Thursday, February 25, 2010
Church Scandals: An OT Perspective
Way back in December, I promised some thoughts on scandal in the Church, particularly that caused by clerical sexual misconduct. It’s something I have been reflecting upon since such scandals erupted in Canada in the late 1980s, and current events in Ireland (and elsewhere) have brought the tragic subject to the fore again.
I promised more than I can deliver—January and February have turned out to be almost bewilderingly busy—but I want to honour my promise with a few reflections at least.
For some reason, I view these tragedies through an Old Testament lens. Israel has a deep sense of collective sin and collective shame that is eclipsed, understandably, by the New Testament's vision of the Church as the spotless bride of Christ. But since the Church remains sinful in her members, even though not in her Head, I think we can make the laments of the Psalmist and the prophets our own prayer of sorrow.
The Psalms are particularly appropriate because they recognize three aspects of the crisis of clerical misconduct: the sins of individuals, the sins of leaders, and the exploitation of these by those who wish harm to the People of God. To recognize the last is not to shift blame to the media, or to blame the messenger, but to acknowledge truthfully that sin in the Church weakens our witness and is artfully used by enemies of the Gospel, both on earth and elsewhere.
Consider Psalm 35. The Psalmist acknowledges that he has stumbled, even if without the element of remorse shown in other psalms. But he also laments that his fall has caused his enemies to rejoice, and he asks the Lord to rescue him from the destructive attacks that his failures have permitted.
Other consequences of sin are detailed in Psalm 38, which conveys the full effect of sin: the Psalmist’s whole body is sick from it; he is dazed and humiliated. While Catholics need to mount legitimate defences against unjust and malevolent attacks, where they exist, we need first to mourn what has happened.
Psalm 44 helps us to admit that some aspects of the current disaster, though not God’s will, have been used to chastise and purify His Church. Psalm 44 says “you have made us an object of ridicule among the nations; all day long...” God has permitted this even though the one who prays protests his fundamental faithfulness.
In all this, the psalms offer hope. “Our record of sins overwhelms us,” Psalm 65 admits, “but you forgive our act of rebellion.”
To conclude: these and other texts can lead us to pray for healing in these painful moments with truthfulness about the sins of others, our own sins, and the deep collective wounds of the Church as the new People of God, all the while begging God’s mercy.
Historically, they can place this crisis within a broader context—the plan of salvation, which continues to unfold against all the odds.