By Lynn Charnitz
Awake Leadership Team
To be Catholic is both a gift and a summons. My involvement in Awake has made me ever more acutely aware of this. The issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is the core of Awake’s mission. But as a Catholic, I cannot help but notice the interrelatedness of justice issues, especially during these difficult days in our city and our country. The problem of clergy sexual abuse and the problem of racial inequity are vastly different in so many ways, yet in the underlying injustices of each we can find common ground.
Lesson #1: Injustice is an impediment to thriving communities.
Sexual abuse has impacted the health of the Church, causing reduced attendance and financial support as well as mistrust of clergy and church leadership. Similarly, racial injustice has harmed the health of the community, which is evident in the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the black community. Societal problems such as the lack of job opportunities and educational disparity are linked to poorer health outcomes. Injustice in any community is an obstacle to growth and thriving.
Lesson #2: Injustice requires us to face issues we’d like to avoid.
Clergy abuse and racial injustice are not easy topics, and they do not lend themselves to simple solutions. They raise issues that take us out of our comfort zone, that are a challenge to include in our conversations and daily living. Addressing them is difficult, but we must persevere.
Lesson #3: Injustice does not abide ambivalence.
In his May 31, 2020 statement on the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich said, “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” Too often our church leadership and fellow Catholics are not outraged about the problem of sexual abuse, with the silence broken only when there are national headlines. We are called to pay attention and speak out to bring and keep the spotlight on issues of injustice.
Lesson #4: Injustice necessitates education.
Only when we know what we are facing can we take effective action. This requires becoming educated by reading, listening, and learning. There are countless resources available to help us learn about the problems of racial injustice, and Awake works tirelessly to provide resources to help people educate themselves about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. We must make a commitment to become educated and then use our knowledge to advocate for change.
Lesson #5: Injustice invites action.
Jesus taught “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, so you do to me” (Matthew 25:31-46). Our fellow humans need our compassion and support, but the next step is action, which is what brings about the necessary change. Numbers make a difference when it comes to fighting against injustice. Lend your voice, your signature, your support in the ways that you can. There are many articles and posts out about how to engage in racial justice action. And see our primer on engaging with Awake in action against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Do not underestimate what it means to change. Change is hard work, but it is possible. It seems appropriate that we call upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially wisdom, counsel, and fortitude, to accompany us on this difficult journey. At Awake, we will stay focused on our particular mission to awaken the community to the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. But we will not lose sight of our work being part of a broader call for Catholics to address injustice wherever it is found.
Social life is made by human beings. The society we live in is the outcome of human choices and decisions. This means that human beings can change things. What humans break, divide, and separate, we can—with God’s help—also heal, unite, and restore. –Fr. Bryan Massingale, from his book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church
Lynn Charnitz is retired from a career as an IT project manager, giving her time to pursue more volunteer interests. A member of SS. Peter and Paul parish in Milwaukee, she is one of those confused and conflicted by the abuse crisis, who works in small ways to be an agent of change.