“When we’re threatened, we do one of two things: we fight or we flee.”
I’ll never forget the first time I heard those words in my 11th grade AP Psychology class. Often known as the “fight or flight” response, when faced with peril, we tend to either run toward safety or plant our feet firmly and defend our ground.
Since the abuse crisis again reared its ugly head, I’ve consistently asked myself, “In these moments of threat in the Church, will I run or will I fight?”
We’re not discussing hypotheticals here: there are reports of extensive abuse perpetrated by hundreds of priests against thousands of children over dozens of years, and then much of that abuse was systematically covered up by bishops, the very men who carry a crozier to signify the shepherd’s crook, designed to pull the sheep to safety, not push them toward the wolf. Reading these reports, hearing these stories, and witnessing more information come out each day, my gut instinct is to run away, to go off and hide, to leave the Church – because I feel threatened.
I’ve asked myself dozens of times, “Does every priest I know have some deep, dark secret? Have they seen or heard about abuse? Are they an abuser themselves?” I hate thinking this about men I’ve known for years, have trusted for a lifetime, and whose guidance I sought. Nevertheless, the questions have crossed my mind, and that’s okay. It is only when we ask hard questions and confront the realities facing us that we’ll be able to heal, move forward, and ensure this never happens again.
During this time, while many of us doubt and question a Church we’ve trusted and priests we’ve relied on, the desire to walk away is great; we want to run. It’s okay to be confused. It’s acceptable to be scared. It’s not uncommon to fear for your or your child’s safety. We learned about awful things that happened, and repeatedly so. For those of us who are parents, we would die to ensure it never happens to our own children. It’s normal to think that if there’s a place with repeated instances of abuse, then we would never want our child to go to that place.
At the same time, this is equally important to remember: there are still many good, holy priests who have not abused children, who still bring us the gifts of the sacraments with humility and good faith, and who can be trusted. The priests that have abused children and the bishops who covered up the problem are not the Church themselves. We are the Church. All of us. Not just those men with authority or collars, and not just those who committed various kinds of abuse. We are the Church and we have every right to be here, to remain, and to live and act as the Body of Christ - and we’re not going anywhere.
When our children become involved in the life of the Church, we must do our due diligence as parents: ask lots of questions, ensure diocesan safe environment protocols are up to par, become involved in the ministries our children engage with. Furthermore, if something seems off or doesn’t feel right, it is our duty to speak up. Whatever challenges and fears you face, I ask you this: please don’t leave the Church because of the sins of those who betrayed us. Please remain in the Church – because the Church needs you now more than ever.
Katie Prejean McGrady is an international speaker, educator, and author. She has spoken at events large and small, and has appeared on EWTN, Catholic TV, Radio Maria, and shows on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM. She is married to Tommy McGrady and lives in Louisiana with their daughter, Rose, and dog, Barney. You can learn more about her here.