Broken Catholic: My Healing Journey Through Institutional Crisis


I once went roller skating with my children and came home with a concussion. Middle age clearly hadn’t improved my ability to stay upright on a set of wheels! And when my head hit that concrete wall, life changed.

I had experienced minor head injuries in the past but this one was different. The pain, fatigue, and confusion were intense and lasted for many weeks. I lost memory and my ability to imagine the future or visualize. Simple tasks were overwhelming.

Sometimes I would wake at night not knowing where I was. I couldn’t place the room or the house, the direction I was facing…nothing. And so I would lie still in the dark, trying not to panic while I waited for my mind to connect my identity with my surroundings.

I knew who I was. I just didn’t understand how I fit in with everything else. Once I was driving again, I had the humbling experience of getting lost in my own neighborhood.

Lost in my own neighborhood, my own home, my own mind.

I have since healed but I was reminded recently of the ordeal as I stood in the middle of my kitchen processing the news of the Amazonian Synod. My head ached a little at the site of my concussion even after the passage of so much time. And I felt a familiar sinking and panicky feeling of disconnectedness…

Of knowing that I am alive and standing in a kitchen, but disconnected from what is most important to me.

“Breathe. Call on Jesus. And wait.”

That had been my formula for navigating every wave of panic during my head injury recovery. What is real? I am real. I can feel myself breathing and the floor under my feet. And Jesus is real. If all else passes away — if I never recover my mind or my context — He is real. And He reigns.

Come, Lord Jesus.

My mini crisis of finding my context within the Church faded and passed and I went about my day, reminded to breathe the name of Jesus Christ into each moment. I had been in this same place of faith crisis before and had resolved my fears in His heart. Or rather, He had drawn me in and healed me. Because of that, I knew that it would be okay. It would be more than okay.

I had been here before…

A few years ago, I hit my figurative head hard on the stone cold truth of corruption in the Church and sank deeply into the depths of loss and fear. It wasn’t just one event but several devastating blows inflicted by multiple trusted priests, an institutional failure to protect people I loved, discovering shocking corruption at the highest levels of the Church, and having my eyes opened even further to the true depth of evil present in so many areas of the Body of Christ.

It seemed that nothing was untouched by evil. The worst kinds of evil.

Well before the McCarrick scandal shook the Church, I was on my knees begging God to restore my connection with the institution. He let me fall deeply into darkness and doubt and strike my head repeatedly on the crisis of decay.

I longed for the straight-forward Jesus that my Protestant friends seemed to know and I grappled with truth, with grief, with the weakness of others, and with my own failures. I experienced an aversion to the institution. I wanted to leave. I wanted to run. I was grief-stricken and angry.

Every day as I struggled to pray, I took apart my faith and laid the nuts and bolts out to examine them. And each time I did that, I found that the Truth and Person of Jesus Christ remained. And because He remained, the Eucharist also remained…and I could not leave Him. But for a while, it was painful…

“Breathe. Call on Jesus. And wait.”

I knew that the healing of my broken heart would have to come from Christ alone and I begged Him for that consolation. I would not leave Him or His Church and yet I shuddered at the thought of a lifetime of such pain of disconnectedness and doubt.

My anger and grief were a significant stumbling block to my interior and exterior action as a Catholic. As my anger grew, I looked more deeply into my own confusion…

I had to reconcile the mess of the Church and my anger with the promises of Our Lord.

I was a wounded daughter seeking to understand the actions of an abusive “parent” - the human face of the Church - and what I found brought me clarity and kept me focused on and confident in a loving and faithful God. Instead of being submerged in the narcissistic guilt-trip inflicted by abusive prelates, I began to distinguish the voice of Christ from the wicked who took on His robe but not His heart.

I write all this down (sloppy and raw as it is) so that some might be consoled and lifted. I see many leaving the Church and also many trying to reconcile their doubt by following dissident paths within the Church. Feminism is experiencing a revival within the sanctuary of Catholic homes and parishes as women try to find their identity in a culture of abusive prelates.

There is also a slipping into the occult, into leftist social justice activism, evidence of our desire to make the Church into something that doesn’t cause pain. Something that we can control. Something that looks like some measure of order and peace. It is a creeping temptation…a way of self-pacifying…

“The Church has failed me. It is not enough. So I must make it enough. More than this embarrassing mess. Oh yes, I’m a Catholic…but not that kind, you understand. Not the embarrassing deficient kind. I’m different.”

