Manitoba·Point of View

'We must be saints,' young Catholic says about surviving scandal

Being Catholic is one of the most unpopular things you can be, especially amid all the sexual abuse scandal that’s come to light, Sebastian Aguilar writes.

Winnipegger hopes to become priest but says seminary brothers seen as 'nothing more than child molesters'

The next generation of Catholics must learn to survive the scandals that plague their past. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

In February 2019, an abuse summit took place in Rome to address the global problem of abuse scandals and coverups within the Catholic Church, some of which surfaced in Winnipeg in recent years.

Ronald Léger pleaded guilty in 2015, after three men came forward with allegations of sexual abuse. Seven more men have since come forward. In October 2017, Roland Lanoie was charged with several counts of sexual assault. Both men were ordained priests who worked with youth.

So what is the impact on Catholics who aren't involved in scandal?

Sebastian Aguilar, 19, a member of the St. Vital Catholic Church in Winnipeg, offered his perspective on his faith.

Being Catholic is one of the most unpopular things you can be, especially amid the sexual abuse scandal that's come to light. 

When you're also a teenager, things can get difficult to navigate really fast. Socially, it's like being stuck in a weird limbo, where people like you because you're kind, but most people find it awkward being around you. 

When you meet others for the first time it usually goes well until they find out you're Catholic — and then the look in their eyes changes completely. Now you're just that weird religious guy. 

They find out you're Catholic — and then the look in their eyes changes completely

Don't get me wrong. There are many great people in my life who, despite having different lifestyles and world views, have become some of my closest friends.

However, the views related to Catholicism are difficult, because they arise from people who don't really know what it means to be Catholic and what we believe. So I'm always having to navigate conversations with people asking me about hot-topic issues like abortion, euthanasia — and now, the most difficult one: the sexual abuse crisis within the church.

I didn't make things any easier for myself back in 2017, when I decided to study to be a priest. 

I was in a seminary in Ohio when the Pennsylvania sex abuse scandal became public last August. Being one state over from where that was happening deeply troubled me, because I felt the intense impact on the Catholic community.

There was a clear, intensified shift in the way people looked at us and how they treated us. My own seminarian brothers, who wore the white collars associated with priests, were harassed in places such as Walmart, by people who saw them as nothing more than "child molesters." 

The seminary I was in is located in a residential area, so there are a lot of families with kids living in the neighbourhood. When I first got there, I didn't think much of that, but with the scandals it really hit me: this is not something that should be taken lightly and we had to be careful about how we conducted ourselves.

For example, we'd play basketball in our driveway, and kids from down the street would come by and want to join.

Situations like those are hard, because you don't want to reject those kids and hurt their feelings. But on the other hand, the most important thing is their safety and the prevention of any false accusations, due to any sort of misunderstanding that could so easily happen, given the circumstances.

Everyone's so on edge, from parents to priests

When everyone's so on edge, from parents to priests, it's hard for any of us to be entirely objective and to make the right call on everything. That's why things like training and regulations are so necessary.

The importance of something as simple as making sure you're not in a room alone with a kid cannot be overstated.

So it's easy to understand why there are Catholics abandoning ship. 

However, wiser men than I have taught that the right thing to do is always the hardest. Leaving is the easy way out, but being faithful is the right thing to do. 

Staying does not mean condoning what those men did and leaving isn't going to make them pay for it.

What they did is unthinkable. 

If they don't pay for their sins now, trust that God will deal with them

If they don't pay for their sins now, trust that God will deal with them when it's time to for their judgment.

Jesus himself says, "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42). 

It's not fun being Catholic when all the world sees when they look at you are the faults of our leaders, but that's nothing compared to the suffering that all those victims are going through. 

And we have to stay strong because our faith is not in priests, not in bishops, not even in the Pope.

Our faith is in Jesus Christ alone. 

What the church needs right now more than anything is for us to be saints, to be leaders, to be uncompromising within our own lives, with ourselves and with others. No laws, regulations or any of those things, important as they are, will ever be enough. 

Nothing short of all of us becoming great saints will be enough to make the change that we all so desperately want to see.

Editor's note: Victims can report cases of sexual assault 24/7 to Klinic's sexual assault crisis line at 204-786-8631 or toll-free at 1-888-292-7565.

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

Read more opinion pieces published by CBC Manitoba.

About the Author

Sebastian Aguilar, a 19-year-old Catholic, recently returned to Winnipeg from a year of studies at a seminary in the U.S. Originally from El Salvador, he moved to Canada with his family when he was an 8-year-old. He is currently involved as a content creator for YouthInk, a ministry of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg.