On The Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Catholic Church
Not long ago one of our regional bishops acknowledged that for him the last several years of his life have, in many ways, been the most difficult. During his homily the bishop posed this question to us. “Why have all of you chosen to stay in the Church through this time of scandal?” (He was referring to the priest sexual abuse scandal) And he was quick to point out that he was not expecting any of us would be able to answer that question so easily.
In fact the bishop’s question was huge. How could we so quickly explain our faithfullness in a sentence or two that would satisfy us, those who have left the church and those on the outside looking in wondering what holds us together in the midst of the ruins and constant bad press?
Bad things happen in our world. New York, London, Spain, the Middle East, North Korea and so many other places. Senseless random and not so random acts of terror, violence and war that have taken thousands of human lives. We are outraged but no one wonders if the human race will survive, in fact the terrorists have caused more resolve to press on and not give in to those who victimize us. Firefighters and the police in New York will tell you this. So will Londoners who reacted much the same way as their predecessors during the Second World War. There is a solidarity within humanity that cannot be ripped apart by evil. Embedded in the solidarity, whether we recognixe it or not, is the love of our Creator.
On December 7, 1965 the Second Vatican Council published one of its major documents on the Church in the Modern World. It opens with these words; “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially those of the poor or afflicted, are the joys and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.” Although written in 1965 these same words could have been proclaimed in the earliest Christian communites and they would have been just as powerful and true as they are in 2009.
Bad things happen in our world and bad things happen in our church that is as much a part of our world as any other institution. We believe that the institutional Church is unable to fail us when she guides us in matters of faith and moral doctrine. But humans in the church are not infallible, even those entrusted with the pastoral care of God’s people. As followers of Christ we have to acknowledge this fact not only in her ordained ministers (for we are far from perfect) but in her members as well. “For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6
Richard Rohr in his book Everything Belongs speaking about the institutional church says it something like this: The Church exists to lead us to the moon, she is not the moon herself. The next sentence in the Vatican document earlier mentioned here reads, “For thier’s is a community of people united in Christ and guided by the holy Spirit, in their pilgrimage towards the Father’s kingdom, bearers of a message of salvation for all humanity.”
Each week we do come back. And from the beginning we acknowledge that we are a sinful people. Individually and in community we bring with us all our joys anf failings and offer them along with the simple gifts of bread and wine to our God. We pray before him in solidarity, perhaps helpless alone, but redeemed together in the mystery of the Body of Christ.
In one gospel story Jesus transforms a gathering of many different people who become one in their need, one in the bread they share, one in curiousity and love for Christ that has brought them together. Taking a few pieces of bread and fish Christ works a miracle and feeds thousands. Christ empowers each one of us to perform our owm miracles of creating community when we give our time and resources in taking on the hard work of the Gospel: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, seeking out the lost and forgotten, teaching the Good News that it is God who is our loving father.
We Christians are people sent on a mission. And so during each week we carry with us a faith that allows us to see in our brothers and sisters the face of the Risen Christ. From a few pieces of bread and a couple of fish Christ fed thousands and there were leftovers! We are that bread, we are those few fish sent out in His place. That is what it means to be “genuinely human” and once we have tasted that, the unconditional love of God, how can we let human weakness, as inexcusable as it is, keep us away from coming back for more?