Naïveté by Anne Kerrigan

I sometimes cannot believe how incredibly naïve I have been about the Catholic Church at points in my life. Denial is a powerful thing! I have never considered myself to be a naïve person, so I find it hard to internalize my ignorance. Perhaps my cultural, religious, and educational background contributed to my lack of awareness and my lapse of judgment. So be it—but now I have to deal with my emotional reaction to the reality of the circumstances.

For the record, I am a cradle Catholic, and I have loved the Catholic Church all my life. With the exception of nursing school, my education has always been within the Catholic community, and I have thrived within it, actually loving every minute. Everything I learned fed my mind and my spirit. During the years when I was studying at the local seminary for my master’s in theology, I was totally engaged, even as I learned about the unpleasant aspects of church history. I started to transition from a rather ignorant member of the church to being a more well-informed Catholic. That experience was a significant eye-opener for me, considering I had grown up believing that Catholics had all the answers and that they were always right! Yet, somewhat incredibly, I believed that the injustice and narrow-mindedness within the church was history; it was over.

So in 2002, when the Boston Globe serialized the systemic and long-standing clerical abuse and hierarchical cover-up in the Boston Archdiocese, I was stunned. How could this be? My sense of betrayal was profound. Obviously I was not alone in that feeling of betrayal. The entire Catholic community as well as the world was shocked. The scandal dominated the newspaper headlines for weeks and months on end.

Almost immediately, a reform group demanding accountability was started in the Boston area called Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). Many faithful Catholics flocked to this reform group, all hoping to effect positive changes in the church. The scandal sent shock waves reverberating strongly here on Long Island, especially because the new bishop had just been transferred from Boston!

A Long Island subsidiary of VOTF, VOTF-LI, was quickly formed. (Again, for the record, I was a founding member of this group.) It started out as a small branch of the main group in Boston, but soon we had hundreds of members. The monthly meetings (held in the large meeting hall of a local Catholic church) were jam packed. Everyone contributed both by their presence as well as financially. We wrote letters and position papers, and we were in constant contact with the local daily newspaper on Long Island. The reporters attended our meetings. It was a vibrant and exciting time to be part of a group of Catholics who were in the forefront of demanding change, accountability, and transparency.

Then, after some months, the hammer fell. The diocese issued a directive to all parishes that VOTF-LI was not allowed to meet in any Catholic church or associated meeting halls.

What?! I remember thinking incredulously. Those of us who started the group had worked so hard to make a positive difference in how the church interacted with its people, and now we were being shut down? I couldn’t believe it. I would have thought the church would have welcomed us because we were trying to change things for the better. But despite the fact that we were dedicated, committed Roman Catholics who loved the church, they were trying to silence us. I should have known it was coming, but my innate trust in the church deluded me. I had anticipated a rather rapid and positive response to the call for honesty and transparency. Naïveté.

Now, almost 20 years later, the local Long Island branch of VOTF has disappeared. Many of the older members have died. Others have retired or relocated, or else left the church altogether. The scandals and the cover-ups within the church continue. For the most part, parishes remain miniature fiefdoms with nonfunctioning pastoral councils. Financial committees exist but the pastors make the decisions. Misogyny persists as well as other, more sophisticated forms of racism. The LGBTQ+ community is still considered “intrinsically disordered” and struggles to find a place within the church. Many Catholic adoption agencies will not let gay couples adopt. Sometimes it feels like little has changed over the millennia.

While I still consider myself a faithful practicing Roman Catholic, I disagree with many of the church’s “rules.” I no longer look at the church through my naïve and uninformed lens. I am personally saddened by it all. Yet I remain grateful for the compassion and love for others I do see within the Catholic community, especially through social justice imperatives. I am grateful for all that I have learned throughout my years of Catholic education. But now I listen to the powers that be with much more caution. I trust my own judgment, my own conscience, and my own relationship with God as I make my moral decisions, and I am at peace with that.

How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you! 

You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. 

You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, and yet never in this world have I touched anything more pure, more generous, and more beautiful. 

Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you. 

Then where would I go? To build another church? 

But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough. I know better! 

– Brother Carlo Carretto, “Ode to the Church”

Anne Kerrigan is a registered nurse, mother of five, and grandmother of nine. She also has a master’s degree in theology and is the winner of the Australasian Religious Press Association Silver Award in Excellence for “Best Faith Reflection.” She is in the process of writing her memoir. She can be reached at

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