I first heard about the recent scandals in the Catholic Church in America on Instagram. I hadn’t been on the app in a while because I was visiting friends, but it didn’t take me long to realize that something was sending shock waves through the Catholic community I’ve come to know and love on Instagram.
As I scrolled, I read countless lamentations against the sick and depraved actions of the bishops and priests in Pennsylvania.
I found myself stunned by it all.
I didn’t know what to do or say.
As I first read, I found it unnecessary to look further into what was going on. It’s sadly a familiar story that has gone on for far too long in our Church, and I didn’t feel that reading more about the perverted actions would help me in any way.
But after much thinking, I forced myself to. How can I defend the Church if I have no true idea of all that goes on within her walls?
As I began reading the report on the scandal in Pennsylvania, it was worse than I could have ever imagined. I choked back tears and wanted to turn away. There’s simply no defending these priests. All I could think to do was cry out from the depths of my heart for God’s mercy.
The monstrous and abominable sins that have been hidden for so long…how angry the heart of our Father must be.
I have this image that keeps coming to mind of Jesus as He was riding in on the colt into Jerusalem. As Jesus enters the city, He weeps over it. He wept not for His own bodily suffering that was to come, but for His chosen people, the Jews, who were about to condemn Him to death. He wept because His beloved children were about to reject Him, and by their rejection of Him, condemn themselves to their own death.
This is what these priests have done to themselves. They have dug their own eternal graves, and I can only imagine how much it makes our Father’s heart weep that His priests have rejected Him and chosen hell over Him. Justice is weighed, even as mercy is given. I can only pray that they turn back to Him and with full contrition, beg for their Father’s mercy.
Still, as I read the report I didn’t immediately find myself wanting to cry out or voice my anger.
What I wanted to do instead was hide.
The news was so paralyzing that I just wanted to bury my head and pretend that these monstrous sins couldn’t possibly happen in the Church I love so much. It’s a wickedness that’s beyond my understanding. I honestly cannot even begin to comprehend the reasons why or how any man could harm another in such way—let alone so many priests to the children of the Church.
How could I possibly confront such monstrous and abominable sin? How could this come to be? How could the Church that I know and love allow this? How could priests, that are supposed to be shepherds, be so wicked and evil and cause so much pain to the most innocent of the Church. Why didn’t anyone within the Church do anything to stop this!
These are things that I still don’t understand. Yet, as with any organization, the higher up in authority, the more room there is for misuse and abuse of power. Men are fallible and sinful, and the extent of their ability to fall into the depths of sin is real. We cannot pretend that such dark and evil sin doesn’t exist in our Church. We cannot pretend that we are only made up of saints.
The striking problem (aside from the obvious pain their sins have caused their victims) is that the Catholic Church is not just an organization. It is an organism. All the faithful of the Church move and breathe together, and the sin of few affects the health of the entire Body.
People will leave over this scandal. Hate for the Church will increase.
My heart breaks for this situation we find ourselves in.
The other day (before the news broke), I was walking with my kids in Costco and I found myself next to an old collared priest, and immediately began talking to him. I asked which parish he belonged to, and as we shared a few pleasantries, he noticed the baby I was wearing and reached out to say hello. Immediately, he caught himself and pulled back his hand. It was something that would probably normally go unnoticed, but in the state of the Church, I couldn’t help but feel pain because of this small action. I trusted that his actions were cautionary. The good priests of our Church have no room to be familial with the people they shepherd. They can no longer hug our children or talk openly with them without suspicious eyes. It is utterly heart wrenching that the actions of so many ugly men who don the collar have folded all the other good and faithful men of the Church under the same card. This ministry that is absolutely necessary to the Catholic faith already bears isolation, but under the scrutiny priests now face, it’s no wonder we are lacking men ready to take on the call.
Though I initially wanted to remain quiet on this issue, I’ve realized that no faithful Catholic can be silent when it comes to sin of this nature. Sin that is so twisted and disturbing—so deep rooted that it has destroyed countless people’s lives and tainted the Church—has to be confronted. It’s only in facing it that the rotten, filthy, sordid reality will begin to be uprooted, cut off, and destroyed.
