How do we rebuild trust?

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Here are steps we can take, in our families and in the church

Betrayal hurts families in many ways. Extramarital affairs, financial infidelity and untreated addictions break trust between husbands and wives. Teenagers can lose their parents’ trust, and parents can also lose their children’s trust. In our church family this year, we have felt the painful sting of betrayal keenly as patterns of hierarchical cover-up of sexual abuse and clerical unchastity came to light.

The church is a wife, too. Ephesians 5:25–28 and Revelation 21:2 are examples of Scripture verses that refer to the church as the Bride of Christ. This year, we the church are in the position of a wife who realizes she has been deceived, and we are now experiencing a wide-scale sense of betrayal trauma.

While we know that our true Bridegroom, Christ, is completely faithful, we also know that not all of the prelates appointed to act in his name have been open and honest with us regarding sexual failings. The Pennsylvania grand jury report demonstrates this; reports that apparently “everybody knew” about the lecherous proclivities of Cardinal McCarrick show that we were deceived; and the Archbishop Viganò messages are also disturbing. Many of our shepherds need to earn our trust again.

We damage trust in families in big ways and small. It happens when a wife hides her compulsive shopping on a secret credit card, when a teen comes home at 2 a.m. after a midnight curfew, or even when Mom promises to pick up her kids on time and shows up late — again.

How do we rebuild trust? The good news is that trust is not static. Healthy families, including the church family, can work on repairing broken relationships. The following steps to rebuild trust and intimacy can help this process.

If you are the one whose trust was broken:

Acknowledge and grieve. Name what was lost and identify how you feel. Express exactly how you were hurt. Write a letter to the bishops. Explain to your wife how it feels when she hides big purchases. Tell your high school student what message it sends you when they secretly download forbidden apps on their phone.

At the same time, avoid getting stuck in anger and victim status and seek a path forward. Point out the road to success.

Look for sincere apologies, backed up by concrete behavior changes.

For your part in rebuilding the relationship, recall all the good you can about the one who broke your trust and the benefits of the relationship.

With time, prayer, grace, and sometimes the support of professional counseling, trust can blossom again.

If you are the one who has broken trust:

Apologize sincerely and change the offending behavior.

Allow the one(s) you care about to freely express to you how they were hurt and why it was hurtful.

Be patient and willing to demonstrate accountability over and over. For example, if you cheated on your spouse or used porn, allow the wounded spouse free access to your phone and laptop.

Rebuilding trust takes time, but our family relationships are absolutely worth it. Your marriage is worth it. Your relationship with your children is worth it. The relationship between the Bride of Christ and the representatives of her Bridegroom is worth it.  

Northwest Catholic - November 2018

Sarah Bartel

Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is