Friends and acquaintances are asking us what to make of the recent disclosures about abuse within Holy Mother Church. We seemingly hear about it or read about it in every Catholic blog, news site or website these days. Faithful Catholics are feeling a range of emotions—from a sense of betrayal or violation, to anger, sadness and confusion. Some even have threatened to leave the Church.
As many clergy and faithful already have stated, one abuse victim is one too many. We all need to pray for anyone who has suffered at the hands of trusted authorities within or outside of the Church. This kind of evil has no place in our world, especially within the Church. So, what’s my take on it? For one thing, we each need to pray for the victims, and for our Church. As well, we need to pray for all priests and bishops.
Abuse Comes to Us from the Evil One
What’s behind all of this abuse? We are seeing a manifestation of evil against good—the spiritual warfare of the devil against God. As Peter Kwasniewski stated in a post prior to the most recent news reports:
… [the devil works to undermine the priesthood and religious life, which exemplify and effectively bring about in this world the ordering of all creation, through Christ, to the Father, who is the beginning and end of all things. The common element in all these attacks is the devil’s fury that anyone or anything natural should ever be subordinated to that which is supernatural—that a faithful, radical self-sacrifice should be the path of salvation and blessedness.
Yet we are all—not just clergy and religious—called to battle as members of the Church Militant. It’s unfortunate that this term apparently fell out of favor after Vatican II. We all need to be reminded that we are engaged in a battle, daily, for our souls and the souls of others. As St. Paul reminds us:
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Eph 6:12.
Therefore we should “put on the whole armor of God.” A life of prayer, penance and frequent reception of the sacraments will provide us this armor.
What about Justice?
Sure, you may be thinking, pray—but what about the injustice that has gone on through these abuses? God is a God of mercy and a God of justice. We don’t get one without the other—the two go hand in hand. God will take care of it in the end. He’s in charge, not us. What’s more, as Cardinal Burke reminds us,
…For the bishop who has failed grievously in this area, the Church’s penal remedies are expiatory remedies for his good also. They address principally the good of the flock because a bishop is a bishop for the care of the flock. For the bishop to prey upon the flock, committing mortal sins, this is simply unacceptable and it has to stop…
The Church has processes above and beyond the USCCB’s supposed oversight that will apply ultimately to bishops who’ve participated in, or turned a blind eye toward, such disgusting activities.
If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. Ecclesiastes 5:8
Fifty Years After Humanae Vitae
Christopher Check of Catholic Answers reminds us that the grave sins we’re reading about today are really a manifestation of the rejection of Humanae Vitae within the church. Pope Paul VI attempted to teach us about chastity in his encyclical. However, many of us, including bishops and priests, chose not to pay attention. What do you get when you separate the sexual act from married procreation? You get what we see now in our culture, with a no-holds-barred approach to sexual gratification. And this has pervaded less-than-holy members of the clergy whom the devil has grabbed. Yet we need to remember that many, many more—the vast majority of our clergy and religious—actively work to live out chaste and holy lives to bring souls to God for His greater glory. Encourage them in their vocations, especially in these dark times.
One “Holy” Church?
In our creed, we state that we believe in one, holy, apostolic and catholic Church. Yes—and, you may ask, what about the unholy characters who make up its membership? Well what about ‘em? That includes you and me—we’re all sinners. Jesus came to heal us sinners. His Church:
… is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God…All the activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, to the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God… The Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect. In her members perfect holiness is something yet to be acquired. CCC 823 – 825 [Emphasis added]
The Church, because of Christ, is holy, but we on earth are imperfect and need to work toward greater holiness—toward deeper union with Our Lord, and away from sinful habits.
Our Sacramental Life in the Church
When will all this end? Who can know? But what we do know is that the Catholic Church is the Church Jesus founded. In it, we have the fullness of truth, an uninterrupted line of succession from St. Peter, the first pope, (Mt. 16:18) on down through today with our current pope. As well, we have a full sacramental life, from Baptism and Confirmation through Anointing of the Sick. Two incredibly important sacraments are the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are able to receive not only absolution for our sins from God through the priest, but graces to help us avoid sin going forward.
