Augustine: Catholicism in the age of #MeToo

Kathryn Augustine, Op-Ed Contributor

Growing up with a Catholic-raised mother, I frequently attended mass and Sunday school on weekends. In snug classrooms adorned with framed prayers and wooden crosses, I learned the meanings behind the components of communion and each word to the “Our Father” prayer. Although I never considered myself to be particularly religious, I was immersed in the Catholic community and culture from a young age.

As I became older and my weekends quickly filled up with sports games and procrastinated schoolwork, my trips to mass decreased as my awareness of issues clouding the Catholic church sharply increased. Why couldn’t girls be priests? Why couldn’t two men or two women marry? How could the Catholic church remain silent while children were assaulted by its own clergy?

After watching “Spotlight,” a movie detailing the 2002 investigative report by the Boston Globe of rampant sexual assault in Catholic churches, these feelings intensified. With the realization that the priest John J. Geoghan was transferred to and preached at the local church that I attended when I was younger, I was awestruck. The thought that one of his victims could’ve been me if I had been there years earlier, or someone I know was almost surreal.

Here we are in 2018 — 16 years later — yet a culture of inaction and silence in the Catholic world remains against a backdrop of #MeToo and survivor empowerment.

For instance, in June of 2017, sexual assault allegations emerged against former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, a powerful religious figure. Even more troubling, a letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò alleged that Pope Francis, along with others, knew of his slew of assaults. Like far too many leaders in the church, McCarrick was not stripped of priesthood but rather rose in the ranks. Only recently has McCarrick stepped down, likely in response to the media coverage of his behavior.

A final meeting of bishops regarding the church’s abuse crisis took place on Wednesday, November 14. The outcome? The Vatican decided to postpone voting on potential measures, and no concrete plan was set to change the church’s toxic culture.

Not only does a lack of mobilization to institute reforms invalidate the survivors of the abuse, but it presents young children who are growing up Catholic in the face of #MeToo with two conflicting messages. They are left in a state of confusion about how to respond to sexual assault and harassment.

Do these children look at the inaction of the church and interpret that sexual assault is an honest mistake that can be slipped under the carpet, forgiven with a simple “I’m sorry?” Or, do they look to ideas presented by members of the #MeToo movement and realize that an open dialogue and validating survivors is essential?

The consequences of the former is, frankly, terrifying. People are finally beginning to see the importance of education on sexual assault and what it means, encouraging survivors to step forward and believing them. The Catholic church is still stuck in an era when sexual assault was normalized, and they have catching up to do.

I see sexual assault as an issue that cannot be resolved without the unwavering support of all institutions — religious or not. Without the Catholic church incorporating the ideals of popular culture on this issue, sexual assault will persist within Catholic spheres. This is unfair to any Catholic who wants to have a relationship with the church while also being committed to ending sexual violence, wherever it manifests.

Kathryn Augustine is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.