Tapestry

Amid the Catholic Church abuse crisis, 2 women grapple with whether to stay or go

Why one lifelong Catholic abandoned the church in the middle of mass, and why the other says leaving 'wasn't even a question.'
Catholics around the world are struggling with how to respond to the unfolding sexual abuse crisis in their church. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Meet Mary Elizabeth Williams and Deirdre Pike, two Catholics who have been wrestling with the question of how best to respond to the ongoing sexual abuse crisis in the church.

Williams says she's calling it quits; Pike says she's staying. 

They spoke to Tapestry host Mary Hynes about an agonizing decision facing Catholics around the world: Should I stay, or should I go? 

'It wasn't even a question'

Pike, who is a freelance columnist for the Hamilton Spectator, said she didn't even think about leaving.

"It wasn't even a question, frankly," she said. "I just keep thinking, 'How am I going to change the church?" 

It never occurred to Deirdre Pike to leave the Catholic Church. As a convert to the faith and as a lesbian, she's always been actively challenging injustice: "I just keep thinking, how am I going to change the church? 22:48

Pike became a Catholic in her teens. She said the people she met in church created a space of much-needed love and inclusion after she experienced sexual abuse by a teacher in grade six. 

Deirdre Pike is a columnist for the Hamilton Spectator. (Submitted by Deirdre Pike)

As a lesbian, she's faced intolerance within the church.

She said one priest told her if she ever kissed another woman, she would "go to hell." Another told her she was too involved with "women's issues," which Pike jokes is a code for being a lesbian. 

Pike said she's gained the tools to fight intolerance from people she's worked with in the church and from Catholic teachings. And she said there's no way she's going to be silent now.

"If you stay and you're quiet, you're complicit. If you stay and open your mouth, you're not complicit," said Pike. 

She spoke up in a recent column, describing her parish's failure to acknowledge the Pennsylvania grand jury report which alleges decades of sexual abuse and a subsequent cover-up. 

Pike says she showed up to mass the week after her column was published to find a letter in the bulletins acknowledging the abuse.

Parishioners high-fived her, which tells Pike that she's doing the right thing.  

"It is not an easy path, but I know it is the right path," she said. 

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a writer at Salon. (Submitted by Mary Elizabeth Williams)

Religion should bring hope

Growing up, Mary Elizabeth Williams, a lifelong Catholic and staff writer at Salon, had glow-in-the-dark rosary beads on her bedpost. 

She loved Catholic iconography.

She still loves it, but now she has to appreciate it from outside the church.

Williams says she walked out of the church – literally – after hearing an anti-abortion sermon from a new priest at her parish.

"That just made me suck in my breath because I have friends who have made very difficult, painful choices," said Williams. "I leaned over to my daughter and said, 'I have to go.'" 

Mary Elizabeth Williams was a lifelong Catholic, until the day she walked out of church. Literally. 26:44

Then she heard about the Pennsylvania grand jury report. 

"Watching the way that the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania... [and] the hierarchy of the Catholic bishops chose to respond to that made me feel like, that's it, this is the final straw," said Williams. 

Williams says religion should bring hope — not despair.

"If your faith isn't… making you feel deeply within your soul that you are loved unconditionally and that you are part of something big and powerful and good in the world, then it's time to re-examine that relationship," she said. 

Breaking up can be hard to do. Williams says there will always be a part of her that's Catholic. 

She's prayed a lot for guidance. So far, the message is loud and clear. 

"I'm hearing keep going. I'm hearing this is where you need to be."