Everybody wants to be a saviour. Nobody in their right mind sees a victim and doesn’t feel the impulse to rescue and protect them. It’s a universal human trait. And it’s well-intentioned. But, as Dante said, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.
Catholics believe only one man is capable of providing that salvation we all so keenly want, not just for ourselves, but for each other. It’s obvious, but it bears repeating – again and again. Catholics believe Jesus Christ is mankind’s only Saviour.
That truth offers comfort and peace. But it also brings pain, because of the Fall. We should be glad and rejoice in the Truth, the Way, and the Life. But we are not, much of the time.
We Are Not the Saviour
We are annoyed that we are not the saviours. In fact, we don’t really accept it. We want to be the hero. We want glory in this life, not the next. We will be warriors and defenders of truth in the way that is most appealing to us. We will accuse those in power. We will bring forth justice in the way we see fit. We will personally hold evil-doers accountable. We will redeem the victims of sexual abuse. So we can feel like we have done our bit.
We won’t, we can’t. This does not mean complicit silence. It does not mean burying your head in the sand. The systems are in place to hold people accountable. There are people whose job is to be a cog in that system. Each Christian man and woman is called to do his or her job with daily, quiet heroism. That is how we will save – by being the arm and hand in Christ’s body. We will not be the sole hero. We will forgo glory in this life. We will file reports. We will be faithful to accounts given to you. We will escalate things as necessary. We will speak the truth. If we are not directly involved in a diocese in question, we will go to our churches and we will pray and we will raise our children, be good spouses, keep others’ intentions in our heart, and offer our days up to God. We will do right in each small way that we are called to.
None of us will become saints by judging clergy for how they have done their job. None of us will become saints by telling anyone how they have fallen short of God’s plan for them. None of us will become saints by telling others how to be saints. No matter how much it feels like the right thing to do. No matter how much it feels like our duty to speak out. No matter how much it feels wrong not to demand clergy publically pronounce themselves in univocal ways about the horrors that burden their flock so heavily. The devil reverses, and he is smarter than us.
It’s annoying at best, and painful at worst. It hurts that we cannot do anything but do our own jobs properly, and pray that others do too. It hurts that we can’t do our jobs properly much of the time. It hurts that we run the risk of seeing more innocent souls fall victim to the hands of unspeakable evil.
The Holy Spirit is Working
Either the Holy Spirit is working in ways we don’t understand and we have to be humble and patient and allow that to happen, or we have bad clergy. The Church has had bad popes before and it has survived. Laypeople must take ten steps back and refrain from much comment. We don’t have access to all the information. It is impossible to get at the truth, and even more importantly, it is not what God calls us to do.
It is not the average layperson’s job to figure out or make judgments on the scandals. Just like it is not most people’s job to build planes, or rescue children from burning buildings, or whatever specific job each person or group is called to. It is tempting to think we all have a social duty to form an opinion on moral and ethical matters. It is tempting to think we all govern in some way. But in fact, we don’t. We govern over our own small territory, our own, small, list of duties – a list that is very short but already all to unmanageable for all of us.
Scandals Distract Us
God calls us to live the life we have in front of us with virtue. Big scandals distract us from what we really should be doing. We must all pray, and those of us called in specific ways to be involved, must do so. But the vast majority of us are not called to this. And it hurts because we want to save, and we want to protect.
‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children. For look, the days are surely coming when people will say, “Blessed are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne children, the breasts that have never suckled!”’ (Luke 23:28-9)
It is a particular pain for women. We are called to shelter our children from harm. It is the worst sorrow to realise that we cannot do so. That Our Lady is more mother than we will ever be. That God loves our children far more than we are capable of. That is why we must weep, as Jesus commanded us. Women are called to bear that unspeakable sorrow, to offer it up to the Lord.
San Josemaria Escriva said,
‘A Priest – whoever he may be – is always another Christ… the Holy Spirit has said: “Nolite tangere Christos meos – do not touch my Christs… To love God and not venerate his Priests… it is not possible. Like the good sons of Noah, throw the mantle of charity over the defects you see in your father, the Priest’.
It’s easy to love someone we like. It’s easy to be charitable towards innocent children who are victims. It’s easy to be charitable towards those who deserve it.
What about unconditional charity? What about people who have committed evil? Can we throw the mantle of charity over defects that go beyond venial sins, that strike at the very core of the soul, that cause injury to God?
‘”If I… have not charity,” says the Apostle, “I am nothing.” Whatever my privilege, service, or even virtue, “if I… have not charity, I gain nothing.” Charity is superior to all the virtues. It is the first of the theological virtues: “So faith, hope, charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity.”’ (CCC 1826)
Being a victim of sexual abuse is a strong predictor of becoming a perpetrator in the future. These children we feel so awful for – some may have grown up to be abusers. How will we feel about them if that is the case?
“But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the tax collectors do as much? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Do not even the gentiles do as much? You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.'” (Matthew 5:44-8)
We must love the perpetrators. This does not mean we don’t want them in prison – it is loving to want for someone to be held accountable, to suffer the consequences of their sins: that is love. But we must want this in the spirit of love. For their own interest, not for our satisfaction, for our protection, for our own good. For their own good. We must love the perpetrators of sexual abuse and wish for the very best for them, wish for them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
We must pray not just for the victims. Not just for the Church. Not just for the clergy. Not just for justice. True justice is contrition. True justice is redemption. True justice is the Crucifixion – the greatest injustice ever to be committed – this is the path of true justice, it hurts and it feels unfair.