An open letter to a disgusted Catholic

I wasn’t sure what name you are going by these days. “Angry,” “Disgusted,” “Demoralized,” “Fed Up,” “Devastated.”  I figured it was one of those.  Maybe all of them.

I know because I am feeling all of these along with you.  Our beloved Church is in crisis.  Sickening stories are emerging with sickening regularity.  So many of our shepherds failed to shepherd us.  They left us to the wolves — or worse, they were the wolves.

You can’t believe they would betray us like this.  You trusted them.  We all did.  We thought they were men of God, the God who loves us and hates evil.  And yet, so many of them have behaved in ways that are the very opposite of Christ-like.  They preyed on the vulnerable.  Or they looked the other way while these predators moved from parish to parish, diocese to diocese.

You’ve had enough.  You’re thinking maybe it’s time to find another flock, another pasture.

Maybe it’s time to leave the Catholic Church.

I understand why you would feel that way.  The corruption goes up very high.  The response from many quarters remains lukewarm.  They still don’t seem to get it.

But, in spite of all of that, I’m asking you to stay.  I’m begging you to stay.

Now, if the Church were just another organization, like the Kiwanis or the Rotary Club, maybe I’d be holding the door for you on our mutual way out.  There’s always another organization — another church, another religion.  Maybe another one would be more to my liking, better run, less corruption at the top.

But the Catholic Church is not just another organization, founded by mere men.  She is the Bride of Christ, founded by him to be his instrument of salvation.  She is the conduit of his graces, his sacraments.  She is, according to the Catechism, “a society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ; the visible society and the spiritual community; the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches.  These dimensions together constitute one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element”  (CCC 771).

The Church is not merely a human institution.  It is both human and divine.  It is Christ’s, coming forth from the blood and water that flowed from his side.  His last words to us as he ascended into Heaven were his promise that he would be with us until the end of time.

So, if this is his Church, why has he allowed it to get so screwed up?

Well, the Church has divine and human elements.  Which means that, here on earth, it is run by fallible men.  Scandal in the Church is nothing new.  It has been with us ever since Judas, one of the original bishops, betrayed our Divine Founder and turned him over to his enemies.

He knew what was going to happen.  But he left us a Church anyway.

He remains with us, just as he has over two millennia of sacredness and scandal. The events of the past few months have convinced me all the more that, in our age, he is with us and he desires a deep, deep cleansing of his Church.

Which is why we need you.  And me.  And everyone who loves this Church.

The Church needs us.  We need to pray, and to humbly but persistently speak up.  We need to do whatever we can to be the hands and feet of the Holy Spirit as he purifies his Church.

The good guys in the Church need us.  I have worked in and around the Church my entire adult life.  I have known lots of priests, and lots of bishops.  I have run across a few bad apples in my day.  But for every bad priest, I have known 50 good ones — wonderful, holy, devout, amazing, dedicated men.  The same goes for bishops.  We have heard awful reports of awful things from a handful of them.  But we have been blessed with some wonderful men in the hierarchy as well.  These faithful priests and bishops need us to stay, to support them as they minister to the people of God in these incredibly difficult times.

But even if the numbers were reversed — even if there were 50 problem priests for every good one, we would still need the Church.  Because, regardless of the failings of her leaders, the Church is Christ’s instrument to bring us the sacraments.  The Eucharist is the bread of life.  Christ was very clear, in John chapter 6, that we need that bread.  And no matter how corrupt the priest whose hands consecrate the Host, that consecration still happens.  The bread still becomes the Eucharist, our heavenly food.

I’m not going to let some corrupt clergymen come between me and Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. No way.

Do you know what will purify the Church?  We will.  The grace of the Holy Spirit, working through holy men and women — lay and clergy — fully on fire for God, will renew the Church that he promised not to abandon.

Be one of those people.  Turn yourself over even more fully to him, and allow him to work through you.

If you leave, you’re letting the corrupt and the predators win.  You’re abandoning Christ’s Church to them.

But it isn’t their Church.  It’s his.  It’s ours.

Let’s take it back.

COMING UP: Such as we are, such are the times

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Like most Catholics, I have found myself equal parts appalled and frustrated over the recent abuse allegations (and ensuing cover-ups) that continue to come to light. Cardinals, bishops, and priests — the men we laypeople trust to be our shepherds and guides — have all been implicated in what are, by all accounts, horribly unspeakable acts.

