“Children should not be afraid of the follower of Jesus.” George Macdonald
In light of seemingly endless scandal, my instant thought was a that child should absolutely be afraid of a follower of Jesus these days as much as a stranger on the schoolyard. It seems that some have become strangers not only to Christ & His body, but unto themselves. Its unfortunate that priests & other ministers of the gospel are among them.
Recently, a priest in my diocese admitted to a crime against a 12 year old boy in his parish. The newspaper clamped down with its hungry jaws & the story broke on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe the media was trying to send a subtle (or not so subtle) message to Catholics & the clergy. Was the story run on this day as a malicious slap in the face of Catholicism (not to mention religion as a whole)? Probably. This paper has a reputation for such things... But maybe it was more of a wake up call, a desperate plea for reform & a reminder that our problems have not been dealt with sufficiently... A slap on the wrist & multi-million dollar settlements haven't made the issues disappear. Something is wrong with the Body of Christ. Some of its members are sick & it affects us all. We aren't going to receive mercy from the secular arena. We can only turn ourselves to God, Whose mercy is “endless & the treasury of compassion inexhuastable”.
I knew about the scandals when I converted to Catholicism... but I reasoned that not all priests were bad & that at the core, the Church & its teachings were solid. I still believe that, but I also tend to approach clergy with caution. Just because they wear the vestments & are ordained doesn't mean they've lost their humanity. Just because a person identifies themselves as a follower of Christ doesn't mean they walk with Him. We would do well to remember we're all prone to sin at anytime, even the most “holy” among us. But this is no excuse for the scandal we're seeing in the Church.
When I first heard about the priest in my diocese, my heart sank. I don't know the man. I've never heard of him or his parish. But that doesn't change the fact that we are part of the same body. I felt angry that he could think to deceive anyone. I felt sad that he would willingly subject a child to scandal & expect to get away with it. I felt troubled that this man did not consider the solemnity & privilege of his priesthood to God & the Church. But most of all, I feel sick because of his disease.
Do I have to answer for this man's crime? Am I responsible to atone for his sins? God says no. But in the eyes of the world, I do & I am. How can I, as a Catholic, stand by & submit to an authority that obviously considers itself above the law of the land & God Himself? Should I boycott the sacraments? Should I look with disdain on all priests & clergy? Should I thumb my nose at God & abandon my faith altogether? No. Scandal is a symptom of something deeper. Maybe the Church should allow priests & clergy to marry. But allowing marriage would simply be a band aid. Those who go after little boys will still go after little boys. I don't think the problem is with God or the sacraments or the Church's teachings. The problem is with the individual, the human, sans clerical authority. Something in the soul has not been regenerated, has not been touched by God. Perhaps its been deliberately held back or hidden. Perhaps the defense against it has been breached by struggle or neglect. Just as dust will gather in a place untouched & the well fed army will overtake the famished, so is sin in the human heart.
Sin among the clergy is both the fault of the individual & the fault of the one(s) to whom he is accountable. If one doesn't admit to the sickness or isn't allowed or even challenged to maintain health, he won't receive care. If he can't receive care because he does not seek it or it hasn't been offered, the sickness becomes systemic. The sickness of sin doesn't simply go away like a common cold. It needs to be exposed, treated & monitored, lest it grow like cancer. What the Church needs are real “doctors” who believe in “do no harm”, who encourage total soul health for the clergy at all costs... Who offer preventative care for the needs of all Its members & who are dedicated to deal with the root cause(s) of sickness, not only the symptom(s).
As a Catholic, I'm not responsible for the sin or innocence of that priest in my diocese. Yet the diocese has offered this man as much financial aid as he needs for his legal costs. At first, I felt angry about that. He openly admitted his guilt. He doesn't need a high profile lawyer to argue his case... but apparently he has one. How am I supposed to feel about this? Is the church condoning this man's actions? Are they trying to defend him? Will he end up recanting & saying the boy lied? It feels like if I support the diocese in any way, I am supporting this man's defense & perpetuating his sickness. Its the whole guilt by association thing. The Archbishop of my diocese who presided at my Rite of Election & is the very same who has approved the defense of many wayward priests since these scandals began. Does that make the Archbishop bad? Does that make me bad?! I struggle with this.
If we are one body, we are called to care for one another, to bear one another's burdens... and whether a priest confesses or doesn't, the body of Christ is still called to love, to keep no record of wrongs & to bear all things, to presume innocence by not casting stones. That shouldn't excuse the sickness or the consequences. I think its irresponsible to allow clergy to retain their clerical authority if there's reasonable doubt for their innocence, but I think I can see why the Church offers the clergy financial & legal support in time of crisis. Its an act of faith & love. But what the Church sees as an act of kindness, the world sees as as hypocritical- condoning sin to serve Its own interests. Is the Church really trying to save the souls of Its priests? Or is the media circus all about a few high minded power mongers trying to save their institution? Whatever the case, this sickness has afflicted all of us because we are part of the same body. But I am a Catholic Christian because of Christ, not because of the clergy. Whatever power & authority they have is given by God, to whom they will have to answer. To whom much is given, much will be required. I only need to tend to what has been given me.