The clergy abuse scandal seems to never go away. The local police recently conducted a raid on our diocesan pastoral center to recover what they claim are missing records on clergy abuse. Needless to say, this has caused much concern and media coverage. The daily newspaper has contained numerous interviews with Catholic parishioners to get their reactions.
The parishioners’ reactions reflected a variety of emotions but most of the reported interviews expressed the view that the latest police raid served as the final straw and they were considering leaving the Church.
To Leave or to Stay
A recent Gallup poll indicated that 37% of Catholics are questioning leaving the Church over the clergy abuse scandal. This demonstrated a significant jump (from 22%) in those questioning leaving from 2002 when the scandal first hit the news.
Even though the majority of the abuse took place decades ago and much of the media attention is a rehash of that past data there certainly appears a serious wearing down in trust of Church leadership. This is especially troubling because the Church has instituted many reforms since 2002 (such as the Dallas Charter) that have had a significant impact in lowering the incidence of abuse.
It would suspect that some that would leave the Church might well be on their way anyhow, having a lukewarm faith, to begin with. For others, it is a serious question to address and ponder over. I think we need to be prepared to address that question not just for ourselves but for potential conversations with others. The challenge is how to respond in a manner that encourages, convinces or supports staying in the Church that is straightforward and uncomplicated.
Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.17For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,l18as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4: 16-18)
A Concise Response to Staying
There have been numerous articles and books (the most recent being Bishop Robert Barron’s Letter to a Suffering Church) that discuss many reasons to “stay the course” and remain steadfast in the Church that need not be explored here. For me, the plainest and most direct reason is found in Scripture. In the sixth Chapter of the Gospel of John, it is told how many of his disciples left Jesus after the bread of life discourse on eating his flesh and drinking his blood. They found it too hard to believe and just could not accept his teaching. In response, Jesus asks a question and Peter responds in John 6: 67-68:
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God
Other Christian denominations have the words of salvation because they come from Jesus himself in Scripture. However, the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox) offers something else the others do not, especially in the context of John 6. Our Church was instituted by Jesus Christ and empowered by him to provide his true presence (body, blood, soul and divinity) in the sacrament of the Eucharist. That body and blood we are able to receive at Mass provide us with the life-sustaining “soul food” for our spiritual nourishment that cannot be obtained by any other means. Likewise, our Church offers other unique sources of grace through the other six sacraments. The true presence of Christ in the Mass has been and always will be the defining characteristic of the Church.
A Final Perspective
The thought of leaving our faith community requires serious discernment beyond that of just the Church’s handling of abuse. Historically there have been other periods of corruption, including clergy abuse. The Church even has a saint – St. Peter Damian who strongly confronted that issue and facilitated a needed reform and renewal in the 11th century.
As a human institution, Church members and leaders can be saints or sinners. The Church and the faith it teaches and professes remains Holy having been established by Christ himself. We, human members, choose to either follow that faith, corrupt it or ignore it. Yet, the Church itself will always remain the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The fullness of that truth can only be found in the Catholic Church that was founded by Christ. The historical record shows that the Church has always been able to “weed out” corruption and emerge stronger from such scandals. We need to “stay the course” as St. Boniface back in the 8th century encourages us to do.
In the voyage across the oceans of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon the ship but to keep her on the course. Let us stand fast for what is right, and prepare our souls for trial…Let us trust in Him who has placed this burden upon us.