John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


On the Troubles Facing the Church

Posted on August 20, 2018
My dad was abused when he attended Catholic school in the 1930’s and 1940’s.


It wasn’t sexual abuse.


It was good old fashioned get your butt-kicked abuse by the Irish Christian brothers.


Later in life, he would joke about it, but clearly it wasn’t very funny to him at the time.


The Irish Christian Brothers weren’t into sparing the rod or spoiling the children.


Of course, that was the fashion back then.


You didn’t tell your parents about getting beat up by a priest because if you did, your parents would most likely assume you deserved it and get in a few licks themselves.


I didn’t attend Catholic grade schools because both of my parents were ambivalent about their own experiences with Church.


That ambivalence had a profound impact on my own Catholic experience.  I didn’t get confirmed in the Church until I was an adult,


When I attended Marquette University, I was pretty skeptical of the Church and its teachings.  I was the kind of kid who questioned everything.  I even wrote a letter to the school newspaper in favor of the pro-choice position.


I have since changed my position on the abortion question, prodded quietly but persistently by my Dad, who remained a believer in the dogma despite his own troubles with the Church.


I once pointedly asked a priest at Marquette who taught history (for a School of Journalism project where I had to interview somebody) how he could defend the Church when it had so many terrible historic figures, like Pope Alexander who gave Henry II his blessing to annex Ireland (I was into my Irish Nationalist phase), and of course, all of the other corrupt Popes in history.


He told me simply that the Catholic religion is a Church of Men and men (and presumably women) are imperfect beings who sometimes do bad things.


The revelations from Pennsylvania and from the Washington Archdiocese are a confirmation of Father Donnelly’s prescient observation.


Is this the lowest point in the history of the Catholic Church?


I don’t know.  We have had a long history, with many ups and many, many downs.


The greatest thing about the Catholic Church is its members.


And while many Catholics will have their faith irrevocably destroyed by the ongoing revelations of sexual abuse, most will soldier on, knowing that the Church will soldier on, as it always does.


Does the Church need to change?


Of course it does.


Change is inevitable.  And necessary.


It needs to expand the role of the laity, because the laity is the Church’s greatest strength, most important asset and best hope for reform.


We live in a democratized and cynical era where the best leaders lead not by words but by example.  Lay leaders need to lead by example.


It needs to reform the clergy.  I don’t know if allowing married men to become priests is the best idea, nor do I necessarily believe that opening the priesthood to women is a good idea.


But clearly something has to be done.   Maybe giving priests a ten-year contract that must be renewed by a board of lay leaders.  Maybe recruiting widows who have life experiences.  Maybe allowing some priests to marry.


Being a priest is hard work and it can be a very isolating and lonely existence.


We don’t have enough priests to do an adequate job to minister to the big world out there, and the priests that we do have are not adequately trained or have the kind of personal experiences to lead by example.


The Church needs a more mature view of view of sex and sexual relationships.


It’s hard to square the Church’s public hostility to homosexuality with its private practice.  It looks all too hypocritical because it is hypocritical.


Catholics don’t believe that masturbation will lead to blindness.  They don’t believe that in vitro fertilization is a wrong.  They don’t believe that having sex before marriage is a sin.   They don’t believe that birth control is bad.


When priests, who are supposed to be celibate, lecture parishioners on such things, they immediately lose credibility.


The Catholic Church can’t afford to lose any more credibility, especially at this moment and time.


Talking about affording things, this is no time for the Church to ask parishioners to keep giving it more money.


More money for what?  To settle sexual abuse cases?


No thanks.


I will continue to give to my own parish so it can serve the local community.


I will give money to Catholic Charities, which continues to do extraordinary work to fill in the gaps in our national social safety net.


And I will continue to give money to support Catholic education.


My parents were ambivalent about sending my brothers and I to Catholic schools.


I have no such ambivalence.


Catholic schools are the most important way to keep the Catholic faith thriving.  They do an amazing job with relatively fewer resources educating children of all faiths in the basics or reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion.


I worry sometimes about the Bishops who seem to care more about their own personal problems than they care about the future of Catholic education in this country.


And this is where the lay leadership needs to step in.


Catholic education is too important to be left to the priests.


It something that deserves the support of all Catholics, especially in this time of great trouble for the Church.


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