I recently attended the Roman Catholic funeral for a woman who lived for just over 90 years. The congregation numbered more than 100 – testament to a large, loving family and a circle of loyal friends who’d stayed tethered to her throughout her twilight years.

Heading into a catered lunch after the service, someone commented on the priest’s kind words and asked one of the deceased woman’s sons if she and the priest had been close.

“No,” he replied with a quick shake of the head. “They didn’t really know each other.”

Not even through her attendance at Sunday Mass?

“She hasn’t gone for more than 10 years,” he said. “Not since …”

The church scandal?



It’s been almost 20 years since widespread reports of child abuse by priests surfaced first in Boston and then spread, like a wildfire, across the United States and the rest of the world.

To some, it’s old news – the anguished stories told by victims, many now in their 50s, 60s or older; the stonewalling by bishops who profess sorrow even while they refuse to release offending priests’ names and current locations; the countless sins that somehow never found their way onto criminal dockets.

But it’s not old news. It’s still with us.

And the church, one congregant at a time, is still paying the price.

I stopped attending regular Roman Catholic services some time ago. I readily confess that it was part laziness, but in more recent years a bigger part was my inability to reconcile what I heard from the altar with what I read in the newspaper.


Some priests I knew and respected – I still do. The more I learned about others, be they perpetrators or enablers, the more angry and disgusted I became.

Still, whenever I actually walked into a church, I’d always marvel at how quickly the rituals came back. How comfortable it all felt with each back-and-forth exchange between the priest and the people, each prayer, each silent cue to stand, sit or kneel.

Not so this time.

Even as I slid into a pew, knelt down and made the sign of the cross, I thought of last week’s 1,400-page report by a Pennsylvania grand jury chronicling the abuse of more than 1,000 children by 300 priests throughout six dioceses.

I stared up at the crucifix over the altar and quietly pondered the latest sordid details:

priests who draped gold-chained crosses over boys’ necks – a signal to other offenders down the line that this one’s vulnerable.


A priest who raped a young girl in her hospital bed while she recovered from having her tonsils removed.

The list goes on.

For the first time ever, I felt no comfort in the soft light of the candles, the quiet organ music, the scent of the incense, the tinkle of the altar chimes.

And as the Mass of Christian Burial proceeded, I suddenly realized I was not alone.

In recent years, the church has changed some of the priest-congregation dialogue – a step backward to the more literal translations from the Latin Mass I knew as a young boy.

Thus, for example, when the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” the congregation now responds, “And with your spirit,” rather than, “And also with you.”


A minor change, to be sure.

Yet as I murmured the wrong response out of old habit and then quickly corrected myself, I heard several people within earshot making the same mistakes – telltale evidence that where we’d come from no longer reflects where we are.

One of my friends leaned toward me and whispered, “Same thing happened when I went to Mass with my family a couple weeks ago. My sister keeps telling me, ‘You know, some of it has changed!’ ”

Indeed it has.

It’s hard to say with certainty what effect last week’s revelations from Pennsylvania will have on the church writ large.

Far too much has happened and, at the same time, far too little has changed to persuade me that this time, the temple in fact will be destroyed and Jesus will raise it up again in three days.


Should the bishops tender their mass resignations and leave it up to Pope Francis to decide who stays and who goes?

Wouldn’t bother me.

Should the flocks assert more control over the shepherds when it comes to things like celibacy for priests and priesthood for women?

Why not?

Should the names and current addresses of every offending priest be released not just to the local parish, but also to the police and public?

Hell, yes.


Maybe it would all make a difference. Maybe, out of this wreckage, a new church could arise that is, in reality, what so many of us grew up falsely believing it was all along.

Maybe people like me might come back.

I’ve heard a lot of talk in recent days from still-practicing Catholics – God bless them, every one – that we shouldn’t be so focused on the bishops. We are the church, they say, and we alone can save it.

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

All I know is I went to Mass the other day and, for the first time ever, didn’t feel the glow.

And the elderly woman in the coffin, God rest her soul, didn’t know the priest.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:


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