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Where We Live: Shaken to my core

Published September 08. 2018 07:29AM

By Karen Cimms

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

Defined from the Latin, this means “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”

I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot lately.

I first heard it about 15-20 years ago. Our parish priest had been to my parents’ home for dinner, something he did quite frequently. He and my mother were debating something about heaven and Christianity, and I recall him saying, “You know, Marie, for years people believed that there was no salvation outside the Catholic Church.”

I interpreted that to mean you didn’t have to be a Catholic in order to go to Heaven, and that followers of other religions had just as good a chance of getting there, all things being equal.

Mom’s response?

“I still believe that, Father.”

She laughed, but knowing my mother, I’m pretty sure she meant exactly what she said. The only way to get to Heaven was to be a practicing Catholic.

These days, I can’t help but wonder if she would feel the same way.

One of my mother’s closest childhood friends became a priest. They remained friends throughout her life. She regularly entertained members of the clergy. Priests, seminarians, nuns, deacons, monsignors, and at least one bishop, dined at our table or were fed by her at the church rectory.

My parents often vacationed with our parish priest, and when he was on his deathbed, he asked that they be called so he could say goodbye.

When my mother died almost seven years ago, another priest, also a close friend, traveled from Philadelphia to Lake Harmony in a snowstorm to concelebrate the funeral Mass and to deliver the homily.

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus — Outside the Church there is no salvation.

Obviously, I grew up staunchly Catholic, even if I didn’t subscribe to every single belief and edict.

After the Aug. 14 release of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report on child sexual abuse which identified more than 300 predator priests, my faith hasn’t suffered, but I can’t say the same for my Catholicism.

I know there have been accusations and reports of abuse by priests for a while now, but I never fully understood the magnitude or the extent of the depravity.

When the report came out, I timidly read through the list of offenders, hoping not to recognize any names. Not that it would make a difference to any of the victims, but no one wants to find out that they entertained, socialized with or subjected their children to someone who is supposed to be above reproach — a man of God — but who is in fact the worst kind of human.

While none of the priests I knew on a close, personal level were on the list, I was acquainted with some of them.

Two of the priests were teachers at Marian while my son was there; one of them was his religion teacher. At the time, I thought he was rather brilliant. The other I worked with frequently when I volunteered at the school, and I found him funny and personable. I remember frequent chats about art, music and culture in relation to the Church.

I don’t know the full extent of what either man was accused of, but I did read a summation of some of the horrors conducted by their peers against innocent children, and it made me ill.

Perhaps worse was the knowledge that so many of these pedophiles and rapists weren’t punished, but were simply transferred or allowed to retire or relocate.

No one will ever be able to explain to me how our bishop, who I knew and respected, who teased and joked with my children and also confirmed them, could be fully aware that priests serving in our diocese had done unspeakable things to children and not only didn’t report them to the authorities, but actively protected them.

That any other priest who knew of these abominations and who continued to say Mass daily, administer sacraments, teach, counsel, console, pray and not report those monsters to law enforcement boggles my mind.

That this has gone on for decades all over the country (and the world) and was known behavior is beyond staggering.

I’ve always tried to be the kind of person who believes in forgiveness and who tries not to judge others, but in this case, I really don’t think that’s possible.

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus — Outside the Church there is no salvation.

As far as I’m concerned, for some, within the Church there should be no salvation either.


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