Saturday, 25 August 2018




I Stood Up in Mass and Confronted My Priest. You Should, Too.

Catholics should not keep on filling the pews every Sunday. It is wrong to support the church.

By Naka Nathaniel

Mr. Nathaniel is a former editor and videographer at The New York Times.

  • Aug. 23, 2018

ATLANTA — Last Sunday, I did something that no properly raised Catholic ever does. I stood up in the middle of Mass and called out the priest.

As the priest began his homily, I drew my 9-year-old son closer and asked him to pay close attention. Days before, a Pennsylvania grand jury had released a damning report detailing decades of horrific child sex abuse by clergymen and a church culture that covered it up.

The priest addressed the report. He said he was surprised that people showed up for that day’s service. He said the church had to change. Then he began to move on.

I couldn’t help myself. I stood up and yelled out: “Father!” He turned. I asked him, simply: “How?”

He responded that I should write to the nuncio, the pope’s representative in the United States. I told him that this was a bureaucratic answer.

Standing in front of the congregation, I pointed to my son and asked how could I ever let him make his first Communion.

As the priest answered, I became aware of the other families around me. I knew so many of them, and I was reminded of how I had always felt so at home at Mass. It always gave me such pride when my family would take up most of a pew in church.

Now I’m angry. I feel betrayed.

Susan Reynolds, a Catholic theologian from nearby Emory University, witnessed the exchange. She tweeted about it, and her recounting went viral.

Dr. Susan Reynolds@SusanBReynolds1

This morning at Mass, I witnessed something I have never seen, and words still mostly fail me. /1

7:20 PM – Aug 19, 2018

I wouldn’t exist without Catholicism. My parents’ interracial marriage was condoned by their families because they shared the religion. I was an altar boy and attended Catholic school. I played church-organized youth sports, and I was an Eagle Scout in the parish troop.

I attended Mass regularly while in college. Later, working as a journalist, it was a big thrill to cover Pope John Paul II’s visit to New York in 1995. My non-Catholic wife and I were married in Holy Spirit Catholic Church in San Antonio.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, I naturally turned to the church for solace. But on the following Sunday, to my surprise, none of the church leaders at Mass acknowledged what had just happened. I was deflated and left feeling empty. Soon after, the sexual abuse scandal erupted.

The repugnant stories of abuse touched my peers. I blamed the clergy. My wife and I moved abroad, and I stopped attending Mass regularly. But as I traveled in the developing world, I was proud to see Catholic missionaries working in the most desperate situations driven by our shared faith. I have still occasionally felt the pull of Sunday Mass.

It was the church’s own teachings that made me stand up on Sunday and question the priest. Catholics are taught that it’s imperative to help others. We are told to protect the innocent. The church has profoundly failed to abide by these basic principles by allowing the sins of sexual abuse to continue.

Aside from my family, two institutions helped form my character: the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. Both organizations encouraged me to stand up for what is right and to use our strength to aid those in need.

On Father’s Day 2012, with those lessons in mind, I wrote an op-ed and went on television calling on the Boy Scouts to drop their antigay policies. I hated that the Scouts had won a Supreme Court case in 2000 that let them exclude gay scouts and leaders.

Just before my son was old enough to join the Scouts, the head of the organization, Robert Gates, ended the unjust prohibitions against gay members, just as he had done as secretary of defense. I enthusiastically signed up my son and became cub master of our local pack.

I’m not someone to quit and run. I’m proud that I spoke out against the injustice of the Scouts and helped instigate change from inside an organization that had lost its way.

In a letter on Monday to the congregation, Father Mark Horak, the Jesuit priest I confronted, wrote: “If you love the church, remain within and work for its fundamental reform.”

But the church can’t be changed from the inside. It has already tried that.

Ms. Reynolds has become the lead author on a letter calling for the American bishops to resign. I’m glad that my actions inspired her. I hope the rest of the flock heeds her call.

But we should go further and demand that every ordained member of the Catholic Church resign, including the pope. If any other organization had covered up the rampant sexual abuse of children, the government would rightly shut it down. Why should the Catholic Church be any different?

I’m mad at the church administration, as I was in 2002. But now I’m also angry at the congregation. I’m upset with the people who aren’t demanding that every member of the clergy resign.

Catholics cannot keep on filling the pews every Sunday. It is wrong to support the church.

At the end of last Sunday’s service, before the recessional, the priest stopped us and kindly told my son that he had a good dad. Then the father looked at me and said the most honest thing I’ve ever heard in a church: “You and I have no influence.”

He was right. And if congregants like me have no influence, and if parents like me no longer feel safe and comfortable bringing our sons and daughters to make Communion, then the Catholic Church is beyond redemption.

Naka Nathaniel is a former editor and videographer at The New York Times.


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