Leaven Blog

Why I stay

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

Three years after our wedding, my husband and I learned that the priest who presided at our ceremony pleaded guilty to molesting a 15-year-old boy and was in prison.

That was a hard blow, and it definitely marred the experience of looking through our wedding album.

But it didn’t affect our love for each other; and it didn’t invalidate the sacrament we received or the vows we made before God.

I know the question I’ll be asked in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report alleging sexual abuse by our clergy — because I was asked it back then:

“How can you remain a part of this corrupt organization?”

And I will tell anyone who asks, without apology, that I love the Catholic Church.

  • I love the Virgin Mary who raised me in holy partnership with my mother
  • I love the rosary that has been my constant source of strength in times of despair.
  • I love the communion of saints and the beautiful practice of novena prayer.
  • I love the universality of the Mass available to me every day; and Adoration available to me every moment of every day.
  • I love the Eucharist and the incredible reverence with which Catholics receive it.
  • I love the tradition, the music, the pomp and the circumstance that envelops every celebration we have.
  • I love the humbling practice of confession to another human being.
  • I love the solemnity of a Catholic wedding and the joy of a Catholic funeral.
  • I love the fact that my church is one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world; and I love its clear, unwavering voice for social justice.
  • I love the Hilaire Belloc quote “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine,” because I know the truth behind it.

And in midst of yet another scandal that seems to pollute all these things I love, I see the hand of Satan eager to rob me of my faith and push me off the road to salvation.

But I won’t let evil triumph, no matter how loathsome its methods.

I’ve learned throughout my life that I can’t change things by walking away from them. And I can’t find all the things I love about the Catholic Church anywhere else.

So I remain a member of this body of Christ, however broken, because I believe it needs my help to become healthy and whole.

It needs me to pray about my frustrations with the hierarchy of the church, to pray for healing of its abused victims; and especially to pray for the millions of good priests and sisters wounded and unjustly disgraced by this scandal.

It needs me to be part of reforms like Virtus training that have already been put in place and are remarkably successful. It needs me to advocate for more change.

So I’m here to stay, not because my church is flawless, nothing human ever can be.

I stay because this is where I encounter Christ, and I want it to be a safe and welcoming place where others can encounter him too.

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.


  • I love my Roman Catholic faith .Touch’ to the above message .
    I would like to see these people FIRED , not just sent off to Rome , or some other place . I’m angry at these so called holy people and the black mark that has been made on my religion .

  • Jill that was absolutely beautiful and said what so many of us believe. We have to make a difference. Thank you for writing such an inspectional message. Carol Bleything

  • Those reasons you gave is exactly why I stay. I love my faith, I love the Catholic Church. I love everything about it, that is why I will fight for it.

  • Dear Jill,

    I agree with you 100%. I found myself at a “crossroads” when the news broke about the Pittsburgh Diocese. I was incensed and searched my soul in order to define my role as a Catholic Christian. I fought very hard to become a Roman Catholic back in 2002 because of my OCD. Then, my spiritual director was removed from the Priesthood due to sexual abuse allegations shortly after my Confirmation. I was devastated yet remained his friend. It wasn’t easy. I never knew all of the facts. I still don’t. All I know is that he never hurt me. He did his best to help me become a Roman Catholic. He heard my First Confession. When I suffered a PTSD nightmare, I went to him for help the next day. He listened and comforted me. He must have had internal struggles of his own that I never knew about. I believe in the Sacraments of our Church and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (not by Roman Catholic Clergy). I still suffer the repercussions that can occur decades after childhood sexual abuse and have constantly lost my footing within the Roman Catholic Faith – that is, until now. I finally defined my role as a Catholic Christian with complete trust in Jesus – a trust that I didn’t possess until now. I am most grateful for the help and prayers I have received from medical professionals and many fine Roman Catholic Bishops (including Bishop James V. Johnston), Priests (Father Tom Wiederholt), Sisters (The Sisters, Servants of Mary and The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth) and many others here and around the country. In turn, it is my humble prayer that God will use me, along with you, to help everyone who God sends our way to become “healthy and whole.” Thank you for sharing your insights. Blessings, Sabra A. Sandy

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