9 Practical Ways Lay Catholics Need to Respond to the Church’s Sexual Abuse Scandal

“The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.” - St. John Chysostom


I write out of deep concern for our Catholic Church and heartbreak for those who have experienced abuse at the hands of those who are charged with defending and promoting their good. (Please forgive me upfront for the length of this writing, for the answer to this crisis is not a pithy 800 word essay). Our appropriate response to the sex abuse scandal should be utter outrage at these evil actions and at the alleged cover-ups, for if true, this is an absolute abuse of power. We must not give into the temptation to go back to status quo and business as usual. This is a MAJOR WAKE-UP CALL, and like all great evils in our midst, this demands a response by those who call themselves Christian.


When we as laity hear of the complex issues confronting the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, we may think because we’re not in the hierarchy, there’s nothing we can do. We may think that the wounds that men, women, and children have received by false shepherds are too big to be healed. We may feel that because those who were supposed to defend the innocent failed to do so, acting in profoundly satanic ways, we should just wash our hands of this mess and leave the Church.


As a man who has experienced deep wounds in his sexuality for over a decade, yet continually experiences the redemption of Jesus Christ, I know intimately what it's like to feel hopeless. I was in seminary for four years, worked in an Archdiocesan office for four years, and an Apostolate dedicated to healing marriages and families for over a year. I’ve seen up close and personal the hypocrisy of false shepherds and those who are “whitened sepulchers” (cf. Matt 23:27), those Church leaders who profess Christ with their lips but grew increasingly comfortable and astute at the game of preserving their positions of authority, serving the evil one’s agenda – unwittingly or wittingly – reflecting some of the deepest attachments of their hearts. I have been betrayed and let go from a job by those who were protecting anti-Catholic and false teachings on human sexuality (especially regarding unchaste behavior between persons of the same-sex). I have been made keenly aware of the power plays happening within countless parishes and dioceses.


These experiences could have made me bitter and hard-hearted, but instead have moved my heart to empathize with those who are being mistreated by those who actions reveal their blindness to the Truth. These abusers and those who cover-up for them are blind to their lusts and their lusts for power. They don’t know the Bridegroom and His deep desire for union with them – or they knowingly and willingly reject it, which is even worse. My heart aches for those who choose to resist the love of God, no matter who they are. Because I, too, once rejected God’s love in many ways, I'm motivated to share the invitation to increase our prayers for one another, and invite all people to receive divine healing, especially for those who are in need of it most.


The Truth is Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church. He promised although things will become difficult at times, He will never abandon us. To echo the first Supreme Pontiff, there is nowhere else  to whom we can go (cf. John 6:68). To abandon the Church while She is in great need would be a tremendous mistake. The Church is our Mother and Bride. The Church is YOUR MOTHER – She gave you spiritual birth through Baptism. The Church is the Bride – the One who is united forever in Marriage to Christ, beginning at the cross and fulfilled in the Eschaton of Heaven, of which we personally will participate in if we are faithful to the Wedding Invitation of the Lamb. When one of our family members is wounded or sick, we don't run away. Instead, we run toward them to minister to their wounds.


The Bride and Mother are deeply wounded and sick, especially because of the sins of men. So what can we, as laity, practically do to respond to the Church’s sexual abuse scandal?


1) Prayer

We are not without hope. The greatest power available to us to change the world for the better does not originate within us; it is in God. We tap into His power by praying.


Prayer is not so much about speaking with words, but about loving from the heart. It is about entering in and remaining in loving communion. God our Father wants to spend time with us, to hear our hearts, to embrace our woundedness. He is ever present,  calling us to simply BE WITH HIM.


I recommend spending time with the Catechism of the Catholic Church which devotes paragraphs 2558-2865 to prayer. This will help us to learn how to build a relationship with God.


When you pray, keep it simple. Start with a short prayer. “Lord Jesus, fill me with your love.” We need to be filled up so we can give love and mercy to others. Set your cell phone alarm for 15 minutes, put it on airport mode, and then LET HIM LOVE YOU. Catholicism is, at root, an eternal, rapturous, joyful love affair, and it begins NOW. We simply need to accept this wedding invitation.


Offer your heartfelt petitions to God. Pray for the pope. Pray for the bishops. Pray for your pastor. Pray for all clergy. Pray for the victims. Pray for the abusers. Pray for the people of God.


Prayer changes things for the better. Most immediately, prayer changes our hearts to be open to the needs and wounds of others.

If we're consistent with our prayer life, God WILL SHOW UP in all aspects of our life. He will guide and direct us, and help us take the next right step.


