by Katie Breslin
It was with a pit in my stomach that I opened the grand jury findings from the case against 300 priests in Pennsylvania for child abuse. I scrolled to the section that said Dioceses of Scranton and found a list of the names of priests in the grand jury report. My heart sank lower when I saw letterhead from the church where I was baptized. The grand jury investigation identified 59 priests in the Diocese of Scranton alone in this report. While these revelations were painful, they weren’t shocking – just a continued feeling of disappointment in an institution that had been a big part of my childhood.
Like many others in the anthracite coal region, the Catholic Church was the cornerstone of my upbringing. From the beautiful churches located all over the region to the rich history of Catholic diversity that shaped the region. It’s hard to think about regional history without acknowledging the role the Catholic churches in the area had in building community for newcomers journeying there in search of opportunity. Some of my best childhood memories have to do with potato pancakes and homemade pierogis at church bazaars. I’ve seen firsthand how the Catholic Church in the region helped feed and clothe the most vulnerable in our area. This call to be kind and serve others is what led me into a career advocating for public policies in line with my social justice values.
I was 12 years old when the Boston Globe released the story about a massive sex abuse scandal in that city. Though young, I remembering feelings a sense of powerlessness around safety and accountability for what happened. That scandal certainly shaped my view of Church leadership and their priorities. I became determined to help lift the voices of everyday Catholics to influence the direction of the Church.
I started my career working with lay Catholics – in a direct service setting, in grassroots organizing around public policy, and later in church reform work advocating for reproductive freedom and access to ordination for all regardless of their gender. I feel closest to God when I am working with people from a faith perspective. Whether that was preparing an activist to speak about abortion rights from a Catholic standpoint or praying the rosary with a group of Catholics for immigration reform, it is during these moments that I feel like God is calling me to my purpose of serving others and speaking out for justice.
One of the last masses I attended included a sermon about how women’s ordination was like weeds in a garden. The priest lectured that women priests in the church sounded like a good idea because we value equality but in reality it was the devil trying to grow divides in our faith. As I walked out of mass that day I wondered why God would tolerate that type of hatred of women in this place. I questioned why God would allow Catholic Church leadership to fire teachers for being gay. I leaned into the spiritual trauma I had felt for years because I – and others I love – were different. This priest thought that we were weeds but in reality, many of the reformers who I’ve worked with and love are fertilizing the ground so that some who would be turned off by the idea of religion overall could still see themselves in community with God. I began to feel the weight of the Catholic Church’s sins every time I would mention that I identified as a person of faith. I started to second guess my faith in these times – but it wasn’t God that I had lost faith in, it was the leadership of the Catholic Church.
Some of the bravest people I know are still in this struggle for a Catholic Church that reflects their values of equality and justice – and their call for this work is from the divine. There’s a reality settling in about the future of the Catholic Church in the United States: most of us are probably never coming back. Our reasons vary, from lack of accountability for when priests have abused children to the realization that we could live queer lives that still involve God without shame. We know of course that many who leave the Church also leave religion all together. The Catholic Church is losing incredible young leaders because of who they are prioritizing. Church leadership needs to re-center the experiences of lay people and understand how our call to seek justice in this world is part of our responsibility as people of faith. From a young age I felt a calling to work towards making the world a better place. … If they don’t, then we’ll see people continuing to move away from God, never learning the core values the Church seeks to teach, because the church itself failed to live up to what it values. The Catholic Church may have lost this daughter – but as long as God is there, God will find a home for their children.
Katie Breslin is a Hazleton native who lives in Washington, DC. In her professional career, she has trained hundreds of advocates to lobby Congress for social change. Katie graduated with honors from Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
Also by Katie Breslin
Waking Up in Hazleton
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Where should we go? I will not give bishops and priests that much power. We are the Church. There is no other church that has the liturgical life I love nor the solid interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus. There have been other scandalous periods of Church history and the Church has produced great saints even then. Jesus is with His Church even when the leaders aren’t worthy of it.
Well thought out piece. I never embraced the Catholic Church that tightly for a number of reasons but I do know what she means
At what point does one say enough? Outright oppression of women? Oppression of gays? I was closer to 40 when the Boston Scandal broke. Priests and Bishops knowingly put children in harm’s way. That’s enough evidence that Catholicism no longer works for me. I’ll miss the music especially but there are other forms of worship.
Katie. Beautifully written. Your views are reflective of so many of those of us who forged a great deal of our identity via the Catholic Church. A priest named in the report was at my home on the evening before my Dad was killed in the coal mines. He and others in the report were part of the very fabric of our families, attended our picnics, enjoyed dinner in our homes. While your disenchantment is more expansive as a result of the exclusion of women, gays, and others, we all feel the same sense of horror and disgust. I am particularly incensed about the role of Bishops as accessories to these predators.
I agree that without a wholesale reckoning, which I frankly doubt, the Church I grew up in, was married in, had my parents buried from, cannot and should not be sustained.
Thanks Katie for your voice, your eloquence, and your passion.
I found that unprogrammed Quakers seemed to be my home away from where I grew up as a Catholic.
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Beautifully written and heartfelt.
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A good piece, Katie. Perhaps the saddest part is that the RC church convinced their members that no other church was “real” or “true”. I know many Catholics who have become Episcopal or Lutheran, both liturgical churches. There are lots of women priests and pastors and wonderful lay ministries. I grew up Protestant in the Hazleton area and am now a retired Lutheran pastor – what a wonderful life! And I have known so many RC parishes full of extremely talented women that closed because “there was no priest”. Celibacy can be an informed choice but never forced on people. Human sexuality is such a great gift and the church’s theology has so distorted it. What a tragic shame. Keep up your good work, Katie! From a very happy “WEED” in God’s garden!
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Beautifully said. Prayerfully even. And my experience too. People ask “where will I go”? Well, there are many wonderful places to go that deeply value the gospel, the love and power of women and the holiness of LBBTQ people. You’ll find great music in the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church as well as apostolic succession. Take your love, time and treasure where it will do the most good. The Roman Catholic Church is corrupt and wil not choose to change.
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I am a cradle Catholic. I was baptized as a disciple of Jesus. I have tried my best to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. I am a member of Full Circle Catholic Church, which holds a Mass of the people and Catholic liturgy every Sunday at 4 pm at New Song Episcopal Church, 912 20th Ave., Coralville, officiated by an RCWP ordained woman priest.
I cannot defend the misogyny, homophobia, sex discrimination, pedophilia, child molestation, or dissimulation of the Catholic clergy any longer. Enough is enough! It is time for us, the Catholic people, to speak out and take an active leadership role to re-found our Church in the spirit Jesus intended. It is time for grass root believers to rise up and lay the groundwork for a new Catholic Church. It is time to reclaim our faith.
Reform groups around the globe are calling for action by the faithful to form small Catholic communities reflecting the diversity that is the global human family in which all are welcome. There is no other way of being the Church of Jesus than following in the footsteps of the Apostles whose method of Evangelization developed small Christian communities reflecting the inclusivity of Jesus.
Full Circle is one of those small, inclusive Catholic communities.
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….recovering Catholics. Cafeteria Catholics…
It truly is a shame
My family has been asking me why I have not been having my son attend CCD ..
I said… Ask Josh Shapiro.
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Any person or religion calling women WEEDS doesn’t need to to be heard!! How hate filled the Catholic church must be to ban women from being part of gods plan!