Well, the elephant stomping about the room this week was definitely the dark revelations emerging from Pennsylvania of three hundred Catholic priests, other clergy and seminarians in the abuse of a thousand or more young people over several decades. Just when we Catholics think … hope … pray … that perhaps finally all such horrors have been rooted out so that we and our Church can heal, something else comes out—ripping open the wounds wider than before.
Victims, of course, suffer most immediately and tragically. It’s inconceivable to the vast majority of humanity how any person can deaden his conscience so thoroughly as to perpetrate such crimes against children and young people; it goes against our very instinct for protecting progeny. And yet, remarkably, we witness it daily in the news all throughout society. But such crimes by clergy against children sinks to the deepest and darkest depths of treachery—those most trusted slaughtering the innocence of those most trusting. Utterly contemptible.
On cue, many bishops (hopefully sincere and innocent) are once again apologizing profusely for the actions of clergy brethren … but, then, there’s not a whole lot else an individual bishop can do about what happened in other regions of the Church of which he had no control. That’s okay, I guess … as long as it also galvanizes them—both individually and as a body—to take further actions to prevent and prosecute such crimes in the future.
Division, distrust, disdain, despair … all of it rotten poisonous fruit of such crimes. Many—even many Christians—no longer believe in Satan; that is, as is often said, his greatest victory. But, because of his effectiveness in perverting clergy in causing such negative perceptions within the faithful, one commentator calls the recent revelations “a diabolical masterpiece”—effective in the extreme. One cannot but recall St. Paul: “…such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” And, ominously, “Their end will correspond to their deeds.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
Like with any issue, there are both extremes of response. On one hand are those who, out of love for the Church, try to minimize these crimes; to them we plead: “Stop. Just stop.” There IS no justification; to treat a child so is a horror and an abomination. But, admittedly, many are those who would tar the entire clergy and Church with the same brush; that also is an injustice often borne from prejudice and/or bigotry … just as is blaming all Muslims for terrorism.
The reality is, of course, somewhere in-between. In any organization as huge as the Roman Catholic Church (about 1.2 billion members), there inevitably will be corruption. Even in our little county we are always reading of embezzlers, abusers, etc. Even Jesus had Judas—a hand-picked apostle to whom He showed utmost kindness, and who betrayed Him with the kiss of brotherhood. It’s the very fact that such crimes were perpetrated by men who were supposed to be … trusted to be … men of God which makes their crimes so utterly despicable.
Though not reported often, there ARE distinct rays of hope. Most abuse was done in the late 1900s; in fact, few cases occurring in the 2000s have been reported anywhere —including here in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, gracias a Dios. Thus, though there are dormant cancerous cells still needing to be found and excised, the body as a whole seems to be in remission. We pray it be eliminated absolutely.
What need be done? First, cut out the rot lest such depredations continue, holding perpetrators criminally responsible … as should have been done long ago when this serpent raised its despicable head … remembering St. Paul: “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” (1 Timothy 5:20) Secondly, assist victims’ healing as best is possible, and few things aid in healing more than knowing that perpetrators are 1) stopped, and 2) held responsible. Thirdly, the practice of moving offenders to another assignment and hoping for the best must absolutely end; after all, only a fool excises cancer simply to inject it somewhere else in the body.
After such revelation, many ask: “After all this, why stay Catholic?!” Several reasons. Like with Puerto Ricans, our home can be flooded and hurricane-ravaged, but we are devoted to her nonetheless. And, as in our families, members may do evil, but we do not abjure our family name, rather working all the harder to redeem and demonstrate our family’s foundational virtue and honor.
We need only look at scripture to be reminded that decadence and scandal are not new … and yet, God never left His people, but ever urged them to repentance and conversion. The prophet Elijah also suffered terrible despair at the decadence of God’s people in his time, but as St. Paul writes: “But what is God’s reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.” (Romans 11:4-5) We Catholics, despite dejection at the news of the day, seek all the more to be part of the chosen remnant by redoubling our own fidelity…
…for, despite the hypocrisy and treachery and even evil of some IN the Church, we Catholics firmly believe in the truth OF the Church … that she is guided by God’s Holy Spirit in the way of all truth, and that Christ remains with her as He promised (see Matthew 28:20). Our hearts adapt the words of Peter to Jesus: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the [Church of the] Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69) So…we trust in Jesus’ Word, and continue to cry out daily: “Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!” (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22)
“How long, O LORD?…How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day?…But I have trusted in thy steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.” (Psalm 13:1-5)