A couple of readers have dropped me a line asking how to deal with the almost daily onslaught of scandal in the church just now.
Cardinal McCarrik who turns out (apparently) to be a predatory homosexual, Cardinal Maradiaga embroiled in a dirty money problem, his assistant Bishop Pineda doing a McCarrick with seminarians as well as flying first class while 63% of his fellow Hondurans live below the poverty line, the pope asking for $25m from the papal foundation to seemingly prop up a shady outfit in Rome, rumors of the gay mafia not only in seminaries, but throughout the clergy and the Vatican, Fr James Martin and New Ways Ministry supporting the gay agenda, German bishops pushing for intercommunion, pedophile priests, Marxist nuns…the list goes on and on.
Ok. Stop for a moment. I know you are upset and disappointed and angry and frustrated. So am I.
But let’s stop again and examine our expectations because disappointments are determined by wrong expectations.
What did you really expect from the Catholic Church–or any church for that matter?
We’re a boatload of sinners, and not just sinners, but unrepentant sinners who cover up our crimes, justify our misdemeanors and excuse our weaknesses.
It’s been this way from the Garden of Eden onward. Have you read the Old Testament recently? Adam and Eve the rebels are followed by Cain the murderer. Noah the drunken nudist, Abraham who slept with his servant girl, Jacob the cheating scoundrel, Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery, Moses the murderer, Saul the paranoid violent tyrant, David the drunken adulterer and murderer…the list goes on and on, and I think the Old Testament is given to us to remind us that this is what the people of God are like.
Its the same in the Church. This is why I am doing this podcast history of the Church, so that listeners can realize again that the church is full of human frailty and sin.
When you stop again and think again, why did you expect anything else, and furthermore, wouldn’t you be suspicious of a church which wasn’t riddled with sin and populated by sinners? Have you ever been involved with one of those creepy religious communities (and I’ve know both Protestant and Catholic versions) where everyone is smiling all the time and pious 24/7 and always sweet and holy? Don’t such communities actually give you the creeps? They do me.
Furthermore, in almost all of those squeaky clean communities sooner or later the dirt comes out. That founder everyone thought was the holy man turns out to have been abusing his wife or sleeping around or being fond of young men or putting his hand if not in the honey pot, then in the money pot.
I was about twelve years old when I came across my first experience of clergy corruption. I won’t tell the story because the people are still living, but it opened my eyes. This guy I thought was such a spiritual leader and a holy person turned out to be a violent, aggressive (and later it turned out) adulterous man. Through the years in every church I’ve been in down through the years there have been men who have been seduced by power, pleasure, politics and prosperity, and the higher they fly the further they fall.
So why am I still in this game and why should you be?
Because for every stinker there are a hundred good folks–and more. If Pastor Whoever turned out to be a drug addicted whoreson, there were a hundred other people who were down to earth, hard working, hard praying hard giving, funny, fun, genuine, honest and forgiving Christian people.
So if you’re feeling discouraged about the church, first of all change your expectations. Don’t expect the church and her leaders to be perfect. Are you? No. We’re all still a work in progress and if you think you’re better than the sinners then you’re self righteous and that’s even worse.
The second reason I’m still a believer and a Catholic is because from the age of twelve, when my eyes were first opened, I stopped expecting church leaders to be super heroes. I’ve never been surprised by the priestly and pastorly pecadilloes. In fact, I’ve always been rather surprised when I find a priest or pastor who is not a stinker. That’s not because I’m cynical, but because I’m realistic, and also because I know my own weaknesses and what a stinker I am.
“But!” I hear you grumble, “They are supposed to be godly men. They’re supposed to protect and defend us. What about the little ones?” Well, the Lord spoke about wolves among the shepherds and the fate of any who caused a little one to stumble. We see. We acknowledge. We tremble. We pray and we leave the to the Severe Mercy.
Finally, I’m a believer today because (and maybe this is the Evangelical Protestant in me) while I believe in the Catholic Church as Christ’s true church, my eyes are really fixed on Jesus and his Blessed Mother. I fix my eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of my faith. My hope is built on him crucified not the institutional church. (Don’t read into this. I’m not saying the church is just another human institution. I believe in the supernatural, mystical Bride of Christ as the church, but she’s the means not the end.)
I love the church. I love the faithful people. I love the triumphs. I love the tragedies because I see in all these things we are more than conquerors. I see in all these things God’s mysterious hand of providence at work. This is the lesson from the Old Testament–that God is working his way out in the world not only despite the human frailties and failures but through them. Yep. He doesn’t just steer around them, he uses them to accomplish his final purpose.
Remember that all is harvest. He will use even the sin to accomplish salvation. Isn’t that what a crucifix says? Here was history’s darkest deed. Here was mankind’s most terrible action–they killed their own savior, and through that action God saved the world.
If he can do that, then I believe his promise that he will never forsake his church and that even all the hordes of the underworld, howling from the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.