It’s been a humbling week.
First of all, the stream of news stories about the failings of the Church—some accurate, some scurrilous—was disheartening. Secondly, my best efforts to share some thoughts with you about the scandal just weren’t good enough. After I’d written more than 2700 words, roughly twice the length of an average sermon, two trusted parishioners whom I’d asked to read them over said in a nice way that I’d not quite hit the mark.
But, these wise friends suggested, the Easter editorial in The BC Catholic was just what disheartened Catholics need to hear. They said I might be better off taking the same approach.
After reading the editorial, I decided I could never hope to improve on it. So with thanks and admiration to Paul Schratz, the fine editor of our Catholic paper, I’m going to read it to you now:
“If Pope Benedict XVI were a lesser man, he might be wondering why he’s being treated like Job right now, during Holy Week, when the Church is preparing to celebrate the Resurrection.
At the same time that the Church is welcoming new members into its fold, around the world others are shaking the dust off their sandals and leaving the Church, so scandalized are they by accounts of sexual abuse and cover-ups that are spreading across Europe.
The Church in Canada and in the U.S. has already walked this Way of the Cross, but the current revelations in Germany and Ireland elevate the scandal to senior levels and even threaten to implicate the Pontiff himself.
These trials that the Church universal is undergoing in the week before Easter effectively display an earthly lesson of a heavenly plan: that God allows what He allows, and He brings His gifts from it.
This Easter could have been a time of worldly optimism for the Church. The Year for Priests is in full flourish, vocations are on the rise, the scandals of the past seemed to be in remediation, discussions with non-Catholics are showing progress; in short, the Church had no shortage of earthly reasons to think it was in good shape.
It was not to be, and now Pope Benedict is forced to carry a cross as big as the world.
The Pope, one of the world’s keenest theologians and Holy Father of the universal Church, knows that crosses are permitted for a reason, and he will faithfully carry his, as heavy as it is.
The scandals breaking out in Ireland and Germany are as painful to him as anything could be – his own Garden of Gethsemane. As he walks publicly through humiliation, scorn, and mockery in a personal yet public Way of the Cross, he may very well fall. If he’s fortunate he will be blessed by numerous Simons of Cyrene to help ease his burden.
But as Christ’s vicar on earth, he’s the one who is being called to the cross. The feckless public, fuelled by media thirsty to report the story as one of power and hypocrisy, will abandon him. In the words of professional atheist Christopher Hitchens, the man “personally and professionally responsible for enabling a filthy wave of crime” must be nailed to a cross, his reputation smeared.
If that does indeed happen, Benedict will be in glorious company. Jesus literally walked the Passion that Benedict is living in a figurative sense now. What’s more, Christ was completely stainless, in contrast to the flock Benedict leads, which certainly is guilty of sinfulness that has brought about the current state of affairs.
In the end, Christ died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and redeemed mankind – from the worst sinner right through to the greatest saint.
There’s no question that sin, scandal, and abuse have existed in the Church since its institution 2,000 years ago. Pope John Paul II repeatedly apologized on behalf of members of the Church who had sinned in its name, and that sinning continues to this day.
Pope Benedict doesn’t know what will result from this Holy Week suffering. It may continue through the rest of his pontificate and beyond, its casualties including not only those who suffered abuse at the hands of trusted clergy, but to an extent every member of the Church today.
Pope Benedict in his letter to the Church in Ireland said he shares “in the dismay and sense of betrayal” that so many have experienced on learning of “these sinful and criminal acts and the way the Church authorities have dealt with them.”
He called on Catholics to pray, fast, read Scripture, and perform acts of mercy for the renewal of the Church in Ireland. Certainly much will have to change in the way the Church does things, starting with the attitudes that allowed abuse and cover-up to continue as long as they did.
At the same time, however, we can remain confident that God is walking alongside His Church, as He does each of us, while the suffering is endured. The glory of the resurrection and the promise of the heavenly wedding banquet will make up for the horrors of this world.
God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, said St. Paul. He can certainly use trials of Good Friday to bring about the glory of Easter Sunday.”
That’s the end of Mr. Schratz’s editorial, and I am tempted to end there too. There’s more to say, certainly, and I hope I’m able to return to these issues in the weeks ahead. However, yesterday’s National Post carried a column by another writer I like very much, the American Peggy Noonan. I’d like to quote briefly from what she wrote about what she calls “the Church’s catastrophe”:
“There are three great groups of victims in this story. The first and most obvious, the children who were abused, who trusted, were preyed upon and bear the burden through life.
The second group is the good priests and good nuns, the great leaders of the church in the day today, who save the poor, teach the immigrant, and, literally, save lives. They have been stigmatized when they deserve to be lionized.
And the third group is the Catholics in the pews—the heroic Catholics of [North] America and now Europe, the hardy souls who in spite of what has been done to their church are still there, still making parish life possible, who hold high the flag, their faith unshaken. No one thanks those Catholics, sees their heroism, respects their patience and fidelity. The world thinks they’re stupid. They are not stupid, and with their prayers they keep the world going, and the old church too.”
Peggy Noonan is only partly right about that third group. I, for one, thank those Catholics, and I know well that they’re anything but stupid. I thank you, for your continued confidence in me. I know your heroism, I know how you have to put up with those who mock your faith and rejoice in the failings of your leaders. And I respect your patience, as the Church seeks reform and renewal.
So don’t falter or lose heart—with your prayers you will keep the world going, and the wounded old Church too.