Not every label is bad, but at our final judgement, we won’t get to keep any of those modifiers. We will be stripped of all our preferred labels, ministries, and projects and stand naked to the soul before the Person of Christ. And on earth, we will not find our peace and healing in an identity that is less than the Gospel and the fullness of the Deposit of Faith; that core of Truth which sits squarely and undiluted in the heart of the Catholic Church.

My healing came only when I looked directly at that truth and also at the pervasive corruption which has infiltrated almost every diocese, order, and structure within the institution. And it came only when I called it out and named it as the spirit of the anti-Christ.

Throughout Salvation History, that spirit of evil has walked alongside the work of the Holy Spirit. We are shocked and scandalized to see it clinging to our Church. Why? Because we have forgotten our history. We have forgotten the Scriptures…

We have forgotten that Christ let his enemy so close that it nailed Him to a tree.

Enough. Let’s look at it. And then let’s cast it out. Again and again. As many times as it comes back into our homes and parishes and even Rome…let us rise against it in righteous anger (and deeper joy), declaring the victory for Christ.

The spirit of the diabolical will not have my soul.
It will not have my children.
It will not have my husband.
It will not have my community.
It will not have my parish.
Not my priests.
Not my country.
Not my Church.

Not on my watch. Not while I have the audacity to unite myself to the living God whose bloodied image hangs in my home. If I accept the Gospel, I accept ALL of it. Including the part that says love came down and was tortured and murdered.

As I researched the corruption, my eyes were opened and, while I was horrified, I also received a great measure of confidence and peace. My prior grief was rooted in the confusing and erroneous suspicion that somehow evil had infiltrated Christ Himself. It had not. It is an enemy that can only lie and throw stones and pound nails. It cannot overtake Christ. It cannot stop Easter. And I see that the downfall of so many Catholics is that in our attempt to reconcile our faith with evil in clerical robes, we excuse that evil, ignore it, cover it, or change the story and language. We think it is healing balm but it is only a bandaid, covering the horrible truth.

In order to avoid a complete personal and communal loss of faith, we must learn how to identify what is bad and separate it from what is good. There are many faithless priests. There are many Catholics who also do not believe. Not only is it “okay” to demand that these distinctions be made, but we are obligated by the Gospel and compelled by our love of Christ to do so.

By the time the McCarrick scandal hit, I was prepared for the blow and I was not shaken in faith. I knew that he was a troubled priest and I knew that the men close to him were similarly troubled. I had faced it head on and wept and raged. I didn’t know all…but I knew enough.

Many in the Church at the time were talking about leaving Christ because of Judas. Because they were hurt. And shocked. Just like I had been hurt and shocked in the years before. But sometimes we fall or leave because we have set up our own Catholic identity as a little idol…and the edifice starts to crumble. Embarrassing. Uncomfortable. Frightening.

We are terrified that our commitment to the institution will prove us to be fools and abusers. So we defend the indefensible in order to protect our identity. We also defend out of a great desire to love, respect, and honor others whom we are bound to love.

My time of doubt and darkness lasted about two years and I did not know if it would end. I begged the Lord for healing and He answered my prayer but He also waited. He allowed me to suffer that spiritual injury and loss of connection. He stood silent (but active) while I grappled with the darkness of evil in mankind and myself. And then all at once, He lifted the heaviest part of that burden.

For those who might mistake this article as some kind of personal boast, I assure you that it is not. My suffering was not (is not) well done. Not poetic. Not admirable in any way. If it had been public, it would have scandalized many. If you knew my failings even now, you would not follow me. My only boast is that, through the grace of Jesus Christ, I begged Him not to let me go…

And He didn’t. He doesn’t.

I stood in the middle of darkness and confusion and pain and stayed connected only by speaking the truth to God, myself, and others. My desperation and inability to see and move was as real as the traumatic physical damage of my concussion. And lasted much longer.

I do not know what the future brings for me or for the Church in the short term (although I do know how it all ends). But I will tell you one thing that I hope takes you to a place of grappling… and I hope you let Jesus raise you up…

The Church is filled with wolves and jackals. They are overcome by the spirit of the anti-Christ who has existed since the fall of Lucifer and over whom Christ has the eternal victory. But the days of evil are numbered. And even if it inhabits every holy office of Rome, it sits there as an imposter.

What do we do when bad men sit in positions of power in the Church? Stand fast. We are not leaving. If they keep the robes of Christ but deny Him with their teachings, then they have placed themselves and many others in eternal peril.

But let it not be us…

Stand fast.
Do not lose hope.
Cling to Christ.

The Church is not a nation. It cannot be overthrown. Even if it has to live in the catacombs of our homes and hearts while corrupt men grow fat on the goodness of the faithful…

Stand fast. Breathe. Call on Jesus. Wait.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash