Rebuilding trust will take time

The Courier

August 21, 2020

By Lou Wilin

News that their pastor was charged with sex trafficking has devastated members of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in ways that could cause some to leave the church.

Scandals occur in other church denominations, to be sure, and they all are painful. But experts point out that for Catholics, a scandal involving a priest — in Catholic tradition the mediator between people and their God — is even more devastating.

“They feel betrayed. They feel embarrassed,” said William Payne, professor of evangelism and world missions and director of Chaplaincy Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary. “That embarrassment is going to go down to your soul. It’s also going to make you angry that this happened, because this shouldn’t happen.”

Church members will be dealing with the pain for a long time, said Marcos Ghali, assistant professor of counseling at Ashland Theological Seminary Counseling Program. Members are experiencing something like the stages of grief.

“When you hear this sort of news, you go in denial. You maybe go in, like, anger, resentment, and maybe you will distance yourself for a while from church, from even everything that is relating to God and faith, because now you’re not really standing on solid ground — especially when these cases of abuse have been persistent now for some time,” Ghali said. “When you hear one after the other, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy, like when you tell yourself, ‘See, I told you. It is all fake’ or ‘You can’t trust religion anymore.’”

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