The sex-abuse scandal has led many to lose their faith, and as we learn more about the extent and nature of the corruption, many more will be tempted to leave. Those of us who are “red-pilled” need to be cautious about how much we share with those who are not “red-pilled.”
The expression refers to a moment in the 1999 film The Matrix wherein the main character chooses to take a pill that will wake him up to reality no matter how “gritty and painful” (Urban Dictionary) that reality might be. Those of us who have delved into the sex-abuse crisis, who read the daily onslaught of dispiriting (to speak mildly) articles about scandals of sexual misconduct and cover-up in the Church, who have watched the documentaries and read the books, are red-pilled to the extent that there is almost no sordid scenario about the Church in the last two centuries that would surprise us — although we still struggle with the realization that our beloved Church has been led by such nefarious men.
The Catholics who, as of yet, are not red-pilled get their news almost entirely from the secular media, which has little interest in the current crisis. They don’t read the Catholic media and “exposé” books, especially those on the fringes that report the most sensational reports, reports like those told by Leon Podles in his book Sacrilege. Many have come to realize these stories have not been sensationalized.
Those who are red-pilled seem like alarmists to those who are not. We know so much that others don’t know. Others — as we did at one time — think it disrespectful to suspect that a large number of bishops are not at all interested in getting at the truth behind the Theodore McCarrick case or ridding their dioceses of priests who live double lives — precisely because they too are living double lives. They still think, “If only we could persuade the bishops to do this or that, all would be well.” But some of us have become convinced that we cannot expect the bishops to fix the problem because too many of them are the problem.
One of the “red-pilling” techniques I use is to point out that if a healthy heterosexual male learns of an adult male sexually abusing a child, the first emotional reaction is visceral and violent: He wants to kill the molester. Have we seen any evidence that bishops respond in that way? Rather, their first thought seems to be: “Oh, that poor priest; his life is ruined” or “Poor me, now I have another mess on my hands.” The response to the victim seems to be that he is largely an annoyance. Yes, the bishops’ words, their policies, their websites say one thing, but their actions don’t seem to correspond to those words, policies and websites.
I often have to be careful about how much and what I tell the seminarians I teach. Recently a seminarian said to me, “We want to know if the bishops will have our backs when we get ordained.” I assumed he had in mind if someone made false accusations against them, or if they gave homilies defending controversial truths of the faith, would the bishops support them? Quite spontaneously, I said, “No.” Immediately I felt bad because I never want to say something that might derail a vocation. But then I thought, “He needs to know the truth — this is the Church to which he intends to dedicate himself.”
A priest to whom I told this story said, “Actually, the bishops have not had our backs since the Dallas Charter.” How sad, that young men know that bishops have gone to great lengths to cover up for child abusers and to protect vow-breaking priests, but these same bishops will throw faithful priests under the bus if some wealthy parishioner doesn’t like the amount of Latin in the Mass. That conversation haunted me for days.
Recently I had dinner with several young men in a religious order. To my astonishment, when I said the seminaries in the ’70s and ’80s were homosexual hothouses, one of the older members among my dinner companions confirmed with a loud: “Everyone knew!”
This consecrated religious entered a diocesan seminary in 1989 and said there were only four such institutions in the United States he was willing to enter. I was impressed and pleased that he was willing to be so open with seminarians, for it was clear that, in spite of what he knew, he was dedicated to his priesthood. The same could be said about the entire group I had dinner with that evening — they seemed to believe that God had called them to the priesthood at this time and that he has chosen these men for this time.
Yes, the truth about our Church is going to disappoint, depress and demoralize us, and the more so the more “red-pilled” we get, but we cannot let these dismal truths derail us.
We are living in the time God chose for us. We must be determined to embrace our faith all the more and let nothing deprive us of the most precious gift we have: our faith.
Janet Smith is a moral theologian and the
Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics
at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.