By Deacon Mike Manno, Jd., The Wanderer, July 22, 2019
So, what do you do about the scandals in the Church? Well, for most subscribers to this publication the answer is pretty clear: Church is home and we don’t intent to be run out of it. We may not like what has transpired, and while we have some qualms about some of the people running things, we believe in the institution.
Moving forward, the bishop [Robert Barron] lists several steps for Church improvement: Serious institutional reform, especially involving the conduct of bishops; an exhaustive investigation into how and why McCarrick’s misbehavior was so well known yet he was allowed to rise in rank so high; and spiritual reform, starting with the priesthood.
That’s fine as far as it goes. But how do you convince you children, family members, and friends who are verging on leaving to find another church (or worse, who are ready to join the chorus of the “nones,” those who subscribe to no faith) to stay.
It’s easy to sit back and complain, or to point fingers at this bishop, or that cardinal, and it’s even hip to point to the Pope. Throw in the Vatican Bank scandal, freemasonry, and the Sankt Gallen Mafia and — voila! — a real conspiracy whose evil members must be rooted out.
That might work for many of us, but what about those who might be a little fainthearted, or those who, post-scandal, aren’t sure what is right and what is not? For those, as well as the rest of us already determined to see this thing through, Bishop Robert Barron — I’m tempted to put the word “celebrity” before his name — auxiliary for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, has written a nifty little book entitled, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis.
At 105 pages, this book, in five short essay-length chapters, is an easy, quick read designed to put the current crisis in historical and scriptural perspective. In it the bishop calls the crisis Satan’s “diabolical masterpiece.” He writes:
“But the storm of wickedness that has compromised the work of the Church in every way and that has left countless lives in ruins is just too ingenious to have been the result of impersonal forces alone or merely human contrivance….Certainly, in the ordinary run of history, bad things happen, but this scandal is just too exquisitely designed.”
The Church, he says, must avoid a cover-up and find out exactly what has happened and how former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and others like him, were able to rise to the heights he did all the while his predilections were an open secret, known to priests, prelates, and others around him.
But a reading of Scripture tells us that abuse scandals have been with us since biblical times. Barron reminds us of the tale of David’s use of rank to seduce Bathsheba, and how the child of that union died; how the men of Sodom demanded that Lot turn over his male guests to be, literally, gang-raped and what finally happened to Sodom. He also relates the story of Eli — perhaps the most similar story to our clergy abuse scandal — who was punished for refusing to act when he found out his sons were abusing their priestly offices and engaging in sexual trysts with women followers.
In the New Testament, Paul took the early Church to task over sexual immorality and licentiousness, Barron wrote. And throughout our history there were even Popes whose immorality was so notorious that one historian, for example, spoke of Benedict IX as “a demon from Hell, in the disguise of a priest, [who] occupied the Chair of Peter and profaned the sacred mysteries of religion by his insolent course.” And a Successor, Victor III, referred to Benedict’s “rapes, murders, and other unspeakable act of violence and sodomy.”
There were others, and Barron lists some of them, such as John XII, who died in a married woman’s bed, and Alexander VI who sired a string of illegitimate children with numerous women. He then quotes St. Peter Damian in a 1049 letter to the Pope on the subject of clerical sex: “The befouling cancer of sodomy is, in fact, spreading so through the clergy, or rather like a savage beast, is raging with such shameless abandon through the flock of Christ.” Then the saint directed his anger at bishops who had sexual relations with seminarians and younger priests.
“We have been here before, and we’ve survived,” Barron writes, citing Hilaire Belloc’s statement:
“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”
Barron then turns to answering the question many Catholics are asking today: Why should we stay? Referring to the Church as the treasure in an earthen vessel, he notes that even when the vessel is fragile and compromised the treasure remains.
“There is,” he writes, “simply never a good reason to leave the Church. Never. Good reasons to criticize Church people? Plenty. Legitimate reasons to be angry with corruption, stupidity, careerism, cruelty, greed, and sexual misconduct on the part of leaders of the Church? You bet. But grounds for turning away from the grace of Christ in which eternal life is found? No. Never, under any circumstances.”
He then lists five of the treasurers of the Church available to those who stay: The Church speaks of a transcendent God; the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ; the Holy Spirit; the Trinity; and the sacraments — especially the Eucharist, which is “the single most important reason for staying faithful to the Church. You can’t find it anywhere else; and no wickedness on the part of priests or bishops can affect it.”
Moving forward, the bishop lists several steps for Church improvement: Serious institutional reform, especially involving the conduct of bishops; an exhaustive investigation into how and why McCarrick’s misbehavior was so well known yet he was allowed to rise in rank so high; and spiritual reform, starting with the priesthood.
He also reminds us that in times of crisis, when the Church has been in danger God provided leaders, such as Saints Benedict, Francis of Assisi, and Ignatius of Loyola, among others, who were able to lead the faithful to a safe harbor and away from danger.
The book isn’t red meat for the dissatisfied, but it is a good reassurance for those tempted to walk away from the faith. It is a positive, uplifting response to a crisis that has enveloped the Church and driven so many away. If you have someone who is wavering, a child, sibling, friend, then this is a book for them. The books are easy to find — https://www.sufferingchurch book.com/ — and inexpensive. The website also has materials for group discussions, and more.
I’ve ordered a box of the books to hand out to my friends and to those on the fence about joining the Church. In the book Barron reminds us that the Devil is “essentially powerless until he finds men and women who will cooperate with him.” I might add: “Or who stand mute in the face of his work.”
There’s a lot we can do to help the Church through this difficulty. Passing this little book along is, perhaps, the simplest.