By Sarah Condon
Like anyone with a heart and soul, I find myself devastated by the news from multiple Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. When it comes to systemic sin, children are always the first to suffer. Their blood is less costly than the blood of priests. Priests have churches to run and sacraments to dispense, but children can be used and tossed aside because there will always be more of them.
At least this is what it feels like.
The excuses and pastoral advice given by many in the hierarchy have left me equally dismayed. We have been told that most of the molestation, rape, and child pornography is from years ago, from decades past. We have been told that this is a different kind of church, as if generations of families have not been destroyed by these priests and bishops.
I am not writing to provide a Grand Answer to the massive amount of hurt that the church has enacted. The Catholic Church is broken in a way that only Jesus can heal. But I have a suggestion for what might help.
Psychological research tells us that there is something to be said for having women at the decision making table. We may be relatively new to the board room, but we are already having a positive impact. Women are not perfect. We are just as fallen and sin sick as men. But, we have learned that women are not only willing to buck traditional thinking, to be more ethical. Surely, this kind of thinking would be beneficial to Catholicism right now. But I want to be more specific than simply suggesting that women be put into leadership.
Because I believe that the Catholic Church needs mothers, now more than ever.
My critique could be easily written off as that of an ordained Protestant woman. But my judgment of these evils stems not so much from my ordination as it does from my being a mom. Healthy mothers have an intrinsic care for children. Before I had my children, I believed that kids were small adults who should be shaped into morally fit human beings. Giving birth broke me of that. And I am certain that had we adopted, I would have been equally as changed.
It turns out that children are vulnerable blessings who have been put into our care. There is a weightiness with motherhood. You begin to see how much the darkness of the world can wound your children. When you become a mother, you become aware of other children who have faced unspeakable harm or longing or loss. And something in you wants to help them.
In the 19th century, when alcoholism in America became untenable for the average American household, it was Methodist mothers who gathered a movement that became Prohibition. When innocent young black men have been shot down by police officers it has been their mothers who have wept into microphones calling for justice. It is what mothers do. We care for our children, and often the children of other women, without a need for self-preservation — which is why the Vatican should consider welcoming mothers into the highest ranks of its leadership.
This should already be happening. What church places more emphasis and devotion on a maternal figure? Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is central to Catholic doctrine. Her images are everywhere. She is celebrated as the one God chose and as the one who chose God. At the Annunciation, she said Yes to the Lord. And she raised Jesus. And I am certain she protected him.
Now, as in ages past, so many of the faithful call upon Holy Mary, Mother of God, for protection and comfort.
God entrusted his Son to a woman, a mother, for a reason. Jesus could have come into the world in any number of ways. But God placed his Son into the arms of a mother. He knew that Mary would be devoted to Jesus as a mother always is to her child. But more than that, God knew that we would need to feel like there is a mother caring for us.
Catholic leaders have done wrong by children. These leaders have taught children about their heavenly Mother, Mary, but they have done little to put earthly mothers in the leadership of the church.
Last week, as millions of Christians celebrated the Assumption of Mary, still more horrific reports emerged from Pennsylvania dioceses. I could only wonder, “What is Mother Mary thinking right now?”
I imagine, like the mothers I know, she is weeping.
The Rev. Sarah T. Condon is assistant for pastoral care at St. Martin’s Church in Houston and a frequent contributor to Mockingbird.