2) Fasting

The handmaiden of prayer is fasting. Fasting is not simply abstaining from food. In the words of Matt Fradd, we call that “dieting.” While dieting has physical health benefits, we primarily want benefits that will make us spiritually well.


Fasting, especially from food, is powerful. St. Paul reminds us that “when I am weak, I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). When we give up something that is essential to living on planet earth, it acknowledges that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Fasting refocuses us on the reality that our lives are in the hands of God, and it is an act of entrustment that He will sustain us through any situation.


Because this scandal is far too coordinated and widespread throughout the Church, there's no way this is simply a man-made crisis. As of late, Satan has been working overtime. He knows the best way to destroy an enemy is from within their camp. We see this in the priests, bishops, and Cardinals who simply do not believe in Jesus Christ, have lost faith, don’t believe in sexual redemption, and for some, are willing agents of the evil one.


We must follow the commandment of Christ: “this kind [of evil] does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matt 17:21). Like an attachment to pornography, this abomination of the culture of abuse must be purged from our midst if the Church is to be made healthy. Ultimately, only God can – and will – do this. In His infinite wisdom, He's able to take our sufferings and use them in tremendous ways for His Glory (cf. Col 1:24). 


I recommend taking up the ancient form of fasting – as discussed in the Didache – with only Bread and Water on Wednesday and Fridays, or follow the Catholic Church’s contemporary teaching of 1 regular meal and 2 smaller meals. This sacrificial practice will pay major dividends in your life and for those who need our sacrifices most. Let us do our part by making sacrifices that can used for God's great purposes.


3) Follow Jesus

The Catholic Church was never intended to be a museum for Saints, but a hospital for sinners. There will always be problems within the Church until the coming of Christ. There will always be Judas’ among today’s Apostles. We must never forget, Jesus chose Judas. It was not a mistake of Jesus, for Judas still had the opportunity to repent – just like any of us. God was able to bring the greatest good out of his tragic choice of betrayal.


While the clergy are entrusted to bring Jesus to us, especially through the Sacraments, it doesn’t mean we owe them our allegiance. As Jesus said about the Pharisees, “do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matt 23:3), the same principle applies in this case.


If a Church official is preaching and striving to live the Gospels and the Catechism, then listen to him, as we are called to be obedient to rightful authority. But if there is a definitive, clear, blatant disregard from Church teachings (as laid down in Sacred Scripture and the Catechism) by those in our parishes, dioceses, and even from Rome, WE MUST DISSENT. We must follow the dictates of an informed conscience, even if it comes across as disobedience. In the final analysis, we are to follow God, not man.


This is why we need to have a solid prayer and fasting life. Jesus Christ has not abandoned His Catholic Church, even if some clergy have. We are to be obedient to Him and His Holy Spirit, and if we will take the posture of humility and docility, He will direct our hearts, minds, and actions. Stay faithful to Him, and He will see us through this.


I also recommend spending an hour in Adoration weekly. If you can do more, great. In Adoration, the naked and vulnerable Christ is made present to us, where we can draw close to Him. If your parish does not have Eucharistic Adoration, request it, or find one that does. He will give you the peace you need to be sustained.


4) Get Consecrated

With a lack of clear teaching and direction from many of our clergy, we may feel as though we're a sheep without a shepherd. But we're not abandoned; we simply need to know where to go.


The times we live in are challenging, but just as when Christ was on the cross (cf. John 19:26), He entrusts His Mother to us. The surest way to stay close to Christ is through His Mother, because Mary and Jesus are never separated. They are of the same flesh and heart. And He wants you to entrust ourselves to Her.


I highly recommend Fr. Michael E. Gaitley’s marvelous work, “33 Days to Morning Glory” and get consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary ASAP. Those who are consecrated are given special access to graces that are unknown to those who are not. We will not be shielded from suffering, because we must take up our crosses daily (cf. Luke 9:23), but are given an interior peace and fortitude to navigate these troubled waters. She will bring us to the heart of Christ, who will bring us home safely.


5) Get our own house in order

One of the major reasons why we’re in the mess we’re in is because individuals have given up the pursuit of holiness. Many of us were never taught nor received the message of Vatican II that stressed the “universal call to holiness.” For too long it has been falsely believed that holiness is just for priests and nuns. As is evidenced by this scandal, some of them don’t believe holiness is possible, either.


At root, holiness is being who you really are, as God truly authored. This means to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) as His beloved son or daughter. We must recognize that we are His, stop living as a prodigal, and come HOME to His heart.


