Despite Abuse, They Stayed in the Church

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Elena received her fair share of faulty Catholic teaching as a child, never believing she was good enough … “so any imperfection must be willful on my part and therefore a sin …”

“I learned not to trust my judgment on anything but to allow the priests and others in authority to usurp the role of my conscience and the role of God in my life.”

Then, Elena was molested by a priest when she was 12.

“I felt like Jesus must be on his side.”

Remarkably, both Elena and her faith survived.

“I realized, believing that Jesus was on the priest’s side was part of the lie,” she wrote. “I imagined how angry I would be if someone hurt one of my children.

“Somehow knowing God was on my side, that he was just as angry as I was, helped me to find forgiveness alongside the anger.”

That is part of one story, in a collection of essays in the recently released Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds: Staying Catholic When You’ve Been Hurt in the Church” (Cascade Books), edited by Eve Tushnet.

The 12 essays detail a variety of experiences, including abuse, manipulation, rejection, theft, personal judgmentalism, and racism.

It is not a feel-good read – though inspiring – but it is an important read. It is an important listen.

Not every story may resonate, but the purpose is to listen to those telling the stories. Put a hold on the judgment – a practice rarely used, especially in our social media world of Twitter attacks and online comment sections. And if the subject is religion, watch the opinions flood in.

But Tushnet pleads for a spirit of listening.

“This anthology is not intended as an argument,” she writes.

“These are stories of resilience. They depict honestly a Church beset by all the evils of the outside world:  racism, gossip, violence, lies, and more. But these stories also explore the resonant truths of the gospel.”

That is the source of this book’s inspiration:  resilient faith. The Church is built on the blood of the martyrs – those whose faith remained in the face of oppression, to the point of death. But what happens when hurt comes from within the walls of the Church?

“I have been asked many times why I remain a faithful Catholic,” wrote one contributor. “She is my family, and just like in any family, there are bad people and good people. I tend to celebrate the good people, try to forgive the bad ones, and just keep going.

“The main reason I stay are because of Catholic social teaching which guides and informs my life, and because of the sacraments which nourish me. I am a daughter of the Church and, as flawed and broken as she is, I love her.”

Tushnet continues to be a vital voice in the Catholic Church. Her book Gay and Catholic:  Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith was groundbreaking. I used it in my high school ethics class because students never heard of the idea of someone being gay and faithfully Catholic – they assumed the two factions hated each other, based on their media-indoctrinated education.

Also, any time the words “gay” and “Church” are together, it usually refers only to the negatives. Tushnet speaks positively of loving friendships – a concept that should be universal.

I’ve depended on Tushnet’s thoughts before in this space, in a critique of Father James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge.

Tushnet is faithful but does not give the Church a pass. When it comes to gay people, the Church can be silent or condemning. In a 2013 article, titled “I’m Gay But I’m Not Switching to a Church that Supports Gay Marriage,” Tushnet wrote:  “I spend a lot of time these days working with people who are trying to make the Church a home for gay people. It’s painfully far from that now.”

Tushnet is still working, reaching all types of people. She found truth and love in the Church. But there is another side of this Church that is both false and unloving. It hurts people, but those people remain because of the truth and love.

In the introduction of her anthology, Tushnet writes that “everybody in the pews has a story, which is often much more harrowing and beautiful and interesting than their conversion story:  a story of staying.”


Kevin Thomas is a writer and former teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.