Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - Updated: 2:11 pm
How do we live and remain faithful in the Catholic Church during a time of scandal?
History teaches us that the community of believers called church have often done scandalous behaviors. From the betrayals of Christ by Judas and Peter, through the heresies of the early centuries, the schism between East and West, and the Protestant reformation, scandals sadly abound.
Second, Christian compassion leads us to reach out to victims of abuse with empathy and concern. Those of us who have not been abused cannot know what it is like to experience this major trauma. We have to put victims-survivors first, and do what we can to walk with them toward some kind of peace. As individuals we Christians pray for them; as an institution we the church have to give them the means to address their abuse and help them to heal. Bishop David Zubik’s pastoral letter, “The Church Healing,” points the way with practical responses for bringing hope and healing to victims. Unfortunately abuse of children (and vulnerable adults) afflicts all Christian churches, all religions, all walks of life, many families. Our hearts go out to all victims of abuse, in and outside of the church.
Scandals can be administrative or interpersonal. There is the occasional selfish theft of money by a parish employee or pastor. Clericalism (the sinful attitude that the clergy are better than everyone else, and that the rules don’t apply to them) continues to be a problem for a handful of priests.
A few loud voices respond to our scandals by saying, “Leave the church,” or even, “Reject religious belief altogether.”
Those who leave the Catholic Church ignore its incredible centuries-long record of healing the sick through hospitals and clinics worldwide, educating children and adults through schools, universities and seminaries, and advocating for the victims of injustice: the unborn, the poor, the elderly, refugees and migrants, the enslaved without human rights. The witness of multitudes of women and men religious carrying out acts of charity and justice is the hands and heart of Christ lovingly at work in the world.
Where do I stand? I guess it starts with the honest realization way back in the seminary that I was a sinner, and that priestly ordination did not and will not take away my sinful tendencies or the temptations by the devil. Some may say this is cynical; I think it is just realistic. Priests are no more and no less human than any other baptized person. I have to beg forgiveness of God through confession just like every other Christian, and pursue the path of discipleship in Christ to holiness.
For me it comes down to the humble insight of the apostle Peter. After many disciples left the company of Jesus because of his teaching on the bread of life, Jesus turns to the Twelve and point-blank asks, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter replied, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68).
That’s where I am. To whom shall I go? I cannot leave this human-yet-divine church, which has nurtured me, educated me, given life and grace to me, and brought me to know the beauties and joys of serving others through selfless ministry. I cannot leave this church, which though sinful is still a place where saints live in our parishes and lead us to heaven. I cannot leave this church, where I find Jesus Christ each day in his word, sacrament and presence. I love the church, warts and all. Eternal salvation comes from Christ in and through this church.
One day seminarian friends were arguing about (minor) issues in our seminary and in the Catholic Church. We debated: Where was a better place to try to improve the church, from outside or from inside? One said, only by staying and trying to improve the church from within is there any real possibility of reform. That thought struck me as true and wise, and it remains with me today.
Only if each of us tries, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be the most loving, caring, faithful Christian we can be, might it be possible to imperfectly witness to the unbelievable mercy of God, who loves us all beyond our imagining. Only if we stay engaged might we work for reform and renewal in the church, and bring hope to those who are hurting.
Let us pray for the healing of victims. Let us pray for perpetrators of abuse. Let us pray that the church sincerely faces its scandals and works to eliminate them. As we do at the beginning of every Mass, let us acknowledge our personal and institutional sins so as to trust in the mercy of God and move a tiny bit closer to the kingdom of God on earth.
Father Almade is administrator of the parish grouping that includes St. Colman in Turtle Creek, Good Shepherd in Braddock, St. John Fisher in Churchill, St. Jude in Wilmerding, Madonna del Castello and Word of God in Swissvale, and St. Maurice in Forest Hills.