I am so thankful that the team of jurists did all the dirty and painful work that the leaders of our Church failed to do. I am so thankful that they brought all the darkness to light, while the higher-ups in the Church kept it hidden in order to avoid scandal, and what’s worse, to continue on in such unspeakable actions. The men who are still living who committed such awful crimes need to face up to what they have done. They need to face their judgment, receive their sentence, and repent with true contrition for all that they have done. The men who have died have already seen the face of God and have surely received their judgment. Were they sorrowful for their sins? Were they receiving of God’s mercy? I cannot answer on their behalf. That is between them and God.
It cuts deep, though, that the darkness wasn’t brought to light from within. It is an utter shame that it was people outside the Church had the audacity to fight these atrocities.
As the darkness is brought to light, we the faithful must choose to confront it. We have to face it head on, and look at Jesus’s bruised and battered face without wincing. We need to face him and weep for the victims, weep for our good priests, weep for our Church. We need to cry out for mercy, make atonement for the misdeeds of our leaders, fast, repent of our own sins, and pray.
We also need to do the hard work. We can no longer rely on the higher-ups in the Church to do the investigating. We the laity–the lawyers, detectives, prosecutors, the faithful–it’s up to us to stand up against these atrocities. It’s up to us to speak out for the victims. It’s up to us to stand for justice within the walls of the Church.
Betrayal and ugliness always resides within. It’s how Jesus met his death: He was betrayed by Judas and rejected by His own people. The parts of the Body that are entrenched in debauchery and sin will be removed in one way or the other; either they will rot and grow to impact the rest of the Body, or they will be cut off and removed. This is what the faithful need to work hard to do. We need to stand up and be willing to work to rid ourselves of such evil.
We also need to ask ourselves why it’s important to do such work. With all the sin, is the Church worth loving? How can we possibly go on loving her if this is going on? How do we trust in Her, when some of the very leaders of the faith are wrapped up in such heinous and unspeakable sin? How can we look a priest in the eye without being suspicious of their motives and secretive actions? How can we go on following shepherds who may or may not be leading us to the slaughter?
This is something I’ve been reflecting on a lot since I heard the news. It’s something that has been piercing my soul.
Despite the ugliness, I can say with absolute certainty that the Church is one hundred percent worth loving and defending. I have so many reasons to stay, and no matter the sins of some our fathers, I will never, ever leave the Catholic Church.
Below are just a few of my reasons:
-The Church is my home. I believe it is the One, Holy, and Apostolic faith and even though I know Jesus must be weeping over the situation we find ourselves in, I have faith that He will never leave his Bride, the Church. He imparted the gift of the Holy Spirit upon her, and through the Holy Spirit, He gives us His grace and His very Self in the Sacraments. I would rather die than separate myself from these gifts given through His Church.
–The Most Holy Eucharist. In the Most Holy Eucharist, Christ has given Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to His Bride the Church. At each and every Mass, I am able to take His very life into my Body, and to claim Him as my own. I will never abandon Him in the Eucharist.
-The sins of priests do not change the validity of the sacraments. I am not a Catholic because of any one priest. I am Catholic because I believe that this is the Church that Christ himself established. Despite the sins and failures of man, the Sacraments are gifts that God has given to us, and they cannot be destroyed if a priest is in mortal sin. If a priest is ordained, and the form and matter are present, the Sacrament is nevertheless licit.
–The sins of priests do not change the fact that the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ. Together, we the faithful make up the Body of Christ. The universality of the Church consists in the fact that we are One. When we are separated and broken, the whole Body hurts–but just because one part of the Body is ailing, it doesn’t mean that the Body as a whole is dead. I cannot and will not leave this Church because of the sins of our fathers.
My friend John described a similar situation that I believe may make this easier to understand. He explained that this compares to any social organization–a sports team, for example. If one or more players on the team proved to be cheaters or unworthy of the uniform, would you disown or discredit the entire organization? No. You’d pray for those members to be weeded out and for the team to continue playing without them. You wouldn’t leave something you believed to be good, just because a few players were caught cheating and betraying the team.
My loyalty to the Church is similar to this, but it goes even deeper. The Church is not some team that I root for. It is the vessel by which I receive God’s grace, the guiding force in my life, and the place I call home here on earth. It’s not only where I find my Lord, but where I receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
For these and so many other reasons, how could I ever leave her? By leaving her, I would be abandoning Christ, and I could never do that.
Through all this, one important thing remains the same: the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. Rot and decay may spread from within, but our Good Lord promised us that this Church of ours will prevail.
Weep, pray, and cry out for justice…but don’t lose the faith.
God is with us in the Church, even in dark times.