Becoming Catholic in the Age of Scandal

St Patrick

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York city. Roman Catholic dioceses have shared the names of hundreds of priests — who led parishes and worked in schools — who were credibly accused of sexually abusing children. Still, thousands of people in the New York area alone converted to Catholicism this year.

Source: New York Times

By Rick Rojas

At Easter, thousands of people converted to Catholicism even as sex abuse allegations have rocked the church.

On the night before Easter, a group of soon-to-be Catholics stood in flowing white robes holding candles, waiting to be summoned by the cardinal. One by one, under the cathedral’s soaring ceiling and stained glass windows, he dabbed oil onto their foreheads, praying, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The Roman Catholic Church is an institution roiled by scandal. Its handling of an epidemic of child sex abuse has brought scrutiny from law enforcement and undermined the moral authority of bishops, who have struggled to assuage followers whose confidence in the church, and in them, has eroded.

But those lined up weren’t thinking about that.

“Welcome to fullness in the church,” Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, told the 15 people converting to Catholicism — known as catechumens — after they had been baptized, confirmed and received communion, the sacraments that solidified their entry into the Catholic Church. “You’ll always have a home here with us.”

The Easter vigil service is when the church welcomes newcomers. There were thousands of people in the New York area going through the same rites of initiation as the group gathered that night in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.

The Archdiocese of Newark alone saw more than 1,000 people receiving the sacraments this Easter, roughly the same number of people as have been welcomed fully into the church each year over the past decade. The Diocese of Brooklyn, where just over 1,000 people received sacraments for the first time this Easter, also said its numbers were on par with prior years.

Many catechumens this Easter were part of groups that were well over a dozen people, huddled together in large churches. But there was also a service with just one woman, surrounded by family and friends, alone in her neighborhood parish.

Why convert, and why now? It is not a capricious choice. Converting required months of preparation, diving into the abundance of rituals and traditions of Catholicism and the theology that underpins it all. For each catechumen, there was a different path.

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