Lori Falce: Can I still trust a priest? And do I want to?
I have known a lot of priests in my life.
I went to Catholic school, where we were generally much more intimidated by the nuns. The priests were like visiting guest lecturers, celebrities who made appearances in the odd morning religion classes and were on hand for Friday Masses or stations of the cross.
I didn’t know until the release of Pennsylvania’s grand jury report that my favorite priest, Father Mike, was among the credibly accused.
Until I saw his name on that list, I felt lucky. I felt like I had gone through my life as a dedicated, not-quite-devout Catholic without being stained by the indelible blackness of my church’s greatest sins. I was wrong.
Father Mike baptized my brother. He gave me communion every Sunday. I always picked him for confession. He was fun and easy to talk to.
He was just the first name that I found.
The priest who baptized my youngest sister was wearing a Penguins jersey under his vestments because he forgot we were coming in for the ceremony. My family loved when he said noon Mass before the Steelers played at home because he always made sure no one missed kickoff.
He was on the list, too.
I was confirmed by the late Anthony Bevilacqua, who was bishop of Pittsburgh and later archbishop of Philadelphia. Allegations were raised in September that he groped a young girl behind a lunchroom partition in a Catholic school. I wondered if it was my school.
The monsignor who performed my marriage has been accused. So has the priest who taught the class I had to take before my son was baptized.
Each story and accusation about abuse of a child anywhere has caused spiderweb fractures in my heart, but they didn’t drive me away from my faith, something I held separate from the very mortal men who held the chalice and host.
But as more and more becomes known, and as the six degrees of separation has whittled down to just one degree in any direction, I would be lying if I didn’t say it has changed my personal feelings on my church.
I used to think that sexual abuse was something that happened in the church but just happened to other people. Peeling away the onion layers, however, has shown that even though I wasn’t a victim, every time I shared the sign of peace at Mass, I could have been shaking hands with one.
I have realized that I have never been a member of a congregation that did not have allegations. Only one priest who has given me a sacrament has not appeared in court documents amid allegations of some wrongdoing. I cling to the hope I never see his name on a list.
As the pope gathers bishops for a Vatican summit on sexual abuse this week, I want them to find a solution to a problem I have for too long had the luxury of ignoring.
None of us can ignore it anymore. Not the parishioners, not the parents, not the priests and not the pope.
I have known a lot of priests. I have trusted them and believed them and gone to them for help. But I fear doing that again.
Not because of what would happen to me, but because of what that trust could allow to happen to others.
Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at [email protected].