The Church is in the news again because of a well-publicized scandal involving a high ranking clergyman. How can Catholics deal with yet another sexual abuse scandal and not lose hope and faith?
Watch Brian Holdsworth’s video commentary on his thoughts of dealing with this most recent scandal…
The Church is in the news again because of a well-publicized scandal involving a high ranking clergyman. There’s a lot that could be said about it but I’m not really interested in defending the institution from its critics or assuming that I know how to fix the problem, because I don’t.
But those in charge seem to be on top of it, after all, the many people who were covering up for this behaviour have come forward in resignation and contrition and are owning up to their responsibility.
I’m sorry, that’s not the kind of commentary I want this to be, so that will be the last sarcastic pot shot and I’m going to need you to keep me accountable for that.
Instead, I want to talk about how these kinds of revelations affect the Catholic faithful because it seems like a lot of people are struggling with their faith in light of this news.
And when people are sent into a crisis of faith like this, I think it’s worth asking why and in my own experience of seasons in which reality was contradicting my assumptions, you feel a loss of control… a loss of certainty. But ultimately, that’s actually good for you. Ideally, it should bring about a process by which your assumptions and conclusions about the world are adjusted to better reflect the actual world.
So that raises the question, do scandals like this reveal some aspect of reality that contradicts the Catholic faith as it actually is? When we find out that members, even well-respected members of our faith community are capable of deceit, abuse, and impropriety, should that lead us to the conclusion that the faith isn’t true?
Well, what do we know about the faith and the Church? We know that Jesus Christ came to rescue a fallen, broken humanity by His death and resurrection. Ok. Brokenness and fallenness in need of redemption. Scandal’s don’t contradict that description.
We know that he established a Church so that his saving grace and incarnate presence would be made available to every generation, not just the one that was kicking it when the events of the gospels took place… and this grace is meant to be a remedial measure for our brokenness and sinfulness.
Again, the presence of sin and brokenness are well established. So scandalous behaviour, shouldn’t surprise us.
We also know that he gave certain members of the Church, the apostles, divine authority to teach and forgive sins as is explicitly recorded in the Bible… and this is probably where people start to get hung-up.
How can we have faith that our bishops and cardinals (the successors of the apostles) still retain this kind of authority and mandate when they are capable of this kind of corruption?
Well, the answer to that is a bit of a mystery. How is it that God uses corrupt human beings to lead his Church? We don’t really know, but somehow he does do it.
When Pope Benedict was elected to the Papacy, during his address to the crowd in St. Peter’s square, he said, “I am comforted by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient instruments.” He was obviously referring to himself.
Jesus never said that the Church would be sinless. This follows a consistent pattern in the Church’s history, because look at the Apostles themselves. He chose the most unlikely group of people to lead a movement that would change the course of human history.
The fact that God chooses insufficient instruments should reinforce our faith that he’s the one leading and sustaining his Church. If you expect your priests and bishops to be immaculate, then you’re only playing at idolatry and not real Catholic Christianity and if nothing else, occasions like this are an opportunity to recalibrate your faith so that it resembles the actual state of affairs of the militant Church.
Hilaire Belloc has one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard on this point. He said that a proof of the Church’s divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.
The Catholic Church is the longest lasting institution in Western Civilization and it’s not because of some brilliant system of governance and conspiracy. It’s the kind of thing that, as you look more into its historical record, you have to conclude that it’s a miracle that it has lasted this long. Only God could have made this possible.
So, if you expected impeccable behaviour from the Church’s members and leaders, then this scandal, as well as all the past and future scandals, should be an opportunity to tear down your idols and worship God, who, by his grace, is the sole reason for all the good that is still present within her.