Obviously, I agree we should all be shocked by the headlines every time a priest or Church leader is exposed for having committed these atrocities or even worse having covered them up or enabled these men to continue in their abuse. And I can’t imagine the damage it has caused to the lives of those that were abused and their families. They should be prosecuted and face the legal consequences of their actions. This is the way all of us feel, but what I want to address in this article, from a Biblical perspective, is what this means for the Church and what we should do about it.
How We Should Deal with the Scandal
What I want to address are the feelings, or more importantly, the understanding of Catholics around the world in response to the sex abuse scandal and the aftermath it has blessed us with. Three names come to mind: Moses, Judas, and Jesus Christ. Let me explain.
Moses & His Chair
You all know Moses. Even if you haven’t read the Biblical accounts (Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), you’ve most likely seen the epic Charlton Heston rendition of the Exodus story, or perhaps the animated Prince of Egypt—the first film from Dreamworks.
Moses is one of the most significant figures in Sacred Scripture for both Jews and Christians. He is an excellent example of the call to conversion that most of us must heed—going from a wannabe king in the courts of the pharaoh to a slave unwanted even among his own people. In the end God uses him to bring His people out of slavery.
Anyway, Moses was a leader, the middle-man between God and His people. He received the commandments and wrote the law. He governed the people and led them to the Promised Land. Here’s what Jesus had to say about him and his chair:
“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.”
Moses brought the law and Pharisees followed it to the letter, which doesn’t sound like a bad thing initially. They knew the law, they taught the law, they followed the law, but they had forgotten it’s meaning, it’s purpose. It had become more about rules and less about relationship for them. It had ceased to draw them to God.
Back to the priests and bishops involved in the sex abuse scandal. Priests and bishops are human, they make mistakes while striving for perfection in the imitation of and communion with Jesus Christ. Of course, there are those of them who have failed. There are those men who have given in to sin. Again, they are human as much as we are human. We all fail and God picks us back up again. The issue for us lay people is that we hold them to higher standards and expect more from them. Whether or not that is fair is something that we should reflect on.
The point here is that their teaching, the teaching of the Church, cannot be discredited by their actions, however malformed or unfortunate. However, their sins have had an outstandingly powerful impact on many people. They have caused much hurt and for that we must pray. I’m still a Catholic because I believe that Jesus didn’t leave us a book to follow, but apostles to carry on the traditions—by word of mouth and in written form (2 Thes 2:15). Jesus left a Church, an organized, or sometimes not-so-organized, group of people with a certain authority and a specific mission (Mt 28:16-20).
Judas & His Dastardly Deeds
Next up is the least favorite of the Twelve, Mr. Judas Iscariot. He was selected by Jesus for a specific role as one of the Twelve—let us not forget that—yet he chose for himself a different path. He gave in to sin, denying Christ and turning Him in to eventually be murdered.
Judas was a priest who failed. He doesn’t get a halo in the medieval paintings. He doesn’t get a holy card and novena. His name is pretty much only mentioned as an example of what not to do, of who not to be like. Yet, as bad as Judas was he didn’t prevent the disciples from following Jesus. He didn’t get in the way of their ministry.
“You can’t leave Peter because of Judas.”
~ Tim Staples
No matter how sinful a person Judas was, no matter how sinful the actions of a priest or bishop, or anyone for that matter, the teaching, preaching, and ministry of Jesus and His Church goes on. This doesn’t lessen the fact that sin is sin and that hurts, in this case very much. As the Body of Christ, we mourn the effects of these sins, because what hurts our brothers and sisters, hurts us as well.
Certainly, we must pray for healing and do all that we can to prevent things like this from happening again. And that’s something that has already been going on, though many people fail to recognize it. Clergy, staff, and volunteers within the Church are all subject to an array of precautionary programs and procedures to help prevent abuse. As a catechist—a volunteer teacher of the basic tenants of the faith to families with young children—I am required to get finger-printed and be certified in an abuse-prevention program every four years even though I don’t have any contact with the children without the direct supervision of their parents.
In fact the Catholic Church has led the way and blazed the trail for other organizations and institutions suffering from this same affliction. School districts, religious communities, and other organizations have implemented similar programs and safeguards following the example of the Catholic Church to help rid our society of it all together.
I am still a Catholic because the sins of a priest, deacon, bishop, or lay person cannot separate me from God and His Church. My commitment to Christ and the Church is both individual and communitarian. It saddens me to know that these things have taken place, but I know Jesus has come not for the righteous, but sinners. May His Holy Spirit “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus Christ & the Gates of Hell
The Lord of Love Himself finishes off the list today. Jesus said and did lots of things in His three short years of public ministry and His passion that have eternally altered history. Like I mentioned earlier He left a Church, but He also made a promise.
“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Them’s fightin’ words! He didn’t say we wouldn’t have to fight, but that we would always be victorious. I believe this difficult time in the Church is a much needed purification. The Twelve needed to get rid of Judas, just as the Church needs to get it’s act together. The Spirit is cleansing the Church of sin, which as most of you know is often a very painful process.Through this process of purification that we are currently undergoing He is proving just that.
The Church will not fall. It can’t fall. Jesus promised that it wouldn’t and if He lied about that then we’ve got bigger problems. I am still a Catholic because my trust lies in Jesus Christ and the promises He has made. Though the people He has called are sometimes weak and fragile, my faith is firm because it rests on Him and His Church.
Getting Through a Difficult Time Requires Love
Christianity is about love and forgiveness. It can be hard to love those who have caused us or the ones we love so much harm, but thats what we are called to do. Our second reading on Sunday spoke to this fact of our faith which St. Paul expressed ever so beautifully.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
He didn’t say love was easy. It requires selflessness. If you are married and have children you have lived this reality even more profoundly. The love that God has bestowed upon us is unconditional. He loved us into existence. He continues to love us despite our faults and failures. It’s difficult for us to imagine it, but nevertheless it is the truth.
I am still a Catholic despite the sex abuse scandal because I have come to know the love of God that “saved a wretch like me.” If He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone. Let us pray for healing for those who suffered at the hands of these priests, for mercy on the offenders, and for fortitude for the Church as she bears the storm of this process of purification. May God be with us.