First published March 25th, 2010.
FOR decades now, as I noted in When the State Sanctions Child Abuse, Catholics have had to endure a never-ending stream of news headlines announcing scandal after scandal in the priesthood. “Priest Accused of…”, “Cover Up”, “Abuser Moved From Parish to Parish…” and on and on. It is heartbreaking, not only to the lay faithful, but to fellow-priests. It is such a profound abuse of power from the man in persona Christi—in the person of Christ—that one is often left in stunned silence, trying to comprehend how this is not just a rare case here and there, but of a much greater frequency than first imagined.
As a result, the faith as such becomes unbelievable, and the Church can no longer present herself credibly as the herald of the Lord. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Light of the World, A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 25
The reasons, I suppose, are many. Fundamentally, it is a breakdown in not only the seminarian admittance process, but in the content of teaching there. The Church has been more busy forming theologians than saints; men who can intellectualize more than pray; leaders who are administrators more than apostles. This is not a judgment, but an objective fact. Several priests have told me that in their seminary formation, there was next to no emphasis on spirituality. But the very foundation of the Christian life is conversion and the process of transformation! While knowledge is necessary to “put on the mind of the Christ” (Phil 2:5), it alone is not enough.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. (1 Cor 4:20)
The power to set us free from sin; the power to transform our lowly nature; the power to cast out demons; the power to work miracles; the power to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ; the power to speak His Word and bring about the conversion of those who hear it. But in many seminaries, priests were taught that the mention of sin is outdated; that transformation is not in personal conversion but theological and liturgical experimentation; that Satan is not an angelic person, but a symbolic concept; that miracles ceased in the New Testament (and maybe weren’t miracles after all); that the Mass is about the people, not the Holy Sacrifice; that homilies should be pleasant treatises rather than calls to conversion… and on and on.
And somewhere in it all, the refusal to adhere to Humanae Vitae, the profound teaching on the role of human sexuality in the modern world, seemed to accompany a floodgate of homosexuality into the priesthood. How? If Catholics were being encouraged to “follow their conscience” on the matter of birth control (see O Canada… Where Are You?), why couldn’t clergy also follow their own conscience regarding their own bodies? Moral relativism has eaten into the very core of the Church… the smoke of Satan billowing into seminaries, parishes, and even the Vatican, so said Paul VI.
And so, anti-clericalism is reaching a fevered pitch in our world. Ignoring the fact that sexual abuse is not a Catholic problem, but prevalent throughout the world, many use the relatively small percentage of abusing priests as an excuse to reject the entire Church. Catholics have used the scandals as an excuse to stop attending Mass or to minimize or absolve themselves of Church teachings. Others have used the scandals as a means to paint Catholicism as evil and even attack the Holy Father himself (as if the Pope is responsible for everyone’s personal sins.)
But these are excuses. When each of us stands before the Creator when we have passed from this life, God isn’t going to ask, “So, did you know any pedophile priests?” Rather, He will reveal how you responded to the moments of grace and opportunities for salvation that He provided in the midst of all the tears and joys, trials and triumphs in your lifetime. The sin of another is never an excuse for our own sin, for the actions determined through our own free will.
The fact is that the Church remains as Christ’s mystical body, the visible sacrament of salvation for the world… wounded or not.
SCANDAL OF THE CROSS
When Jesus was seized in the garden; when He was stripped and scourged; when He was handed a cross which He carried and then hung upon… He was a scandal to those who followed Him. This is our Messiah? Impossible! Even the Apostle’s faith were rattled. They scattered in the garden, and only one returned to gaze upon the “crucified hope.”
So it is today: the body of Christ, His Church, is covered in the scandal of many wounds—of the sins of her individual members. The head is once again covered in the shame of a crown of thorns… a tangled weave of sinful barbs that pierces deeply into the very heart of the priesthood, the very foundations of the “mind of Christ”: her teaching authority and credibility. The feet are also pierced through—that is, her holy orders, once beautiful and strong with missionaries, nuns, and priests who were consumed with carrying the Gospel to the nations… have been disabled and dislocated through modernism and apostasy. And the arms and hands—those lay men and women who boldly made Jesus present in their families and in the marketplace… have become drooped and lifeless through materialism and apathy.
The body of Christ as a whole appears as a scandal before a world in desperate need of salvation.
And so… will you run too? Will you flee the Garden of Sorrow? Will you abandon the Way of Paradox? Will you reject the Calvary of Contradiction as you gaze upon the body of Christ once again riddled with scandalizing wounds?
…Or will you walk by faith instead of sight? Will you see instead the reality that, beneath this battered body lies a heart: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. A heart that continues to beat to the rhythm of love and truth; a heart that continues to pump pure Mercy into its members through the Holy Sacraments; a heart that, though small in appearance, is united to an infinite God?
Will you run, or will you join the hand of your Mother in this hour of sorrow and repeat the fiat of your baptism?
Will you remain among the jeers, protestations and mockery heaped upon this body?
Will you stay when they persecute you for your faithfulness to the Cross, which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, the power of God”? (1 Cor 1:18).
Will you stay?
…live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon his Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing. —EMERITUS POPE BENEDICT XVI, on the occasion of the funeral Mass of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, July 15th, 2017; rorate-caeli.blogspot.com
On the smoke of Satan: Wormwood
Read a balanced defence of Pope Benedict with regards to the accusations made against him: An Evil Monster?
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