Following is my March column that appears in this issue of the print edition of The Catholic Post.
“The reality of the Catholic Church today in developed countries, and certainly in the United States, is that we are a church of the hurting.”
Does that quote make you a little —or a lot —uncomfortable? It’s meant to be—-not as a provocation, but as an invitation to dialogue and healing.
The quote is from the must-read new book, Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics, by Father Thomas Berg.
I know I’ve said before that not every book is for every reader. Sometimes a book is intended for a specific audience, like moms, or young readers, or new Catholics.
But: every so often, a book is published that is so noteworthy and whose message is so significant that I believe nearly everyone should read it. These books are written that a wide range of readers—from professional theologians to average Catholics (like me!) — can and should read them to glean many good insights and grow in faith.
Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell is one. Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories by Dawn Eden is another.
Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics is the latest of these books.
Fr. Berg is a seminary professor and diocesan priest in New York. He was originally a member of the Legionaries of Christ, but discerned out of the order after disclosures of the founder’s decades of sexual abuse and many other misdeeds. Fr. Berg writes that he felt devastated by the revelations about something to which he had devoted much of his young life. As a result, he experienced a years-long crisis of faith and vocation. Writing “Hurting in the Church” was a major part and process in his own healing.
Hurting in the Church does tell Berg’s own story, as well as the stories of others that have experienced harm within in the church, whether through clergy sexual abuse or other issues.
But it’s much more than a narrative of horrifying experiences. Instead, it offers the stories of others as a way to heal, understand, and integrate the reality of evil in the world, and even in the Church, within one’s faith.
As Father Berg writes, many Catholics are “hurting in the church,” either in small ways or giant ways, from parish issues to lack of community to clergy sexual abuse. How to reconcile those hurts with our faith life and experience of Christ is vital to wholeness and peace, and “Hurting in the Church” is devoted to that process.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1: “The Ways We Hurt” identifies the problems and hurts we can experience as members of the Church. Helpful here is Berg’s assertion that we not minimize our hurts just because others have been “hurt worse.”
Part 2, “Toward Personal Healing” outlines Fr. Berg’s own process of recognizing himself as a “wounded healer,” and also shares the stories of others who have worked to heal thoughts and memories and use those experiences and healing to serve others who have been hurt.
Finally, Part 3, “Towards Healing a Church,” proposes ways to continue to have faith in Christ & the Church, to ensure that children are protected. The final chapter, “A Revolution of Tenderness,” beautifully offers ideas for the Church in being more responsive to hurts, as well as a caution to all of us in “controlling our tongues,” especially in a digital world, and avoid being knee-jerk in our reactions to others.
One vital message from “Hurting in the Church” is that each person—without exception—is affected and changed by the things that happens to that person. But it’s how each of us handle and integrate those experiences in a psychologically & spiritual healthy and truthful way that affects our well-being and ability to live whole lives.
In the chapter “First Steps,” Fr. Berg shares how spending time with friends who were Hurricane Katrina survivors, and who told him he had been through his own “spiritual Katrina.” Those friends helped show how their acceptance, continued hope, and faith that God would help them endure and thrive.
“The wound and how I chose to deal with it would have a lasting influence on who I would become from that point on in my life.”
One of the most helpful messages was Fr. Berg’s recommends a robust and multi-faceted approach to working through trauma. He describes a combination of spiritual and emotional tools, including just plain time, that assisted in his healing. Restoration is not just about “praying it away,” or “offering it up,” though prayer and sacrifice are part of this. It’s about the entire process, and not rushing it.
It’s may seem strange to say that you love a book with such intense content and forceful message for us all. But I did love it, and I believe a book like Hurting in the Church is so needed in the Church right now. Read it if you’ve been hurt, or you’ve known someone who was hurt, or if you love the Church. That covers just about everyone.