Keeping Faith When Priests Cause Scandal

It’s no secret that the Church is comprised of sinners. However, when we become discouraged in the Church, and are perhaps at risk of losing faith and walking away, do we ever stop to remember that Jesus is the Builder of the Church?

All throughout salvation history, God has utilized sinners to build His Kingdom here on Earth. Noah drank too much. Abraham had a hard time trusting God’s promises about having an heir, and ended up sleeping with a slave woman. Moses couldn’t follow instructions, and ultimately wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land. David was an adulterer; and Solomon was a womanizer who fell into idolatry.

Yet through it all, God was in control. Somehow, history unfolded from the beginning to the promised Redeemer, not because of us, but despite us. God, the ultimate musician, makes a perfect symphony despite the most faulty instruments.

In our culture, there seems to be a tendency to put some people on a pedestal, because of their position: musicians, politicians, actors, doctors, and even our parish priests. Typically, what goes up, must come down. When this fall from grace happens, there is a loud bang that nobody will admit they saw coming. “I can’t believe that this could be true. He would never do such a thing.” I can appreciate this perspective, because I’ve witnessed this disappointment.

There is a tendency for some to react with disgust, and use scandal as an excuse to leave the Church. Others will come to the rescue of the accused and reject out of hand any possibility that any allegations against them could be true. Those same extremes may even go so far as to label the other as a “bad” or “disobedient” Catholic.

This assertion, I would propose, is to miss the forest for the trees. Both despair and denial are extremes that must be avoided. Accountability and faithfulness are necessary.

There is no doubt at all that the Bride of Christ is under attack. Satan will leave no stone unturned in his efforts to discourage souls and lead them away from the life giving sacraments of the Church. This effort means that you and I must be constantly on guard and prayerful for each other, our priests, bishops and deacons and the Holy Father.

Each and every one of us is a sinner. Yet, we are still the building blocks of the Church. God can make perfect bricks, even without straw.

But as much as we count on the clergy to guide us, we have a role to play, not the least of which is our prayers for our shepherds. The devil certainly knows that, despite the flaws of our priests, they are the ones who bring to the faithful the sacraments that Jesus entrusted to them for our spiritual health and salvation. It’s no wonder Satan spends so much time attacking them.

For those who may at times despair when some scandal or another is made known, it is important to remember that our priests are humans first. They sin just like the rest of us. They can and should be held accountable for their actions. But, we are accountable for our actions as well. Giving up on the Builder of the Body, because we are troubled by the material He uses, is one act which none of us should consider, regardless of how much scandal may arise in our midst.

Jesus Christ warned us that there would be scandals in His Church. “Woe to the world because of scandals! For it must needs be that scandals come, but woe to the man through whom scandal does come!” (Matthew 18:7 DRA)

Of course, we have all heard of Judas Iscariot? Should we forsake the Rock of Peter, because of the sin of Judas? No. The indispensable gift of the sacraments, most notably the Eucharist, come from the hands of our priests. Jesus is truly present to us — body, blood, soul, and divinity — no matter the spiritual soundness of His instrument. In this regard, I will conclude with the words of St. John Chrysostom and the Catechism:

It may happen that the rulers of a nation are bad and corrupt, and their subjects good and pious, that the laity live moral lives while the priests are guilty of iniquity. But if grace always required worthy [ministers], there would be no Baptism, no body of Christ [Eucharist], no sacrifice [of the Mass]. Now God is wont to operate through unworthy men …. (Homilies on 1 Corinthians, Homily VIII)

None of us is worthy. But by God’s grace and mercy, we are all called to unite with Him in love, through the graces He gives us in the Sacraments of the Church.

Through the ordained ministry, especially that of bishops and priests, the presence of Christ as head of the Church is made visible in the midst of the community of believers. In the beautiful expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1549)