 In his Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic men entitled "Into the Breach" by Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead, he relates how "Many fruits of our Christian heritage still exist, but the roots below the soil are under siege." My brothers and sisters, what happens in the larger culture is frequently in recent times a reflection of the rot found in Christian homes. There are termites in the House of God – the Church – that are eating away at the structure. What is being revealed as horrific actions and behaviors by some in the hierarchy are a microcosm of the larger infestation of sin that can be found in the rest of the Body Christ. 


If we’re going to see and experience genuine renewal in the Church, we must first clean up our own messes. We must work on getting our own houses in order. If we don’t work on receiving the healing we need, no one will do it for us. We must open ourselves to participate in the transformative power of grace.


First, start with the planks in our own eyes. What mortal sins do we relish? Do we lust after porn, steal cable, have affairs, participate in abortions, use contraceptives, view someone with a different skin color as less than human, and or other grave evils? These cry out for vengeance from the Lord. STOP IMMEDIATELY. Sin blinds us and keeps us from living in Truth. Get to the Sacrament of Confession, participate in that profound healing, and start the good, hard work of making reparation.


Then go after the specks. Things like swearing, small “white” lies, laziness, etc. We can call on grace to grow more into who we're supposed to be. Sure, we may struggle with these venial sins the rest of our lives, but the struggle is worth it, and it is meritorious.


If we recommit to being faithful to the basic things Our Lady has been asking from us (daily prayer, daily Rosary, daily Scripture, monthly Confession, weekly fasting), God will respond, and we'll be able to more fully participate in expunging the evil that lurks within the hearts of men & women, and be a means of repairing the many breaches in the Church.


6) Learn the Faith

Another major reason why this scandal has exploded is because of naivety and ignorance of the Church’s teachings, specifically in regard to the truths upheld by the Church pertaining to sexual morality.


This has been a long time coming. I’ve heard stories of how in the 1920s countless priests stopped preaching about the immorality of contraception and the goodness of marriage. When Vatican II rolled around, calling for a genuine renewal of the Church in being faithful to Jesus Christ, the exact opposite occurred, where huge numbers of clergy publicly dissented from revealed Truth. We further see this in how the term “Theology of the Body” is unknown by many pew-sitters, and if it is known by clergy, it has been widely ignored in their own study, prayer, and preaching.


For too long Catholics have been accused of being ignorant of Scripture, which in the words of St. Jerome, is “ignorance of Christ”. We have also been ignorant of the truth about the body and sexuality, merely accepting the gospel of the world when it comes to matters of human sexuality. Think about it: How many of us just willingly accept our pornified culture’s view of the body through the vast amounts of empty entertainment choices we indulge in? I know I’m guilty. I’ve made compromises and I call myself to accountability. I recommend you do the same.


What the world proposes about sexuality is a septic tank. It stinks. It’s nauseating. And just because everyone is drinking from it and throwing up, doesn’t mean we need to grab a straw. This is not to say that sexuality is not a beautiful gift, but rather that our perception of that beautiful gift has become so gravely twisted.


We need to rediscover what Christ meant when he asked, “Have you not read that from the beginning He made them male and female?" (Matt 19:4) We must rediscover the truth about the body, what sexual desire is really for, and that redemption from our sexual wounds is REAL, because Christ the Bridegroom has come to heal His Bride – all of us who are of the Church – with His love.


The mindsets of those who prey on men, women, and children is the same as those who use pornography, commit adultery, and practice unchaste activities (which includes all same-sex sexual activity): They need to experience true, redemptive, sexual liberation. Not the license of “sexual liberation,” as proclaimed from the sexual de-evolution of the 1960s, but instead to receive the healing of Jesus Christ who can redirect our concupiscent desires to real love, empowering us to live out our bodies as gifts for the world.


So where do we start? Get the Scriptures and catechism. Read a chapter/section a day. Pick up a copy of St. John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body TODAY. Read three audiences a day. Pray & study. Study & pray. Work on implementing it in our life, and that of our families. And then spread the word, because it is a message that our fellow Catholic brothers and sisters are dying for – emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and in some cases, physically.


7) Speak up

There are some voices saying we should simply be quiet about this scandal, for, as the argument goes, such disruption simply causes division and destruction. Yet to say we should simply stay quiet is anything but charitable and adds to the wounds of the Body of Christ, sowing seeds of doubt that there is a loving God in heaven.


To stay silent a) when abuse has taken place and b) when those who are supposed to be our shepherds are participating in abuse or covering it up are crimes against humanity. It cries out to Heaven for Justice! It re-traumatizes victims who have to relive the horrors of abuse. It is BECAUSE of silence that this culture of abuse has been able to flourish. Silence is power for those who perpetuate such evil, and they and their crimes need to be exposed.


