Lay Catholics should lead, not leave, their church

by Jennifer Roback Morse, November 15, 2018

This article was first posted October 11, 2018, at Washington Examiner.

The “summer from hell” for the Catholic Church has prompted many people to ask Catholics, “Why are you staying in that awful church?” Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have run stories with this theme. Many Catholics are privately asking themselves that very question.

The emphatic answer for a believing Catholic is: “This is the Church Jesus founded. It’s up to us to clean it up, not abandon it.”

If the most morally serious and conscientious people leave the Church, it will be left in the hands of people least likely to clean up. Exhibit A: In 2002, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was the Church’s public face of “zero tolerance.” We now know that he sexually harassed seminarians and abused minors.

Leaving the Church to men like McCarrick leaves it in the hands of the least worthy. Their rot would undermine the moral authority of Jesus’ teachings and taint the material assistance provided by the Church’s schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and more. We would be leaving the financial assets of the Church to men like McCarrick and Donald Wuerl, whose management is questionable at best. We’d be leaving the beauty of our buildings to men like Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who decorated his cathedral with a homoerotic mural.

Leaving the Catholic Church is not like leaving a corporation or a government entity. The reason for belonging in the first place is that it is the Church founded by Christ, whose apostles were its first bishops. So what can lay Catholics do instead of leaving?

First, we can pray. On Oct. 7, people gathered in a worldwide crusade of praying the Rosary. The Rosary Coast to Coast included 1,000 locations and 57 countries. Tens of thousands of people participated.

As president of the Ruth Institute, I was pleased and proud to see over 800 heroic Catholics along the shores of Lake Charles in Louisiana at our Rosary Around the Lake. I know how much these people sacrificed to put God first and to pray for our Church. And others surely sacrificed more, such as those who prayed the Rosary in Iran. The identity of their “point of contact” is “protected due to persecution.”

Lay Catholics are leading in other important ways:

  • Better Church Governance is “an independent watchdog, newly formed to: (1) hold the hierarchy of the Catholic Church accountable for abuse and corruption, and (2) develop and support honesty, clarity, and fidelity in Church governance.’”
  • The Napa Institute held a conference at Catholic University of America on authentic reform.
  • Catholic journalists such as Elizabeth Bruening, Ross Douthat, and Edward Pentin are keeping the Vatican’s proverbial feet to the fire.

Those who leave the Church may believe they are saving themselves. Some may believe they are actually helping the Church. However, they are more likely initiating a spiritual divorce that may well — like familial divorce — do more harm than good.

After all, it wasn’t the Protestant divorce that solved the Church’s problems of the day. It was saints like Philip Neri, Charles Borromeo, and Teresa of Avila who heroically stuck around and insisted on reform. Likewise, it was an unsung hero inside in today’s Church who exposed McCarrick as a fraud and an abuser.

Good clergy and great laity are the real Church, not just the cardinals processing into St. Peter’s Cathedral. If we “divorce” the Church, we leave everyone who stays behind in the hands of McCarrick and his ilk.

That is why I implore my fellow-fed-up Catholics to stay. You are exactly the sort of person who needs to stay. Together, we can put corrupt clergy on notice: “We’re not leaving. Deal with it.”