The Sunday 10 a.m. Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church was packed — it usually is after a Husker game day.
No matter how the Huskers played — or didn’t play — the students fill the pews. Music and the sound of babies crying echoed under the large blue dome, and some parishioners had to stand in the back due to the lack of seating. Their faith seems unshakeable.
But, recently, the community has raised questions about the scandals in the Catholic Church that are currently under investigation. Members of the Lincoln Catholic community are deeply saddened by the news, but they seek to strengthen their faith.
For more than a decade, leaders in the Lincoln diocese declined to participate in annual audits intended to investigate sex abuse accusations and measure the administration’s compliance with child-protection policies.
But now, Father Robert Matya, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Newman Center’s pastor and chaplain, said two, retired Lincoln priests and four Lincoln priests have been accused of acting inappropriately. According to the Associated Press, one priest has been accused of having an unethical relationship with a 19-year-old that involved alcohol, and other priests have been accused of touching children inappropriately.
Additionally, an archbishop accused Pope Francis of covering up a sexual abuse scandal. Matya and other priests in the Lincoln archdiocese initially addressed these concerns in a letter from the bishop on Sunday, Aug. 12, and continued to talk about the issue during the mass’ homily every Sunday.
“When people experience injustice, we should be angry. …,” Matya said. “To not be angry seems like we’re kind of indifferent, which is not the proper reaction. We should be alarmed. We should be angry. We should be disturbed by all of this when these things happen.”
Although Matya is in charge of helping people through this difficult time, he said he has been discouraged by the actions of certain priests.
“It angers me as a priest,” Matya said. “Their actions then cast a light on all priests. ‘Can I trust this priest or not?’ And that’s hard.”
When Matya read the letter to members of the community, he said he could see the sadness in the parishioners’ faces and tears in some of their eyes. However, community members said they do not let these actions affect their faith.
Sophomores Tom Lilly and Victor Nsengiyumva Mpore said although there are unethical people in the church, it does not take away from the church’s overall holiness.
“We’re here for Jesus and not for the people leading the church,” Nsengiyumva Mpore, an integrative science major, said. “It’s all about Jesus. [We should] have faith that he’s the one who can save us even in times of trouble like these.”
Lilly, an elementary education major, said he knows two of the priests who have been removed from their parishes. He said their actions are unacceptable and unfortunate and wants the church to be more transparent.
“It was tough, especially when the Lincoln stuff came out … it was weird to go back,” Lilly said. “Once you realize … you know a lot of really, really good priests and a lot good people in the Catholic faith, and when you see that, it really brings you back up. To understand that not everybody, and certainly not most people, are doing bad things in the church. It’s mostly good.”
Matya said people have appreciated how open he has been in church about these scandals. Students also formed an event to ask Matya questions about the scandal during a question and answer session on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 8 p.m. in the Newman Center.
“People don’t want to stop believing in God,” Matya said. “They don’t want to stop believing in the Eucharist and things they hold dear to their hearts. They want to persevere in their faith, which is really beautiful to see that even though they’re struggling, they don’t want to just walk away.”
As people ask him questions about their faith, Matya encourages them to turn back to their roots and remember why they go to church. He said he reassures people of God’s love for them.
“The answer to me is not to walk away,” he said. “To let what some bad people have done to cause me to walk away from Christ and his church, I’m not going to do that. Even though it’s awkward and uncomfortable at the moment, we have to fight for what we know is right.”
Matya said most importantly, he takes out his anger about the scandals through prayer. Through prayer, he finds peace.
“God, in my 54 years of life, has shown me that he is faithful to me in so many ways,” he said. “So, that’s my go-to. I’m going to pray. I’m going to go to God.”