In airports and other public settings, we are called to be vigilant in case of terrorist activity. “If you see something, say something.” This crisis is nothing less than a terrorist attack on the Body of Christ. The voices of the victims demand to be heard, and the faithful who share in the Kingship of Jesus Christ have a mandate to say something and work to make it right.


We must demand from our leadership the full truth of abuse (regardless of whether the victim is pre-pubescent, post-pubescent, or if the perpetrator was male or female). We must also demand for the hierarchy to present the full truth of any cover ups, no matter the political bent a person has who makes such claims. Naked truth does not play politics, and we need to lay out the bare facts – of who did what, of who knew what, and when. Make no mistake: the Church is under attack from the inside, and some who are in charge do not have the heart of Christ. Their names and acts of betrayal must be made public, charged to the full extent of public law, removed from power, and laicized if they participated directly in sexual abuse.


Because they are called to be our shepherds, we need our faithful priests and bishops to take their place in this battle and to lead from the front. Four things must take place in our parishes and dioceses, from Rome on down, if we are to see the necessary changes take place within the institutional Church to correct these evils of abuse. (I write these in humility and with respect to the Office of Bishop. Without Rome’s formal cooperation and leadership, these structures of sin will continue to fester):


a) Our parish priests need to preach on this issue regularly, as well as proclaim frequently the Church’s beautiful vision of human sexuality while calling us all to repentance. This includes regular Masses of reparation. 


b) Our parish priests need to provide monthly updates on his discussions with his bishop about what are the diocesan and parish plans to address and solve the problem of all forms of sexual abuse by clergy, as well as the culture of secrecy, and what is the status of implementing such plans.


c) Our bishops need to provide monthly updates to their diocese of any news of his monthly petitioning for Rome to have a full investigation launched on any reports of abuse and/or cover-up. This petition should involve a request for the Pope, Cardinals, and high ranking Vatican officials to work with secular authorities and lay-led trained commissions to expose corruption at all levels of the Church.


d) For dioceses that have seminaries, these bishops need to provide monthly updates to their parishes of the status of a detailed plan of re-formation of screening and formation of candidates. This should include information about formation material and instructors.


All of these actions need to continue in perpetuity until such investigations have been completed by lay-run boards (and secular authorities, if need be), and those who have perpetrated such abuses of power have been brought to both ecclesial and civil justice.  


These four elements are a necessary first step to exposing the wounds to the light so there can be healing. We must make it clear that no longer will we give cover for those who intentionally pervert justice and perpetrate such crimes.  No more quarter for those who will to do us harm.


We are the sheep of Jesus Christ, called to be obedient to Him. However, if there are wolves amongst the flock, we must let this be known, prayerfully and assertively. We as laity need to respectfully hold the hierarchy accountable for any maleficence and work with faithful clergy to call all leaders to accountability. If we fail to do our part to call for transparent accountability, this evil will be perpetuated upon other innocent lambs to come, and such failure to act will be held against us.


One other point: If you attend daily Mass, if you are able to offer a prayer petition, explicitly (but calmly) pray for a) the victims of abuse to receive healing and restitution, and b) for bishops & priests who have participated in such actions to repent and resign. This is another way we can use our voices for great good in places where clergy will acknowledge this issue. 


8) Direct your money appropriately

The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ on the Rock, Peter, who entrusted the Deposit of Faith to His brother Apostles and their successors, with the ultimate goal of the salvation of persons.


Sadly, some in authority have lost their way. Instead, they have become very comfortable in lavish houses, posh cars, luxurious clothing, and sumptuous food. They have forgotten their calling to identify with the poorest of the poor. Power has gone to their heads and the innocent  have been harmed.


How do we hold their feet to the fire to correct these great evils? By going after the one and only thing that gets these faulty shepherds’ attention: MONEY.



A number of those in positions of power in the Church have been serving the god of mammon for decades. It is lay Catholics – oftentimes obliviously – who have been providing them with the means for a very comfortable life, one most families can only dream of having.


It’s way past time to dry up this money spout. It’s time to afflict the comfortable and make them sweat. Turn up the heat. They need to hear the message LOUD AND CLEAR, and it is money that speaks.


If your pastor and/or bishop repeatedly ignores your respectful petitions for their voice and actions to address this corruption (as stated above),  and/or is flouting Catholic teaching, tell them kindly but directly (along these lines):


“I will no longer be giving money to the diocesan appeal.”


“I will no longer be writing carte blanche checks to our parish.”


“Our family cannot support financially a parish/diocese that is not working to protect the most innocent and instead is promoting a culture of abuse and secrecy.”


"I will no longer give money to my parish/diocese that is not faithful to authentic Catholic Church teaching, as laid out in Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church."


