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.