Breaking Faith with Rome

By Denise Civiletti
Riverhead (NY) News Review Online
February 13, 2003

I am a wayward Catholic, and I freely admit it. I've bared my soul -- pardon the pun -- in this space before. I've left the church of my birth, returned, and left again. This time, I think it's for good.

And it's not just because I've found a new church home where my spirit is nourished and my faith has grown. Even without all the horrifying disclosures about the not-very-priestly behavior of the Roman Catholic clergy, I wouldn't have returned to the fold.

But I'm having a visceral reaction to the awful things that have surfaced about the Catholic Church. And in spite of my inner knowledge that "once Catholic, always Catholic," I can't imagine going back.

The behavior of predator priests leaves me almost speechless. I've tried several times to read the grand jury report I downloaded from the district attorney's website, but I can't. It makes me sick. Imagine your family priest taking your virgin 14-year-old son to a gay sex club in the West Village so the boy, whose confessed his fear to the priest that he might be gay, can experience anonymous gay sex with total strangers. That's one of the unspeakable crimes former Wading River pastor Father Joseph Mundy is said to have committed, according to the grand jury findings.

How about a priest demanding oral sex from the altar boys in the church sacristy?

Just writing these words activates that dull pain in my gut.

How could this be?

Just as awful, if not even worse, is the church hierarchy, right here in Rockville Centre, under the trusted leadership of former diocesan Bishop John McGann. The hierarchy denied the rampant abuses, shifted priests from parish to parish, even when they knew that more children would be hurt, and even established a multi-million dollar slush fund, out of our parish donations to pay off -- and silence -- victims. The diocese even apparently employed the services of a child-abuser priest who was also a civil attorney to "protect" not the children, but the brethren.

After reading the district attorney's statement this week, and as much of the grand jury report as I could stomach, I started to wonder whether the church knew just how bad the situation on Long Island was when it brought Bishop William Murphy here in 2001. It seems that one of his principal qualifications for taking the helm of the Long Island diocese might well have been his experience as the No. 2 man in the Boston diocese, the literal hotbed of scandal in the entire nation. His experience there would serve him well here, given all the similarities in sorry circumstances.

I don't understand how Catholics can hold out any realistic hope that things in the church will change significantly. Even the moderately progressive statement adopted by the American bishops last summer was shot down by Rome. I don't understand how you can keep going, and keep giving, to a church that has as an institution so wantonly disregarded its most basic mission.

Having grown up being told that even stepping into some other church was "a sin," I know what a big step it can be to seek a new spiritual home.

I'm glad I took that step before all this news hit the fan. It relieved me of a moral dilemma. But I'm also glad I know what it's like not to have all the trappings of a monolithic institution like the Roman Catholic Church standing between me and my God: the rituals, the litanies, the priests. Finally released from those trappings, I came to understand that my spiritual walk could be much more personal and intimate than I'd ever imagined, unlimited by the rules, regulations and definitions set forth in the traditions and dogma of the biggest good ol' boys club on the planet.

I'm grateful for being inspired to take that leap of faith, before being pushed over the edge by the horror stories in the news.


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