AND THEN DO IT. DON'T BACK DOWN. Call your parish. Tell your priest. Write letters to your bishop. Require accountability for every red cent spent, and if silence / blatant disregard to revealed Truth persists, don’t give financially until local clergy and the hierarchy responds with direct action toward righting this wrong. If there is indisputable evidence of wrongdoing happening, including blatant disregard for Church teaching, it’s past time to turn off the money spigot.


Yes, we might lose parish buildings, but that’s not the Church. The Church has ALWAYS been the people of God. Let those who sit on lofty thrones of first class come down into the trenches in metaphorical sackcloth and ashes, taking ownership of the darkness they have allowed to flourish. It would be better to lose physical structures than to allow this evil to continue. And the Church will be healthier and stronger for it.


THIS DOES NOT MEAN we should not support ministries that are worthy of our financial/time support. We as Christians have an obligation to feed the poor, educate the unlearned, support unwed mothers, etc. Give directly to those ministries (ex. buying materials specifically if there is no direct fund in your parish) that are faithfully carrying out work of Christ. 


IMPORTANT: If your priest is faithfully carrying out his duties, MINISTER TO HIM. THANK HIM! Take him out to dinner. Put together a prayer group for him. Most importantly, ENCOURAGE HIM to speak out all the more with BOLDNESS. Let him know you’re going to support the parish financially precisely because of the good work he is doing.


There still are MANY, MANY good priests and bishops we must support. But they must prove this through their public words and actions. Trust is earned, not given.


9) Prepare for the long haul

What started as a grand jury investigation of the dioceses in one state and an expose of decades of abuse by one Cardinal will continue to spread to other States. The chastisement is here, yet it is ultimately for our good, not our destruction, because this evil will ultimately be exposed and exorcised.


Although I hope that the full extent of what I write below does not transpire, when all is said and done, I expect:


*To see every diocese in America investigated by civil authorities, and many in other countries.


*Many priests, bishops, and cardinals will be put in prison for their direct involvement and/or complicity with abuse. (If it means that after thorough and just investigations by civil authorities we see hundreds of bishops and priests put in prison and laicized because of such crimes against God and man, SO BE IT. BRING IT ON. The Church must be purified.)


*Some clergy will commit suicide over their involvement.


*Some clergy will commit suicide because of false accusations.


*Some clergy will be attacked/murdered by those who act irrationally and think violence is the answer.


*The media will continue to assist in cover-ups, and when actually reported upon, it will be stated that this is primarily a child-abuse issue. (THE TRUTH: The reported abuse is both of child and predatory same-sex behavior – the John Jay Report in 2004 reported that 81% of all cases of reported abuse were male, and 78% of all victims were over the age of 10. Thus this is not simply a pedophilia issue, but particularly a problem with same-sex sexual behavior. This MUST be addressed and dealt with in a satisfactory manner from the pulpit and the papacy. The issue MUST NOT be pigeonholed to the atrocity of child abuse, by the media nor by Church authorities. The culture of same-sex sexual activity must be exposed and expunged.)


*The Church will lose billions of dollars in support, and many parishes and dioceses will go bankrupt.


*Large numbers of parishes will lose buildings.


*Many will leave the Faith because of such blatant hypocrisy by our leaders.


*The Church will almost lose its credibility as a moral authority in the secular world, furthering the chaos of the sexual heresy of our times.


*Other Christian denominations will be investigated, and as a result, will shutter their doors due to lawsuits.


*The Church will get smaller but stronger, and those who consistently listen to the heart of Christ and His Mother will be guided and empowered to be ministers of mercy to the wounded, lost, and blind.


I write this list of expectations not to frighten anyone, but to not be surprised should they happen. We must know this is just the beginning of the ripping off of the Band-Aid. There is going to be a lot of pain and suffering, and I don’t just mean for those who are abuse victims. A new crucifixion of the Church is here. But DO NOT FEAR. Our hope is in Jesus.


A priest friend of mine recently shared with me: “I’m excited, because I’ve been waiting for DECADES for this mess to come out into the open.” The weeds are finally being revealed for their wicked actions. While evil may have had its hour, God will have his day, for love is stronger than death (Cf. Song of Solomon 8:6). The end result will be beautiful, for just as Christ rose from the dead, likewise, His Spouse, the Bride, will shine forth with the radiant beauty of pure love.


Steve Pokorny is the Founder of Freedom Coaching, a one-on-one mentoring system designed to break the power of pornified images. He is the author of Redeemed Vision: Setting the Blind Free from the Pornified Culture. To book Steve Pokorny to speak at your parish or event, please contact vlpromotions.com.

September 18, 2018 - 4:49pm

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