The Catholic Church’s #NotAllMen Moment

An international Catholic organization is planning to use the last Sunday in October to recognize and applaud priests who have not abused children or vulnerable adults.

The idea behind “Priesthood Sunday” cannot be more misplacedObviously not all priests are abusing children. It is also obvious that many Catholics are outraged over the abuse scandal that has engulfed their church. Because of this, we cannot help but feel that “Priesthood Sunday” as organized by Serra International is little more than the Catholic Church’s “#NotAllMen” moment.

For those unfamiliar, #NotAllMen was a hashtag that first caught fire in 2014 after tens of thousands of women took to twitter and Facebook to share their stories of harassment, abuse, and disrespect they faced from men on a daily basis using the hashtag #YesAllWomen. In defense of their gender, some men began using #NotAllMen to point out that many men (usually themselves)were not abusers. The response then, appropriate as ever, was “that is entirely irrelevant.” Obviously, not every man is an abuser. But when people are finding the courage to come forward and share their experiences, the appropriate response is never “well, I didn’t do that!” Rather, the correct thing to do is stay silent, listen attentively, and learn about what one can do to make a difference for those who have been hurt.

Priesthood Sunday feels much in the same vein as that hashtag – a moment of misplaced outrage and misspent effort, all to counter a narrative that is not being pushed. No one is seriously saying that all Catholics are OK with abuse and that all priests are abusers. What people are saying is simply what has been backed up by independent investigations and grand jury reports over the past two decades: that this abuse crisis is real, these cover-ups are ongoing, that men and women who have been hurt by the church have been marginalized and ignored, and this all must end now. It is understandable that many priests and parishioners are feeling uncomfortable right now. Sadly, it does not remotely compare to the lifetime of pain that survivors experience.

The organizers of this event likely do not mean to cause offense, but as the famous saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Instead of planning a day of support for priests and Catholics who have hurt feelings over news reports from the past couple of months, we would encourage the folks at Serra International to instead support All Survivors Day on November 3, an international day to recognize survivors of sexual abuse who have dealt with pain and trauma for their entire lives.

As survivors come forward to share their experiences and as law enforcement takes steps to ensure accountability, the correct thing to do is support that reform, not to partake in the emotional equivalent of NIMBYism. We hope that those interested in Priesthood Sunday will instead direct their attention where it belongs: to those survivors in need of support.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


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