Being Catholic in the face of scandal
In the last few months, national news stories have outlined new allegations of abuse and misconduct involving bishops, priests, and even seminarians from various dioceses. It’s hard to read about. Very hard. It can test the faith of even the strongest of Catholics.
Yet, you’re still Catholic. Why?
Nowadays, it’s not an easy question to answer. And as much as I want to seize the catechetical moment (and help you to seize it, too), I’d rather have some other reason to “account for the hope that is in me” (1 Peter 3:15) than
these latest revelations. Yet here we are. Our friends, family, and the secular world all want to know why we don’t just jump ship already. We certainly can’t pretend this isn’t happening. We have to have an answer, not only for them but also for ourselves.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In order to stay and continue to give, pray, worship, and work with this church of sinners, each of us will have to discover our own reason for being Catholic and remaining Catholic.
I recently came across a poignant quotation from F. J. Sheed, one of the greatest Catholic catechists and apologists of the 20th century. In his work “Christ in Eclipse” (1978), he offers a penetrating analysis of the scandals in his own day. The following words in particular were a moment of clarity for me:
“We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. …. Christ is the point … even if I sometimes find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing a Pope [or bishop, or priest] could do or say would make me wish to leave the church, although I might well wish that they would leave.”
Isn’t that the truth? The hierarchy is such a visible symbol of the church that when it goes wrong and we discover serious sinfulness within it, we are tempted to think that the church is rotten to the core. And, if the hierarchy was all there were to the church, then we’d be right.
But, that’s not all there is. The hierarchy is not the core, Jesus is. Granted, the hierarchy is vitally important. I don’t deny that for a moment. In fact, its importance is what makes its members’ sins so tragic. A genuine, spiritual father in our midst is a tremendous blessing. But, there’s so much more to being Catholic than belonging to a church with a hierarchy in it.
And that’s why I stay. I’m here for the good bishops, priests, and deacons, but I’m also here for the “so much more:” the Mass; the sacraments, including the Eucharist; the undivided truth of what we believe and the fullness of grace I so desperately need. I’m here for the angels and saints, for the prayers and the liturgy, for the best way to heaven. I’m here for our Blessed Mother, and for Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
I can’t live without these things, and a million scandalous bishops could never tear them away from me. I refuse to give them that much power over me. And at any rate, where would I go? To some other church? There’s sinners there, too, even very wretched ones.
So, I’m choosing to stay. I’m choosing to fight for justice and truth where I am, to unceasingly strive for holiness, and to trust that the goodness of God will always prevail.
And I’m striving to never forget: Christ is the point.
Nicholas Hardesty develops new digital courses for Vocare, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s online catechist certification process. Contact him with new course ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.