I will be rather blunt in how I begin this article: my faith in God and my love for the Catholic Church has not, in any way, been lessened by the scandals within the Church. While I am still discerning whether or not I am called to the priesthood, I have not considered entering into the priesthood any less because of the scandal. Not to say I wasn’t shocked and disappointed by the scandal. Not to say that I haven’t had my share of internal moral and spiritual struggles. But, my trust in Jesus and my love for His Church is not any less now than when I first heard the scandals.
Why is that? Firstly, because wicked men can be found supporting almost any ideology, religious or secular. The behavior of those who support a particular ideology does not, in and of itself, prove the truth or falsity of a particular ideology. In the early modern era, during and immediately after the Reformation, you can find examples both of Protestants persecuting Catholics (i.e., in England, where it was illegal to celebrate a Catholic mass openly, or to be ordained a Catholic priest, and where strong anti-Catholic sentiments were a standard part of the culture for several centuries) as well as Catholics persecuting Protestants (i.e., in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, when a series of mobs killed Calvinists living in France). Joseph Stalin was an Eastern Orthodox Christian who later became an atheist. Several high-ranking members of the Nazi regime (Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler) had been raised as Catholic. The KKK officially associated with Protestantism. If I am basing my adherence to a particular belief system solely or primarily on the behavior of its adherents, then I should not believe in anything, not even in nothing (Stalin himself, don’t forget, was an atheist).
And to relate to the sex abuse scandal, what is occurring in the Catholic Church has occurred in other religions. Let us take the example of the Baptist Church. About ten years ago, there was a story of a Memphis-based Baptist preacher named Paul Williams who, a decade and a half earlier, had sexually molested his adolescent son for a period of 12-18 months. Steve Gaines, the chief pastor of the Church Williams worked at, knew of the allegations against Williams – Williams himself had confessed it to him – and remained silent for 6 months.  A more recent article, published in the Washington Post this past May, describes denial and cover-up of sexual abuse, including towards children, as an “epidemic” within the Evangelical Church. It states that the reason for this is difficult to discern, as accurate information is difficult to come by. Yet, the author states that one discernible reason has to do with Church structure: while the highly centralized hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church makes it easier for people to cover-up certain large-scale scandals, it is also much easier for the Catholic Church to collect information on sexual predators, and to formulate and enforce rules regulating how to deal with sex offenders. The more decentralized form of hierarchy among Evangelicals makes it much more difficult for leaders, especially on the higher levels, to actually deal with claims of sexual abuse.  This past summer, as the Cardinal McCarrick scandal was unfolding in the Catholic Church, a similar scandal was unfolding in the Church of England. An article published in The Guardian this past July stated that Lord George Carey, the former honorary assistant bishop of Canterbury, was forced to resign by Archbishop Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, after Carey came under criticism for covering up a sex abuse scandal. Yet, Steven Croft, the bishop of Oxford, gave Carey what the Church of England calls “permission to officiate”, which is the right to preach and preside over religious services within his diocese. Croft himself was also under investigation for cover-ups of sexual abuse.  Doesn’t that sound similar to how, according to the report by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, high ranking officials in the Vatican, if not the Pope himself, knew that there was something off about Cardinal McCarrick at early as the year 2000, and yet he was still appointed to the status of Cardinal a year later?
I’m not implying that things are worse in these other religions than in Catholicism (though there is also no evidence that the opposite is true either). What I am implying is that, to some degree, corruption and abuse of power, and attempts to cover this up, have existed, and continue to exist, in every major religion. Other religions, on top of having their fair share of scandals, are also false, man-made religions. So, the best, most morally upright people in other churches or outside of Christianity, who would never hurt a fly and would expose corruption if they ever had the chance, are still unknowingly spreading a false message that is leading untold numbers of souls astray. That is the BEST that you see in religions outside of Catholicism. In Catholicism, the worst men and women are hypocrites – namely, wicked men who at least pay lip service to the truth.
In the Catholic Church, at least I have the assurance of the truth of what the Church believes. There is a way in which you could get me to leave the Church: read the Bible, look to Church history, and demonstrate how Catholicism represents a deviation from historical Christian doctrine. Yet, corruption among our leaders is not sufficient to move me to leave the Catholic faith. If that were the case, I could easily point to corruption within other religions a well. The bad behavior of my leaders DOES NOT make me believe the Catholic Church any less, just as how scandals in other religions does not lead me to consider them any less true.
