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THREAD. I want to talk to you about what it was like to grow up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as a Roman Catholic, and what's helpful or not helpful to say to folks/communities in times like there where yet another hideous ring of abuse has been exposed.
I grew up in Scranton. It's a heavily Catholic town -- with parishes & parish schools in every neighborhood (at least when I was still growing up), and with most families taking church really seriously. I know my family did. I missed church <10x in my ENTIRE LIFE before college.
I was, myself, a very visibly Catholic kid (I'm now athiest). I served the televised masses at St. Anne's Basilica, "starred" in the weekly children's mass on TV, attended Catholic school, sang in Catholic youth choirs, won the Bishop's Lay Award for my service to the church.
And ya'll, I was around these men. Several of the listed men. And I loved them, and I trusted them. And while I will never excuse what they did, I need to explain to you why saying "Screw these pedo priests" is not only unhelpful (even to me, who disdains the church) but cruel.
In Scranton, there's no small amount of "ethnic segregation." No, not referring to racism -- referring to ethnic tribalism. Neighborhoods are steeped in ethnicity: Minooka/Irish, West/Italian, South/German, East/Slovac, Moosic/Polish. Churches supported specific communities.
My 1st church, St. Mary Czestochowa, is 1 block from my parents' house. 1 block the other direction is my dad's childhood home. He attended SMC all his life until we switched to a nearby Irish parish (then St. Joe's, now Divine Mercy) because I started singing the masses there.
These ethnic churches are bastions of ties to Old World communities that represent so much more than any God. They were places old languages were kept alive. Old lullabyes from old countries. Traditional foods. Traditional customs. Ways of life that were carried across oceans.
I remember growing up in SMC. The smell of Polish foods cooking in the church basement during my Sunday classes. Learning about Poland. The soft sound of elderly Polish women singing and talking in Polish, teaching us Christmas Carols and Polish swear words. Keeping Poland alive.
The Church made my family's history real. We are nearly completely Polish, and my engagement in SMC even as a child blurred together my ethnicity, my identity and sense of history, my understanding of god, my understanding of my family. It was never just about "the church."
The church was both a spiritual "Jesus" community and a spiritual "Polish" community. It was a family that sustained itself and its members through lore, love, shared memory, a sense of purpose and identity that seemed frozen so beautifully in time amidst a modernized world.
When I wasn't at my home church, I attended Catholic School. St. Mary's Assumption, then Marian Catholic. I loved those schools, where nuns taught some of the classes & priests were teachers, coaches, chaperones, mentors, friends. Religious people were the fabric of my education.
I sang in a Catholic School youth choir, and we performed each year in Cathedral Capers -- a cabaret showcasing the musical talents of nuns, priests, and various Catholics of the diocese. It. Was. SO. Fun. I can still remember how hard Fr. Altavilla made me laugh. He was so kind.
Between Capers, and Catholic School, and my involvement at St. Anne's doing the televised masses, I. Met. A. Lot. Of. Priests. I worked closely with them. Traveled with them. Laughed with them. Looked up to them. Loved them. In the trusting way that young people do.
And I know multiple men who have now been accused. And my heart breaks. Not for me -- they didn't touch me -- but for the communities they served, and the sense of "living church" they destroyed. They traumatized children. They LIED. They covered up lies. They kept lying.
I grieve the sacred, historical groups they shattered -- no, not the Roman/Vatican kind -- the Polish kind, the German kind, the Irish kind. I grieve the shattered communities of lost languages, special foods, memories of safety and belonging. I grieve the loss of identity.
I grieve the warm, safe feeling I had about St. Mary Czestochowa's summer picnic, running through the dark alleyway to my house with my little cousin, bellies full of halupki, excited to announce we won a raffle. I grieve saying "Zimno!" when it's cold. I grieve, and grieve.
These priests shattered children. They shattered communities, families, connections to worlds we rapidly lose each day we become a little more "just American," & a little less Polish, or Slovac, or German, etc -- those aspects of ethnicity that create identity, value, a home.
I lost some part of my stake in this when I saw Fr. Homer named. Fr. Homer was the last pastor I knew at St. Mary Czestochowa. I shook his hand every Sunday for years. I can't look at those years the same. I wept when I saw Fr. Altavilla, Fr. Paulish. Men I knew and loved.
To be clear: I don't think my losses rival that of their victims. I don't think explaining the Catholic Church's cultural significance in a Blue Collar town will convince most of you that the Church matters. It's OK if you don't think that. But here's what I do need you to know.
When you say "The Church is disgusting," you are maligning more than pedophiles, more than corrupt Bishops like James Timlin. When you call all priests rapists, you malign more than those men who are. When you roll your eyes about another Catholic Church scandal, you hurt me.
When you roll your eyes at yet more hurt, you hurt me/others like me whose childhoods, adulthoods, souls, memories are wrapped up in the difficult/painful legacies these men left behind. You hurt my connection to Poland. You hurt my memories of Baptisms, Confirmations, funerals.
It is too easy and too simple to think that the Catholic Church only keeps the god-souls of its flock alive. No. The Catholic Church I knew was a living god, a human collection of souls, a place of connection to one another and to a cultural identity we were losing in America.
The Catholic Church I grew up in was representative of a human soul. Not just one that loved Jesus, but one that loved Polish carols and homemade pierogi and pascha bread and family crests and cursing in Yiddish and babcis and families and a home that was both here AND there.
I DO NOT EXCUSE THESE HEINOUS CRIMES COMMITTED BY MEN I LOVED. I don't ask you to. But when you insult the church writ large in response to these crimes, know that the emotional EXPERIENCE of church is distinct from the ORGANIZATION of church, for many.
Know that my sweet grandmothers knitting quilts in church basements and straightening their grandson's ties are not the acts of Bishop Timlin nor his priests. Know that the church-as-community is where Catholicism lives, for Catholics, not the church-as-Vatican or church-as-law.
And know that no matter HOW many times another sexual violence ring is exposed, it is not "old news" to the children-now-grownups who have awoken to see their heroes dethroned and destroyed and unrecognizable. It's not old news. It hurts fresh, it hurts raw, it hurts real.
So in the rush to glibly deride Catholics, Catholicism, the Church, etc. in the wake of scandal, I just ask that you limit your vitriol to the criminals themselves and I ask that you consider how they've shattered children, yes, but communities too. And that there's such grief.
It isn't old news to anyone who grew up in a Catholic town. Our very childhoods are pulverized, even if no priest laid his hands on us. Our hearts are broken. Spare us your glib vitriol long enough to let us grieve the loss of men we thought we knew, men we thought we loved.
These priests and their enablers deserve the worst of what comes to them. I do not condone them. I do not forgive them. I am enraged by all they have broken. I am enraged by what we lose every time we drift further from communities where we should have felt safe.
I hope in your calls for justice, you can remember that their wreckage extends beyond known victims. Please. I hope you can know that when you malign Catholicism writ large, you're maligning so much more than you intend.

The Church is bleeding out its poison. Allow us our grief.
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