Hurting in the Church: A way Forward for Wounded Catholics

by Father Thomas Berg

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


On this August day in 2018, many know from the title the importance of journeying forward as we deal with the awful sins of our Church and society. The author is a professor of moral theology and vice-rector of the Seminary in New York. He has a website www.fatherberg.com. The book is written for Catholics (others could benefit from it) who have had a painful experience in the Church. With the plethora of reports written one would concur that this book will be helpful to many.


The professor of moral theology has a great deal to offer in regard to remedying the hurt. He is also spreading a larger web in regard to hurt. He is referring to a lack of charity with each other in our rectories, churches, meeting places and Church itself. He did not set out to deal with clericalism but includes it with a deep and abiding respect for one another. In the introduction the author states the seriousness of the emotional wounds we impose on one another.


There are three main sections to the book: Part I explores the many ways we hurt in the Church beginning with the author’s own story and including the stories of others; Part 2 aims at offering wounded Catholics remedies for the hurt and offers a process of healing as well as a new and beautiful understanding of the Church and what it means to be a follower of Christ; Part 3 turns our attention from our individual wounds to the wounds of the Mystical Body of Christ.


In Chapter 1, Father Berg tells his story. He received his conversion to Christ in college and then the call to priesthood shortly after. He is on fire with Christ and joins the Legionaries. The unfolding of his story is one that needs to be read. It is painful to read and warrants the deep seated trauma many situations can carry. In Chapter 2 called “Soul Murder,” the author states that most of the people who were sexually abused were very close to the Church. Father Berg relates the story of a woman named Jean who was abused repeatedly by the priest of her parish. This priest was dearly loved by her parents. In fact, he was eventually buried next to her parents. She loved Christ and loved the job she had at the rectory. This is such a mind boggling story of abuse that one would basically cry reading this chapter so aptly named “Soul Murder”.


In Chapter 3, the author relates the difficulties and blessings of being a Catholic priest. These difficulties are often from a psychological perspective which is deeply important. However, he calls priest to that wonderful sense of holiness that they began their priesthood with, the making of a covenant with God.


In Chapter 4, Father Berg, draws the picture of how our parishes have grown cold. Personally, I have seen this happen. When I asked for my son’s baptismal certificate as he was getting married out of town, one would think I had asked what was in their bank account! The author relates that there doesn’t seem to be much joy in the interactions of people in the parishes and yet our hospitality is intrinsically basic to who we are as Church. We are the Mystical Body of Christ.


In Chapter 5, Father Berg relates the importance of the teachings of the Church on reproduction. Whether one agrees or disagrees, this is a well written chapter on the struggles of keeping true to our Baptismal promises and to its teachings.


In Chapter 6, the author lays out the steps for personal healing which includes: accepting help from a person or persons who are deeply committed Catholics. Sometimes pride, vanity, laziness or trust could prevent us from addressing the issue. Father Berg reached out to licensed family counselors for help and accepted it with prayer and thoughtful conversation. There is also the importance of a shoulder to cry on while owning the hurt. Often the wounds are humiliating, embarrassing and infuriating and take a long time to heal. The author began to feel a disciple of Christ, grounded in love and respect for the Church after he consulted his spiritual director and made a discerning retreat.


In Chapter 7 deals with forgiveness and how this forgiveness can be accomplished. It is a difficult task to forgive others and even more difficult to forgive ourselves as in the case of Megan’s story.


In Chapter 8, Father Berg, relates the issue of conflicting thought and how those thoughts may be resolved. Resolution of conflicting thoughts is the key to healing Father Berg gives examples of those conflicting thoughts for the use of the reader and for further meditation.


In Chapter 9, Father Berg addresses the issue of discerning a call within a crisis. Father tells the story of Miguel and how he eventually wants to help the Church heal. He quotes Dawn Eden who uses the wounds of Jesus to come to peace with her own woundedness.


In Chapter 10, Father Berg offers ways to heal a hurting Church. He gives specific examples of how this can be done. He states on p.181: “What we need as a Church is a new commitment to open ourselves to one another, not with a politically correct “tolerance” but with a radical empathy and with a principled compassion that remains as faithful to Church teaching as it is passionate about doing all the good it can for the other.” The author continues with words of tenderness the ways we can convey it in our typical parish.


Father Berg concludes the book with recommended reading. This is a very moving book that provides excellent psychological insights and an important call to continue the work of discipleship. This book will show how the Mystical Body of Christ will continue to draw believers to the flock and embrace those who have returned after being hurt.

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