'A Goal to Reflect Jesus'
Strength in Church's Message Brings New Catholics to Our Door

By Lenore Christopher
The Catholic Telegraph [Cincinnati OH]
Downloaded March 21, 2003

ARCHDIOCESE - The stressful revelations of child abuse in the church may have rocked the faith foundation of some cradle Catholics, but it appears to be more of a distraction than a deterrent to people whose faith journey is leading them to Catholicism. For many, there is no connection between the scandal and their resolve to join the church.

"It didn't impact my decision, because that was a very different area," said Beth Titus, who returned a call to The Catholic Telegraph on her lunch hour at the New Bremen school where she teaches. "It didn't have anything to do with me."

"Of course, it's upsetting," one elect told the CT, "but it is irrelevant in terms of my own spiritual path."

Another said he had been asked by members of the church where he attends, "'Why would you want to join this church . . . now?'" He answered, "Why not?"

Without question, "it is a painful time to become a Catholic," said Ruth at St. Henry Church in Dayton. Ironically - and similar to others' experiences this year - just as she was "becoming more convinced that the Catholic Church is true," some of her new friends were leaving active participation in the church. "Here I was, a non-Catholic trying to talk Catholics into staying!"

Despite the "gut-wrenching" disclosures and the "ugly sin that is destructive to the body of Christ," Ruth continued to discern, conscientiously and spiritually, her place in the church.

Why people have stayed to study, pray and steadfastly move enthusiastically toward the Easter Vigil seems to have more to do with personal commitment and the strength of the Holy Spirit than with isolated incidents and erroneous exaggerations, according to the elect contacted by The Catholic Telegraph."Truth is not contained in the human frailty of people," said Ruth. "My life goal is to reflect Jesus and I too have human failings."

However, "I didn't turn a blind eye (to the abuse). I was grieved, but I could not ignore the truth that God was revealing to me on a daily basis." Ruth could also not ignore the witnesses she found in the parish "who were living their faith."

For her, the Eucharist, sensing the Holy Spirit and getting to know those people "were critical in my journey" and outweighed examples of human weakness. "Part of our life journey is that people disappoint us," she concluded, "but that takes you into forgiveness."

The bottom line is, "I am seeing with different eyes the power of God and His glory. It is a rich heritage and I am very humbled and blessed," she said. "I feel undeserving and I am incredibly grateful."

Ruth's sentiments mirror others' reflections in the archdiocese.

"I don't think a few people in the world should influence what I believe in and what my faith is," said Lori Roesch in Cincinnati. "When I walk into St. John Neumann, it's a family. They are big on community and loving one another." Therefore, similar to a workplace, "you can't have one or two people spoil that."

RCIA is "the best thing that has happened to me and my spirituality," she said, and, with the help of her mentors, she is developing "a more intimate relationship with God."

"Everybody has their own opinion," agreed Rick Graham at St. Mary of the Woods in Russells Point. "It's sad, very sad," but other people's trouble with a few priests "doesn't condemn (the church) in my eyes." And, "I don't let the media influence my choices. I know what is right and wrong."

Garra Myers at Queen of Martyrs Church in Dayton said, "I didn't have my faith in a priest, but in God. I don't know how I am supposed to feel about it, but I do feel the priests are just men and are not infallible."

Is she disappointed in the church leadership? "Of course, but I didn't question God or my faith." What has disturbed Garra are court rulings that allow victims to sue for financial awards - money, she believes, that is desperately needed for the church to continue its ministries.

Garra said the fact that some of the "highest ranking" members of the church were involved in such abuse and its cover-up proves no one is immune (to sin). As a teacher, "I am hoping that they learn from it and parishioners learn to instruct their children" about appropriate touching.

"I see a priest as a man who is doing God's work on earth better than I am doing it," said Garra, "but he is still human," which means he too was bound to make mistakes and need forgiveness. "Not that we want or expect priests to make mistakes - because they supposed to be our teachers - but you have to be prepared for it because human beings do sin and they are supposed to learn from that."

Joy Dowell at St. Joseph Church in Cincinnati was just as unswerving about becoming Catholic. "It is time for me to get back to church. That's the path I am going on. I did not give a second thought to turning away. I have come too far. It's time."

As far as the child abuse incidents in the church, Joy said, It's sad, but "I handled it, the same as anybody else on the street. The church is human. They will clean it up. And I'm excited about joining the church."

Those who spoke with The Catholic Telegraph did agree there will be - and should be - positive as well as negative challenges for the church in the future.

Garra hopes the church will focus on what needs to be done and the people who will provide for those needs.

"There are a lot of organizations in the church that people take for granted" - organizations that function in the greater communities and on which many rely. With less money available because of pending lawsuits, especially, programs will be impacted.

Garra also believes there may be challenges to priestly vocations, because of the stigma that has been associated with the calling. But, she concluded, when the day is done, "I have found a home. This is where I was meant to be."

Lori said she believes the younger generation may have become a bit lax in their faith formation and may not be taking some beliefs as seriously as they should. One example she cited is younger Catholics' views on artificial contraception.

Lori will miss the RCIA gatherings and hopes she can become part of a future team. "I would like to talk to people coming in. I am 100 percent different from what I was. It has been a definite progression."

Ruth feels "drawn to Pope John Paul II and his teachings." Among her listed challenges is the feeling that the church should continue to develop Catholic resources. "EWTN has been a crucial link on television," for example.

A product of a Protestant upbringing, Ruth knows in her own heart that an evangelical approach is not enough, "but some of the evangelical churches are doing some good things," she said, specifically their focus on Scripture and Bible study. She believes more work can be done incorporating that in the parish and school.


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