Bring On the Righteous Anger

Archbishop Wilton’s statement about the McCarrick affair has some heat.

His words say he is angry about the whole mess and he’s right to be, but in watching the video we didn’t see much anger. It looked like it was scripted and read from an autocue.

Maybe another PR exercise? What I find so astounding in most of the episcopal responses is any real fervor for the Catholic faith–a faith that calls for repentance from sin, sorrow and horror and what has happened and concern for souls and salvation.

In our drive to stop climate change, help immigrants and set up more soup kitchens have we so completely forgotten the core of the Christian message?

What has also been remarkably lacking from our leadership is the sense of outrage that the priests and people feel at the McCarrick scandal and cover up.

The fact that there is some anger–even if it was in a carefully crafted statement– is at least a step in the right direction, because what we have not heard for many, many years from any Christian pulpits are the prophetic voices of righteous anger in the face of sin.

Why is that? For a long time preachers–both Catholic and Protestant alike–did a heavy trade in righteous anger. They stoked up the fires talking about “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” and the pushed all the guilt buttons. There was heaven to be won and hell to be feared.

It worked.

People responded to the voice of an angry father warning them of the perils to come. They came forward. They repented. They went to confession. They got saved. They turned to Jesus. They did penance.

But then the preachers backed off. They stopped being angry and stopped laying on the guilt.

They decided to be all sweetness and light instead. It was all “Mercy, mercy me. Things ain’t what they used to be.”

They forgot the anger and the wrath because they wanted to emphasize God’s mercy which is all well and good, but I think they also put aside the anger and wrath because to be honest, they forgot what they were supposed to be angry about.

Everybody seemed nice enough. Were they supposed to be angry just because the Bible or the Church said certain things were wrong and the people were breaking the rules? That didn’t seem to be enough motivation to be angry.

What was the point of the righteous anger anyway? Wouldn’t people respond better to the offer of a loving and merciful Father in Heaven? Wasn’t gentle Jesus meek and mild a much nicer guy than Christ the King and the Judge and Ruler of the Universe?

I think they backed away from the anger and rage because they also stopped believing in the everlasting punishment of hell and they figured nobody really deserved such a terrible judgement. They backed away from sin because the psychologists had told all of us that people did bad things because their mother didn’t love the enough–or because she loved them too much. But in any case it wasn’t their fault so how could they be punished?

Now at last we can see a little silver lining on this dark McCarrick cloud.

The silver lining is this: clergymen are angry about sin again. We’re all angry. We’re spitting angry. We’re fed up. Some of the anger is because we’re ashamed and angry because the church is under a cloud again. We’re angry because we have to pick up the piece and try again to repair the damage.

But I think we’re also angry because at last people are starting to see that sin is bad. Its bad because it hurts people. We’re angry because little boys have been raped and their lives destroyed. We’re angry because seminarians have been seduced and their vocations destroyed. We’re angry because homosexuals have soiled our seminaries with their lust and bishops and cardinals and seminary rectors have turned a blind eye or played along.

We’re angry because this  is sin, and sin always hurts people.

Now maybe once again we can understand why God hates sin. He doesn’t hate sin because he’s big and nasty and judgmental. He hates sin because it breaks hearts, breaks lives, breaks families, breaks the church and breaks true love.

So bring on the righteous anger, and let’s think again about sin and why its wrong.

It’s wrong because all sin, in the end is violent, and violence means death.

And we hate death.

We hate death because we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.

Therefore maybe there will now be a return to preaching about the ugliness, the violence and the cruelty of sin. Maybe if we see this more clearly we can also see more clearly the pure and beautiful love of God that conquers all sin.


2018-08-11T08:12:21+00:00August 9th, 2018|Categories: Blog|5 Comments


  1. […] Arc of the Universe Roundup: Bishops React to McCarrick Scandal – Register Staff, NC Register Bring on the Righteous Anger – Fr. Dwight Longenecker This is Where We Are Now – Matthew Archbold, National Catholic […]

  2. John August 10, 2018 at 8:40 am

    You hit the nail on the head again. It’s the underlying belief that since “we’re not as bad as Hitler, we’re therefore going to heaven.” Essentially, having no fear of God more or less ends you up in the same place as atheism in that all sorts of sin is Ok as long as it’s not murder, rape, or armed robbery. “So why worry about cohabitation, abortion, etc.? They’re not that bad. You won’t end up in hell for those.” The basic problem is emphasizing the flowery forgiving Jesus and not the angry Jesus turning over the tables in the temple. Yes, Jesus is forgiving, but we need to REPENT and try to do better. Not just throw our hands up in the air and claim all will be fine because we’re not as bad as Hitler.

  3. Frederick Snyder August 10, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    How does Church Authority work? Can a fellow bishop (arch or cardinal) or a group of them investigate a fellow bishop or bishops and demand and receive ALL records and decide guilt or innocence in covering up any abuse? Or is this authority reserved solely to the Pope?

    How far back in time should an investigation go?

    If guilt is determined, what should be the punishment? Should the offender be brought to secular criminal trial? Will the Church compensate those abused?

    We are taught to forgive 70 times 7. We are taught to look to our own sin and not the sin of others. We are taught to admonish the sinner, not to rip him a new one and destroy his reputation.

    And yet we instinctively know we do have a legitimate right to demand high moral character of our religious leaders all the up the chain of command. And the right to at least cancel their authority to conduct religious services and teach in the name of the Church.

    Who will ask the Pope to take action?

    • Dwight Longenecker August 10, 2018 at 2:39 pm

      I’m afraid I do not have the answer to these questions. The situation is also more complicated because a person may be guilty of an action that was indiscreet but not illegal. It may be creepy for a grown man to cuddle a younger man while only wearing underwear, but the action would not be criminal in civil law because it doesn’t break a law, neither would it necessarily be contrary to any moral teaching of the church. It may certainly be immoral in a general sense, but how do you put people on trial for indiscretions? Its complicated.

  4. Laurence McClelland August 10, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Ines San Martin just wrote a beautiful from the heart column on this subject for Crux Now. Ms. San Martin is one of the best Catholic Commentators when she expresses her true feelings, I wish she did it more often. And now we have a rapidly growing Silence Stops Now Protest for the Bishops Annual Conference in Baltimore, Nov. 12th -15th. Should 30,000 people attend this rally/protest perhaps the Bishops will feel humbled or fearful enough to hand in there clerical robes and sell their vacation homes.

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