I'm not going to beat around the bush because unless you've been hiding under one, you might have heard about the latest scandal/cover-up regarding priests and sexual abuse.
Let me start by saying that sexual abuse of anyone by anyone else is always wrong and should be punished by law. Yes, I think that priests who abuse children should face the law the same as any other citizen and those who think priests are above the law and protect the ones who abuse children should be punished as well. This is the reasoning side of my brain talking.
My heart hurts though. Because although priests are not above the law, I do hold them to a higher standard and I believe people should. So it hurts to be this let down. And I am grieving. Grieving that I cannot trust that someone who helps nourish my soul, who feeds me the body and blood of Christ will not turn around and do something so terrible, so heinous to another human being.
But my feelings on this subject took on a new meaning this week. Everyone has shakes to their faith periodically, and something minor can rock that shaky faith one direction or another. So imagine you were truly standing at a crossroads in your faith. You could seriously turn and leave at any moment because you felt pushed to an edge for whatever reason. And something major happens (like this most recent scandal)...what would you do? Lerin doesn't have to ask this hypothetically, she is there right now.
When I first read her post I wept. Tears for what she has gone through, what she is going through now and for the unknown future. And I prayed because I knew God was calling me to answer her thoughtfully but I didn't know what words to use. I had wanted to blog about this recently, but everytime I just sat and stared. Suddenly the words poured out of me. And to my surprise, they made sense and they seemed to help me process what was happening.
What I am about to say, is pretty much what I said in the comments on her blog. I am not defensive about media portrayal of the Church as many are. Fair or not it is there. I am not going to attempt to hide behind the bias of the majority of the media (and let's face it the world) against the Church and Catholicism. There is no excuse for the behavior of any of the people involved in these cases. What these priests and those who covered up their actions did is unconscienable. Wrong.
It is very easy to say that if these men are called to be the shepherds, we, the sheep, should trust them and our faith and perhaps walk away because of these recent actions. But that is not the best response. Christ institued the Church, he founded it on Peter, the Rock, the first Pope. But men run the Church. And men sin. They are fallible. They see the same temptations we all do. We, quite simply, cannot find perfection in them or in any other human being. Only He is perfect and it is through Him that we seek and find perfection for our souls, our selves.
What remains true no matter what the time, place or situation is that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. Christ is forgiving our sins in confession. Christ is present and blesses the union of a man and woman in Holy Matrimony. The Holy Spirit comes in when a someone is baptized and is renewed when one receives Confirmation. Christ is present when priests and nuns go through Holy Orders. And it is Christ who blesses us when we are sick and annointed. These things remain true no matter if a priest abuses his power and position or not.
Many of my Protestant and Evangelical friends will like to point out that if we go to the Bible it shows us the real truth and that turning to Christ is the only means of redemption. Let me answer this in two parts:
1) If someone attends a Protestant church faithfully and listens each week to the teachings of the Bible as delivered in the sermon and/or in Sunday school and then finds that their minister has been abusing a child or children, does that make the words in the Bible, the things it has taught us any less true or relevant? After all these things came out of the mouth of someone who directly disobeyed the teachings of the Bible? The answer is no. And the same is true when receiving the sacrements and attending mass. Those teachings, Christ's presence does not change.
2) Because Christ is present in all the sacraments, when we receive them, we are in fact turning to him.
Now here comes the part where people always like to pick on a sacrement: confession. Did those priests go to confession? Were their sins forgiven? Assuming yes, the priest did go to confession, yes his sins, are forgiven. But that does not absolve him from sinning in the future. And in the Act of Contrition we speak these words: "I detest all my sins because of your punishment, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin."
Meaning that this priest who would have received absolution of past sins is promising God that he will attempt not to sin again. Yes, we can question the sincerity of someone saying this prayer but what does that accomplish because in the end, as George Clooney says in O Brother Where Art Thou, even though God has washed away your sins,the state is a different matter. So the fact that a priest went to confession is not reason to shield him from the law if matters are reported.
There is no easy solution to this mess. I have heard people say we should allow priests to marry and that will solve all the issues. I have been ministered to by a convert to Catholicism who was married with children and grandchildren. He was and is a wonderful man. Who was falsely accused of abuse by a church member who disliked the fact that the Vatican had allowed him to be ordained. That is a whole can of worms I'm not sure I want to open up except to say, that a married priest is not the salve to cure-all. After all, the highest percentage of pedophiles are married heterosexual men. And the majority of the high profile cases we are seeing are involving homosexual priests, so does that mean that the Church will also need to allow homosexual unions? And the point of celibacy is self-control and true devotion to the Church and her people. Regardles of sexual orientation, if one is seeking to become one of the religious, then in fact, he or she must take the vows of chastity. And stick to them.
And stripping the Church down and starting over will only serve to create a greater division among peoples.
Ordaining women is not a cure either. While it may very well be a wonderful thing, it does not stop the actions of people or the sin in their hearts.
I don't know the answer, so I pray that God will reveal it to those who can affect the changes needed.
Years ago, while going through a crisis of faith and during the trial of John Geoghan and it's aftermath, I realized through prayer that if I let my faith be shaken by the sins of others, I was allowing Satan to cast his net even wider than the original sin. He had not only taken over the person who had sinned, but my heart as well. I have to pray, literally every day, that the sins of others do not lessen or damage my faith.
I pray today for the victims of abuse of all kinds, that the abusers will see the sin they commit and stop themselves from more vile action, that those whose faith may be rocked either as a victim of abuse or as just one of the faithful find strength and comfort in Jesus and through the sacraments, and for all of us who are struggling to move on and make the Church the noble institution we know it to be.