As Catholics we believe that the Holy Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Just consider that, throughout the month of August, our Sunday Gospel readings have focused on the Bread of Life Discourse from John 6. In this discourse, Jesus tells us to eat His body and drink His blood. He doesn’t tell us to eat and drink symbols or to do this symbolically. Some of his disciples walk away from this—it’s too much for them to consider. He doesn’t call them back and try to soften it or explain it away. He means what He says. Today, some disciples want to walk away as well. No matter what happens, why would anyone really walk away from the Church and the Holy Eucharist? As a friend stated after Mass recently, “It’s like leaving Jesus because of Judas!”
What Are Our Sources of Information?
Keep in mind that reports from secular media most likely are biased against the Church. This should be nothing new to any of us. A great deal of animosity exists against the Church. Consider that with such a bias, reporters and others may spin “facts” to create what Bill Donohue of The Catholic League refers to as “salacious” headlines. He points out various inconsistencies and examples of playing loosely with data in his recent rebuttal to the Pennsylvania report. As Donohue explains it,
…There are many vicious critics of the Catholic Church who would like to weaken its moral authority, and will seize on any problem it has to discredit its voice. Why? They hate its teachings on sexuality, marriage, and the family…There is nothing wrong with Catholic teachings on this subject: If priests had followed their vows, and not their id, we would not have this problem. Those who refuse to use the brakes God gave them, straight or gay, should be shown the gate or never admitted in the first place…
We probably have not heard the last of all of this. We might consider praying to the Holy Spirit to be filled with the plenitude of His gifts, especially those of counsel and prudence, as we consider new revelations in this area.
What Can We Do?
Some of us might benefit from a reduced frequency with which we review the latest reports on these abuse scandals (and news in general). In other words, can we become a bit more savvy about where we focus our attention? Does any particular action or decision draw us closer to God or not? Is this situation, in fact, something over which we some personal responsibility? I like Dan Burke’s advice in this area. If it’s not something we have any control over, other than through prayer, and if it causes us to lose our peace, then we should let it go. In that regard, perhaps praying through Psalm 131 can help us keep things in perspective:
Lord, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
Like a weaned child to its mother,
Weaned is my soul.
Israel, hope in the Lord,
now and forever.
Prayer and Penance
We do need to pray. Pray for the victims, pray for the clergy, and pray for those souls who are discouraged in their faith by all of this. If we’re not already praying a Rosary a day, we need to begin. St. Padre Pio said that, “The Rosary is the weapon for these times.” Besides being a wonderful devotion, it can be a terrific aid to mental prayer. By reflecting on each mystery as we recite the prayers, we can draw closer to Our Blessed Mother and Jesus, opening ourselves to further graces. As well, it can provide a source of comfort in times of agitation. Remember—agitation is not from God—it’s from the evil one. Pray the Rosary to counter the agitation.
To get through these difficult times, we ought to pray for an abundance of grace to grow in, and strengthen, our virtues and those of our brothers and sisters in the Church. Staying in a state of grace will keep us open to the supernatural virtues. To stay in grace, we should go to Confession no less frequently than monthly, and more often is even better. Attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion as often as possible (besides Sundays, on weekdays as well) will help us increase in grace and our closeness to God.
Doing penance—making some small sacrifices and offering them up will be helpful as well. Consider cutting back on time spent on social media as one way of doing so. Given the ubiquity of social media, this could be a fairly easy opportunity for many of us. It just might help us refocus on God, and on His peace, joy and love for us which never diminish. But make no mistake about it. We are individually, and collectively, in spiritual combat. As soldiers of Christ, we need to engage the enemy with confidence in Jesus, Our King and Commander, and Our Lady, Virgin Most Powerful, Help of Christians.