The recent revelations are stunning and abhorrent regarding former Cardinal McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation, the sworn testimonies of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and the worldwide parade of shameful news. These accusations affect me viscerally. I am angered, outraged, and profoundly sad.
I know two things for certain: 1) It is extremely bad, and we are not done yet—many more dominoes will fall; and 2) the Catholic Church is still the body of Jesus Christ, and it will survive, likely in a smaller version, cleansed.
I cannot say I am terribly surprised by the crisis, but I am not without hope. Father Neuhaus noted, ”Hope is only hope when it is hope with eyes wide open to all that challenges hope.” I used to tell my confirmandi that everything in life is in Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium! There is tremendous goodness and joy and equally tremendous sin and evil. Sexual abuse, homosexuality, promiscuous sex, abuse of power, murder, slavery, and cover-ups — it is all there. It’s both in the leadership (think Noah, Moses, Kings David and Solomon) and the laity (think how often Israel failed to follow God’s precepts).
It’s not just the Old Testament, either — read Acts for power grabs and false prophets, and 1 Corinthians for a case of incest. And the priesthood is not exempt; the prophets frequently lamented this sad state of affairs: see Elijah’s sons and the words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Cover-ups started with Adam and Eve (in a literal way) and have careened down a dark and twisted road through millennia, leaving psychological and life-extinguishing devastation in its wake, inside the Church and out. This is the mystery of iniquity. It is not the final word, but it is a high-contrast picture, like the Passion and resurrection of Christ. My faith is hope filled and high contrast.
I have pondered, especially during Church crises in my lifetime, why did Jesus pick Judas? After all, Jesus was God — could he not have chosen better? What does his choice teach us? The short answer is, we always have Judases in the Church. In this crisis, betrayals come in two forms: 1) sexual infidelities against children and vulnerable adults; and 2) a cover-up. From Jesus’ inner circle to several popes, bad men have occasionally governed the Church. Judas reminds us that leaders are capable of betrayal, and our faith must be in Christ, not men.
Church history, too, is replete with corruptions and horrific behavior, some of which sparked the Protestant Reformation. One radio host, a convert, said that from his study of Church history, what surprised him most was not the corruption in the priesthood, but that there was holiness at all among priests.
To say betrayals and scandals have always occurred is not to excuse them. On the contrary, a high-contrast-hope-filled view demands that prophets rise up in anger and act! Through 30-plus years of counseling survivors of sexual abuse, I have seen its devastating effects. It is a sacrilege, and anger is essential to fight it. The saints know!
St. Gregory the Great states, “Reason opposes evil the more effectively when anger ministers at her side.” St. John Chrysostom says, “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but the good to do wrong.” St. Paul says, “Be angry but do not sin…” (Eph. 4:26). I would add, use your anger to make good happen. Begin locally: If abuse is happening in your family, get help; if it is happening in your Church family, neighborhood, school, or community, take action to stop it. Then take it nationally.
Survival: The Wheel of Fortune
Can Vanna White help? Only by pointing to the original “wheels of fortune,” paintings preserved in cathedrals scattered across Europe. The earlier depictions were associated with the goddess Fortuna, but the Church replaced them with Christ at the center of the image. The paintings depict a king seated at the 12 o’clock position on top of the wheel; at 3 o’clock he is descending, hanging on for life; at 6 o’clock he is in rags, upside down, clinging to the wheel; and at 9 o’clock he is ascending again to the throne.
The only guarantee is that the wheel will turn — our “fortune,” or “luck” in life will change.
How does the wheel help in our current crisis? Knowing where to focus on the wheel makes a huge difference. Focusing your faith on the outer edge — in the pope and a 100-percent holy Church — you will be in for a wild ride. But focusing your faith on the hub — Christ — you can survive even the Judas priests. With eyes wide open, seeing the ugliness, we can still have hope: the devil can’t outdo Christ’s love and power. Be angry and use it for good! This is high-contrast-hope-filled faith in Christ, who reveals the Father at the center of the wheel of fortune.