As much as I’d like to, I can’t just ignore what’s happening. I’ve been closely following Catholic news, cheering for the brave souls coming forward to tell their stories, and lend their voices to what essentially amounts to the Catholic “he too” movement. The more that is brought into the light, it seems, the better chance we have for healing.

Yet as a layperson, I also admit that there is a general feeling of helplessness that accompanies each new revelation of corruption and abuse. I am a stay-at-home mother, living in Denver, with no real stake in church politics. I attend a lovely parish with my husband and children, and we are certainly quite involved there, but we are also far removed (mercifully!) from the tragic things that we now know to have been happening over the past many years. Such revelations are an unfortunate but very real blight on Christ’s Church as a whole. Our ability as Catholics to evangelize in our local communities has been, sadly, at least somewhat diminished as our credibility in the world appears to be nearly irreparably damaged.

Does that sound like a gloomy, negative take on things? Maybe so. But the effect of these scandals on our Catholic witness to the world cannot, and must not, be overlooked. So what is someone like me, or you, to do?

For one thing, I’ve committed myself to staying up on what’s happening, which is no small task when seemingly each new day brings a new revelation or allegation. I’ve also tried to use my voice, humble as it is, to speak up in support of both the victims, and the courageous churchmen coming forward and making public statements in pursuit of truth. I also remain staunchly committed to advocating as best I can for the truth — this is not the time to rely upon mere rumor or speculation. We must plead, and wait for, the facts. And of course, there is always prayer.

But I also want to be proactive. To feel like I’m making a difference. While I don’t have a direct role to play in managing the difficult affairs of the Church, I do believe I have a responsibility to participate in Church life, and in healing the painful wounds that continue to rise to the surface. Surely there’s a place for laypeople like me to exercise their gifts and work to make things better, even beyond a devotion to prayer and to the sacraments, important as those things are.

In a recent homily, my parish priest was discussing the present state of things. My priest has, over the years, demonstrated a fairly impressive ability to address even the most difficult of situations while still maintaining a spirit of hope, and a focus on Christ’s love — something that is not always so easy to do, I’m sure. So, in the context of his homily, my priest quoted something from St. Augustine that has stuck with me ever since:

“Bad times, hard times — this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: such as we are, such are the times.”

Profound, right?

Certainly no one can deny that these are, indeed, dark times for the Catholic Church. Sin and pain are being exposed and dragged out into the light. We are, and rightly so, scandalized. Some among us are perhaps even tempted to walk away, and even the most faithful of those sticking around are uncertain and discouraged.

But the truth of the matter is that not only can we cling to Jesus and his promises in the most difficult of moments, we can also renew our commitment to live out our respective vocations the best we know how. Because the times, whether good or bad, are not merely (or even mostly) defined by a few (or a lot of) wayward individuals. They are also marked by saints-in-the-making. The people sitting in the pews. The mothers and fathers doing the long, hard work of love in their respective homes. The many good and faithful priests and bishops shepherding their flocks, day after day and week after week.

So don’t despair! Don’t believe that you can’t make a difference in our Church. Pursuing holiness and friendship with God, overcoming brokenness, and loving well are all representative of the times we live in, just as surely as the darkest news headlines are. We must keep serving our families, receiving the sacraments, and loving the poor. We must never give up on faith, hope, and charity. We must look to Christ and to his mother, Mary, to lead the way through both the joys, and the sorrows, of this life.

If we can do this, even in the midst of rocky, turbulent times, the world will see. They will see the light in spite of the darkness, and the good in spite of the evil. They will see that Jesus Christ is Lord, even when some of his own people have abandoned, mocked, and spit upon him. They will see that faithful Catholics are ordinary men, women, and children who advocate for abuse victims and Church reform, while simultaneously holding firm to the tenets of the faith.

Loving Jesus, taking up our crosses, and following after him — it is truly the only way forward. And not only might God use us and our humble efforts to remake a hurting Church, we might also just discover that we have been remade, as well.

St. Augustine was right when he suggested that above all, we live well in the bad and the hard times.

Because we are the times. Such as we are, such are the times.