On this Friday, Sept. 7, 2018 photograph, Chris Damian is in Minneapolis. Damian is of the opinion that more nuanced conversations about hard topics like sexual abuse by priests and allegations of cover-ups by the leaders of the church can bring about change. Damian, 27, organized a group of Catholic young adults to respond on the church crisis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
MINNEAPOLIS – The day after a grand jury report revealed that the Roman Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children in the course of decades, Adrienne Alexander went to Mass in a Chicago church and waited for the priest to say something about the situation.
That he did not. And that allowed Alexander to give birth. So she went on Facebook to vent — then we organized a prayer vigil in Chicago was the catalyst for similar lay-led vigils in Boston, Philadelphia and other cities throughout the country.
Alexander is among countless Catholics in the USA who raise their voices in prayer and protest to demand change, amid new revelations of sexual abuse by priests and allegations of massive cover-ups. They are doing writes, and to keep the prayer vigils and listening in an attempt to bring about change of the pews, realize it to them to confront them with the problem and save the church they love after years of empty promises of leadership.
“I think it’s important that the great body of us,” Alexander said. “We actually are in the church.”
Their grassroots efforts are gaining momentum. In the past week, there are more than 39,000 people have signed their names to a letter demanding answers from Pope Francis himself.
Another effort, sponsored by the reform groups, has seized on the “Time’s Up” and #MeToo movements and the organizing of events across the country this weekend, under the CatholicToo hash tag.
Some of the efforts that are calling for specific reforms, such as the lay-led investigations and transparency, while others are still brainstorming solutions. A woman in Michigan founded a website to make it easy for everyone to speak and to write to the church officials.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Marjorie Murphy Campbell, a civil and canon lawyer in Park City, Utah, said of the laity of the involvement. She said that many Catholics feel that they have no other choice.
“You either have to get involved because you cannot trust the bishops to fix this yourself, or you leave. … It is our job to help the mother of the church by this.”
The actions come as the church is faced with a global crisis about the abuse the clergy after the devastating Pennsylvania grand jury report, and the pope is the removal of the ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the public ministry amid allegations McCarrick sexual abuse of a teenage altar boy and preyed on adult seminarians decades ago.
Francis wrote a letter to the Catholics in August, saying that the laity must put an end to the administrative culture, which has placed priests above reproach. He was immersed in scandal amid claims that he knew about the accusations against McCarrick in 2013, but rehabilitated him anyway.
A collective of individual Catholic women last week wrote a letter urging Francis to deliver answers. The letter, which was more than 39,000 signatures on Friday, stated, “we are not second class Catholics to be brushed off while bishops and cardinals deal with matters privately.”
“In short, we are the Church, just as much as the cardinals and bishops around you,” the letter said.
Robert Sheen, a Catholic in Boston and vice-president of the Women’s Ordination Conference, said that he believes that the Catholics are now ready to confront what is happening in the church and talk about how they can be involved in the reform, as a result of a broader trend in the U.S. with people becoming more active in the protests. Other churches struggle with the issue.
“People are less willing to look the other way … This new consciousness and the new honesty about the politics is a kind that is transferred to the Catholic Church.”
Miriel Thomas Reneau Ann Arbor, Michigan, created a web site to make letter writing easy. On her site you will find the names and addresses of the local dioceses and contains templates for people to write letters to the leaders of the church.
Others are withholding donations in protest. Legatus, an association of Catholic entrepreneurs, announced it would be her annual tithe to the Holy see in escrow. Thousands of people have also signed a statement that calls on the Catholic bishops in the U.S. to consider dismissal as a public act of repentance.
There are examples of lay people to force change in other countries. In the city of Osorno, Chile, a group of laymen organized themselves to raise attention to the sexual abuse crisis, and their movement helped throw a bishop. It took more than three years, but she decided that it was necessary to try to change the church from within.
Lori Carter of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and two other women began a “Wear Gray” campaign, in which they urge “prayer warriors” like themselves to wear grey Mass, and fast as a symbol of repentance. They are asking people to write letters to the pope and the local bishops.
“I’m assuming that it’s going to go back to sort of how it was — a church of the people and prayer and holiness,” she said.
In Minneapolis, Chris Damian is of the opinion that more nuanced conversations can bring about change. Damian, 27, organized a group of Catholic young adults to respond on the church crisis. The group has a public prayer session, which St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda attended, as well as a discussion session where more than 100 people gathered to learn about the problem and brainstorm solutions.
The group is sending a letter to Hebda that urges the pastors to listen to people, instead of telling them what to do. The letter also includes specific recommendations, such as the waiving of a non-disclosure agreement for all former settlements and the reopening of the investigation of a former St. Paul-Minneapolis archbishop who resigned in 2015 after prosecutors filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children from abusive priest.
“We are all very frustrated because things continue to appear, and that is simply not acceptable,” Damian said. “I think we can spend all this time complaining about how churches are not more proactive … but there is no reason why we can’t take of this problem and the solution of our own responsibility.”
Associated Press writer Eva Vergara contributed to this report from Santiago, Chile.