When the news of the McCarrick scandal hit the headlines in November 2020, the blow to my family and our faith was devastating. Normally, I am an unabashed enthusiast full of love for the Catholic Church, sharing my faith even with secular friends, but these revelations reduced me to silence. I found myself wrestling with unavoidable questions: Why am I still doing this? How can I stay in a Church associated with so much corruption and evil?
As a kid growing up in a family of former Catholics, I could give you hundreds of reasons to not be Catholic. The Inquisition, Crusades, and other historical atrocities were high on the list of criticisms that I discussed with disdain in my peer group of adolescent atheists.
As far as we were concerned, you had to be either stupid or evil to claim allegiance to such an institution, and besides, claiming such lofty ideals kept me from having to suffer through the tedium of Sunday Mass. Like many teenagers, I was confident in my own irreverence and enjoyed the feeling of belonging that came with seeing the Church as a common enemy with my friends.
Then, one day, God revealed Himself to me through my love of science and the natural world. I remember sitting surrounded by the tranquility of a forest in my favorite park and coming to the realization that all that beauty—or even my perception of what is beautiful—couldn’t possibly be the result of random chance mutations, and that God must have had a hand in it. Once I realized that I could no longer technically be an atheist, I started seeking out as much information as I could about God through conversations with my friends who weren’t quite so militant, and eventually in confirmation classes at a Catholic Church.
MAKING SENSE OF A PAINFUL HISTORY
Still, it took six years from the first moments that I realized that God existed until I could openly admit that I considered myself Roman Catholic. I had to come to grips with all of the sordid history of Catholicism that I had vilified. During the celebration of the Jubilee Year in 2000, Pope John Paul II publicly apologized for these atrocities—not once, but over and over again.
This small act actually helped me by showing me that as a Catholic I would not need to accept these things or explain them away, but rather exist in the sometimes uncomfortable space of acknowledging our sins, regretting them, and working from within to make sure they never happened again.
Along my journey I discovered the beautiful bread of life passages in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John, and fell in love with Christ in the Eucharist. In these stories, Christ proclaims rather shockingly that “I am the bread that comes down from heaven” (John 6:41 RSV). Many of his followers, convinced he is speaking metaphorically, challenge Jesus on this statement.
Rather than acquiescing and explaining it away, Christ doubles down on his message: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53-54). At this point, many of his followers turned around and walked away.
Here they had found a reason to not follow Christ—it was all too macabre, too scandalous, too risky. Jesus then turned to his disciples and asked if they would leave as well. Peter’s response spoke directly to my heart, and all the anguish I had experienced in becoming Catholic: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).
I can look at the Church and admit it is far from perfect and horrible atrocities have been done in its name and by its leaders throughout its long and sometimes ugly history. But where else would I go? Where else could I meet Christ’s gaze in Eucharistic Adoration and consume his flesh in Holy Communion? Where else would I find the words of everlasting life?
As I struggle with the immense sadness, shame, and embarrassment of being a Catholic in the wake of the sex abuse and failures of Church leadership, it again becomes all too easy to identify reasons to leave. I think many of my secular friends would understand and commiserate with me about the evils of institutional religion.
I know that some people, particularly those who have been hurt in the Church, have not been able to stay, and I don’t judge them for that. But I feel called to stay. Christ calls me back and asks me to be the light of the world, a beacon of hope in the shadow of corruption, conspiracy, and suffering. I don’t always feel up to the task, but I’m certainly going to try.
Where else would I go?
Reprinted with permission.
Originally published by Awake Milwaukee as Why I Remain Catholic Despite the Sex Abuse Crisis
Mike Larson is a husband and father of two teenage sons who enjoys games, nature, and theology. He has led or been involved in dozens of Bible studies, men’s groups, and service opportunities through the Catholic Church and enjoys sharing his love of Christ, the Eucharist, and the Blessed Mother with anyone willing to listen.
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