Another reason why the scandals have not decreased my faith is because I know what life in the Church is meant to be. I know that the priesthood is supposed to be like. Jesus, as the mediator between God and man, is the true high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus is the ideal priest, the archetype of what a priest should be. Jesus set aside a group of His followers to receive a part of His priestly authority and to perpetuate His mission in a special way, through being given the authority to interpret God’s Word and to administer the sacraments. The priests are thus an alter Christus (“another Christ”) who act in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ” or “in place of Christ”). They act on behalf of Christ in perpetuating His priestly mission. They thus have Christ as the standard, the archetype, or model of what a priest should be like. Christ was a man of virtue, not of sin. I understand that the priests are only human, and thus are not perfect. Yet, not only is it a matter that priests should always strive for moral and spiritual perfection, but priests with sins that run as deep as those who perpetrated these heinous crimes should have never been allowed to enter into the priesthood in the first place, and should have been removed from their positions as soon as what they did was discovered. Christ did not desire power for its own sake, but rather used the power He had been given by the Father to serve His Father and, in so doing, to serve us, by helping us rise out of our sinfulness (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). A priest is meant to do the same thing: as an alter Christus, they must use their authority to serve God, the Church, and their fellow man. Power is not to be desired for its own sake. Yet, the desire for power for powers’ sake is what we see among those involved in the scandal: using their power to take advantage of others, and those who weren’t directly involved attempted to cover-up the scandal, in order to maintain their power and prestige. Their desire for power prevented them from using their power correctly.
I am concerned with truth. Unless you can demonstrate how Catholic teaching is false, nothing can separate me from the Catholic Church. So long as I believe that Jesus shows me the way to salvation, shows me the way to the Father, and insofar as I believe that the Catholic Church faithfully preserves the message of Christ, as well as the means of grace (the sacraments) whereby I am given the strength to fulfill Christ’s precepts, no man can persuade me to leave the Church. By leaving the Church on account of the scandal, I am giving these evil men an authority that no man has, and which, frankly, they of all people do not deserve. One should not water-down, ignore, or trivialize the pain of those who have been victimized or more broadly scandalized. But, on their account, and on account of the good of the Church – which is no mere human institution, but is an institution established by Christ Himself, our spiritual mother who shows us the path to He Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – faithful Catholics should more faithfully cling to the Church. If men of good will, men and women who know what being a priest and life in the Church is supposed to be like – and by no human standard, but by the standard of Jesus’ teaching and example – leave the Church, who will hold the leaders of the Church accountable? From where shall we get good and morally upright priests, bishops and nuns to lead the Church in now, its time of trial? If all men and women of good faith and good will leave the Church, the game has been lost. Wuerl and McCarrick and their wicked lot who have infiltrated the Church would have one. Their monopoly on power within the Church will be complete. No one will speak out against them, there will be no good prelates to replace them, and frankly, most people won’t care as more people leave the Church and the Church falls into oblivion, thus allowing the secularists outside the Church to win. For the love of God, Holy Mother Church, and our fellow Catholics, we need to remain with the Church and fight back, trusting that Jesus meant what He said when He said that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18).
- “Bellevue Report: Assistant Pastor Guilty Of Sex Abuse Against Pastor,” in Baptist News Global, January 29, 2007. Accessed in: https://baptistnews.com/article/bellevue-report-assistant-pastor-guilty-of-sex-abuse-against-son/#.W569AehKjIV
- Joshua Pease, “The Sin Of Silence: The Epidemic Of Denial About Sexual Abuse In The Evangelical Church,” in The Washington Post, May 31, 2018. Accessed in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/05/31/feature/the-epidemic-of-denial-about-sexual-abuse-in-the-evangelical-church/?utm_term=.f2fe22f4fcb9
- Harriet Sherwood, “George Carey Allowed Church Role Despite Role In Abuse Cover-Up,” in The Guardian, July 18, 2013. Accessed in: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/13/former-archbishop-of-canterbury-allowed-to-resume-a-church-role