christians. Many gay men and women are very hateful towards the Church, often because Her members have been hateful to them.
So our calling is to stand as a bridge between these two worlds, to take responsibility for the sins of our communities, and to be the loving and willing recipients of hatred. We are called to be a ministry to the hateful and the hated. We are called to humbly accept anger and to respond with the joy of the Gospel.
Chris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. He can be found on Twitter @UniversityIdeas.