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Struggling To Keep Faith

March 11, 2019
Struggling To Keep Faith

I am still a practicing Catholic. How can I continue to profess the faith within the bounds of an institution so thoroughly corrupted by the gravest of sins? I owe my faith to my grandmother and the Virgen de Guadalupe. In her American life, my Mexican grandmother hung a huge, sepia-toned print of the virgin in her living room, a votive always aflame before it. It was the heart of the house, the image of a mother who would never waver in protecting her child. I am struggling to hold on to that image amid the nightmare of predator priests. I don’t know what my faith would be without my church. I don’t know what my life would be like without my faith. And despite scandal after scandal, I’ve held on to the hope that the crisis would open a profound conversation about the church’s identity — including priestly celibacy, gender and sexual orientation. There were hints at the beginning of Pope Francis’ papacy that such a dialogue could take place. But the conversation never seems to gain momentum before another scandal hits. Then came the child sex abuse crisis. A decade ago, as hundreds of lawsuits were settled, it seemed possible that the church had at least begun to recognize its responsibility to survivors, that healing could come. But new scandals kept erupting and last month Francis fell disappointingly short of full transparency when he addressed the Vatican Summit on Child Protection. Last Sunday I visited my parish in Oakland, California, for the first time since the arrival of a new pastor. I was keen on hearing what he might say about the summit. Our new pastor hails from Mexico, as do most of the parishioners. In a generic homily, he invoked the Virgen de Guadalupe and invited the flock to double down on its faith. He made no mention of the meeting in Rome, or of survivors, or of how many of us are struggling with the ceaseless revelations of corruption. His silence felt like the silence of complicity. When my daughters and I approached the altar to take Holy Communion, I was relieved that he wasn’t at the head of our line. At my girls’ parochial school, the principal welcomes us daily with this year’s affirmation. “Rejoice and be glad,” she says, to which the children respond, “Yours is the kingdom of God.” On the cusp of their teenage years, they are more and more aware of the crisis. And now they hear their father expressing ambivalence. I am aware that I’m leading them toward what may amount to one of the greatest disillusionments of their formative years. I know they will have to do some uncomfortable reckoning with the church. Last week, I witnessed my students at Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit institution, doing their own reckoning. The class I teach is rhetorical arts, a new addition to the core curriculum. In my section I emphasize the idea of speaking on social issues, which brought us to a discussion about the church. I had no idea how difficult it would be. The conversation turned chaotic. One student insisted the church would never change. Others responded, vociferously, that the survivors must speak, that there could be no healing without the rest of us hearing their stories. A few wondered if they’d have to leave their spiritual home. In my three decades of teachin, it was the most difficult conversation I’d ever moderated. I’m still not exactly sure what I’m going to say the next time we meet. When the pope and cardinals speak, they never seem to address the laity’s confusion and deep spiritual turbulence. They do not seem to understand that it feels to us like the church is disintegrating — and our faith with it. Every night I lead my daughters in the prayers that my grandmother taught me, ending with my making the sign of the cross over their heads. Last night, I hesitated as I did so, the cross hovering in the dark between us.