The Current

Catholic man calls out priest on sex abuse scandal during mass

Naka Nathaniel is a devout Catholic living in Atlanta but after more allegations of sex abuse by priests came to the fore, this time in Pennsylvania, he couldn't stay quiet and interrupted mass to call for reform.

'We have to stand up': Naka Nathaniel says parishioners should no longer sit in pews and let abuse happen

Naka Nathaniel is devoted Catholic and is outraged by the sex abuse allegations by priests in the Church. Recently, he interrupted service to demand answers from his priest. (Submitted by Naka Nathaniel)

Read Story Transcript

Two weeks ago, Naka Nathaniel did something no one raised Catholic should do: he interrupted Sunday mass to question his priest about the Church's sex abuse scandals.

Nathaniel refuses to sit quietly in his Atlanta church any longer and hopes his outspoken frustration will prompt other Catholics to demand answers and reform.

This month, more than 1,000 cases of molestation in Pennsylvania was included in a grand jury report amidst ongoing sex abuse allegations in the Church.  ​

Pope Francis has apologized for "crimes" of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Sunday, the same day he refused to respond to accusations by a former top Vatican official that the Pontiff had covered up sexual abuse.

Nathaniel spoke to The Current's  guest host Connie Walker about how he sees a way forward against abuse in the Catholic church.

Here is part of that conversation.

Why did you decide to stand up and speak out during your church service?

That's still a difficult thing that I'm trying to figure out. As a Catholic and an altar boy and, you know, my family is so steeped in the religion, it's something you just don't do.

I came to church that Sunday seeking answers and to be left with a question, I just could not sit in my seat. I stood up and asked him: How? How do we change this? The priest had asked, what should we do? And I was like, we cannot leave it like this.

[The priest] turned to me and he said, 'You and I have no influence.' It was crushing to hear that...- Naka Nathaniel

What specifically was it that the priest said that you responded to?

He had start off his homily incredibly pensive. He's a Jesuit priest and he had given this quite a lot of thought. There was a lot of imploring that the people had to be responsible here: hold the powers to account.

At the moment there was just no conduit, people sit in the pews, you listen to what the priest, what the clergy, have to say and you respond [with] the prayers that have been taught to you. There's no room in there for any sort of question or answer time.

I told the priest later on I appreciated his grace in taking my question and engaging in a conversation.

In a letter addressed to 'the people of God,' Pope Francis referred to the suffering endured by minors due to sexual abuse at the hands of a 'significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.' (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

So you stood up and you said, "How? How should we respond to this?" What response were you expecting from him at that moment?

I had no idea. The answer that he gave me was that we needed to write the Nuncio, write the bishop and engage in a letter writing campaign. I was like, this is a bureaucratic answer. I need something more.

I happened to have my nine-year-old son with me and I pointed to him, and you know how can I have him take first communion in this church as it is? There's just no way. He gave a very honest answer.

He made one comment when he came over to talk to you that really stuck with you. What was that?

So just before the recessional he addressed my son and ... the priest was incredibly kind and said, "You know, you have a good dad." And then he turned to me and he said, "You and I have no influence." It was crushing to hear that but it was also brutally honest. It was an opportunity for all of us to understand as people in the pews that if that's the case, then we need to fix this. This cannot continue because we've seen the horrors when the clergy is left unchecked.

We can no longer compartmentalize what has occurred.- Naka Nathaniel

I'm curious what your son's reaction was after seeing his father stand up?

When I sat down to talk to him, I said, "You're not supposed to speak out in mass, but sometimes there are moments when you really have to stand up and say something." 

And bless his little heart, he says, "Oh it's like the Freedom Riders." And I was like, oooff, that's stretching the analogy but if that's what you understand it to be.

I've come to realize that all Catholics need to confront in themselves what has happened and that we can no longer compartmentalize what has occurred. As much as we may admire a nun working with AIDS patients in Zimbabwe, you still also ...  need to realize that there's also all these other evils that have occurred in the name of the Church and that's just something that needs to be resolved in every Catholic.

According to a CBC report, numerous surveys have pointed to plummeting confidence in the Catholic church, in the U.S, Chile, Australia, Ireland and elsewhere. (Tama 66/Pixabay)

What do you want the church to do now? Is there any kind of change that would satisfy you as a Catholic or reassure you that you can trust the church?

Connie, that's an amazing question. I have spent, ever since that last Sunday, going between clinching my fists and clutching my face. I just don't know what is to be done, but I do know that it cannot be left in the hands of the clergy as it exists to figure this out, that it has to be from the people. And I just cannot motivate Catholics enough; [we] just cannot sit in the pews any longer and just allow this to happen. We have to stand up.

It's not going to come from from the Pope; it's not going to come from the bishops or the cardinals or the priests. It has to come from the people in the pews.

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.

Written by Lisa Ayuso, with files from CBC News. Produced by The Current's Alison Masemann and Idella Sturino. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.