Updated: Sep 30, 2018
by Margo Ritchie
Words I hear…and say...frequently these days are overwhelmed, fatigue, powerless. I know that I am not alone.
One of my personal preoccupations is searching where hope lives in me…in us. I pay attention these days when I find myself saying, “Now this is something new that is breaking through the misery of the news cycle and the ongoing jagged edges of our relationships.” I notice in these moments that my breathing shifts. Something of a tension relaxes. Perhaps it is like feeling, “Oh yes, with all of who we are and all our accumulated painful history, we are, all of us, in this human journey together.”
Much has been written about the “scourge” of sexual abuse. Many apologies have been offered. There have been articles about whether the church is capable of change or whether the institution is doomed. I have heard some writers say that the church needs to ordain married men…as if celibacy is the real issue. I have heard some people say that the church needs to ordain women, as if a gender change without an overall transformation of thinking is the answer. In some way it all begins to feel like more of the same script.
Sexual abuse highlights symptoms that something is coming undone. Something has been unraveling for ages and mostly noticeably in the last few decades. Being unsettled now is the result of centuries of collective blindness about our relationship with each other. Why have some been said to have authority and others not? Why are sources of wisdom said to be in certain places and people and not others? These are unsettling questions. They are also the questions that may, with time, give rise to hope.
When I step back and look from the vantage point of the last 40 years, the first shock of sexual abuse in the church was the alliance of government, social service agencies and church in the story of the abuse in Mount Cashel orphanage in the late 1980s. I have friends who during that time were undone by the events and the revelations of cover-up at Mount Cashel. And then fast and furious more stories came to light. Behind all of that was the thought, “Surely this is it now. The worst is over.”
And then the Truth and Reconciliation report of 2015 highlighted the sexual, physical and spiritual abuse in residential schools by both priests and sisters. Add to this the #metoo movement and the fall of many men in “high places” followed by the grand jury report regarding sexual abuse by priests and bishops from Pennsylvania. The accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh bring into sharp relief the attitudes of shaming the women coming forward.
Something is coming radically undone. And in the process many people are becoming radically undone.
In the midst of this harsh reality, I discover that hope is not cheap. It does not lie on the surface of things. What I do know is that hope rises from the unexpected response, the unpredictable turn in what seemed an oh so predictable story. Hope is defiant against all odds and hope sends breath into the future.
For many the courage to speak their experience is a deep dive into their own story. They pay the price for speaking out. For others, the dive is simply too deep. Typically, an individual voice begins to echo in others and then, as in our day, the voice becomes a collective movement.What emerges is a system that begins to be seen for what corrodes it…and painfully a system that begins to see itself.
Hope breathes air into the future…like when people begin to know in their bones that things do not have to be this way. And even more when people begin to experience from the pain of their own trauma, that they are pivotal in creating something new. A sign of hope is when someone or some groups begin to know their wisdom too is needed and they become voices pointing to a future.
I would say that this website is one of the places where the new is pressing to emerge. While rage and overwhelm are still in the air and must be for now, there is also perhaps a new sense that because of my\our experience we can be the forerunners of creating something new in ourselves, in our relationships, in our world. From the place of painful seeing perhaps some are beginning to imagine a new horizon in which they are not only survivors but also creators…breathing hope into the future.
Margo Ritchie is a Sister of St. Joseph presently on the Leadership Team in her Community.