Kathleen Jacobs: Treading water on church accusations (Opinion)

Charleston Gazette-Mail [Charleston WV]

May 12, 2021

By Kathleen Jacobs

It’s been nearly four years since the Gazette-Mail published an op-ed I had penned, titled “Accused priests’ silence elicits doubt of innocence.” As a cradle Catholic, it was a difficult piece to write.

I read it again a few days ago, because I had read a report of yet another accusation of inappropriate behavior by a Catholic priest. I recognize that my word choice is intentional and more than a bit unclear. I am not a reporter. I am (or hope to be one day) an essayist. There’s a vast difference between the two.

An equal number of years ago, a priest commented that, at my core, I am Catholic. I can’t imagine any words (and I love the mix of those 26 letters of the alphabet with a deep passion) ever having the impact that those words had, nor can I imagine any words delivered in the future that would have such a lasting effect on me. And for that, I am grateful.

And perhaps this most recent discovery of yet another accusation in the Church where my heart and soul reside, led me to consider the damage inflicted on members of the clergy when accusations are false. And yet, for anyone to come forth with such damaging information (whether true or not) must take either an incredible amount of courage or a disturbing desire to, in essence, ruin someone’s reputation and the life of goodness and service that they had gifted throughout their time on earth.

As I read again the piece that I had written in 2017, I was saddened that not much has changed in the process of uncovering the truth, in most of these cases. My fear is that, once again, a settlement will be reached out of court, leaving the truth to gather another rich layer of moss. And, it will happen again and again. That much is certain. And each time it happens, we will all be leveled. We will all yearn to uncover the truth. And we will all wonder why the outcome is seldom different.

Is turning a blind eye our only recourse? Are we really going to leave it there? If so, we will continue to discover more and more cases that will not only trouble us as to their truths, but will perhaps trouble us more as to the root of the problem that, as of yet, has not been uprooted. Instead, it grows and grows, until one weed scatters like a seed in a dandelion clock.

Kathleen Jacobs, the 2020 runner-up best author of West Virginia, writes stories for young readers and lives in Charleston.