Don’t Let the Scandals of the Hierarchy Lead You to Despair

The Church in the United States is once more stunned to learn of scandal within our leadership as news of accusations of sexual abuse by Cardinal McCarrick continue to be reported. The news coming out of Chile has been bad enough, but now a high ranking member of the hierarchy is accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse. Those of us in the Church continue to feel anger, sadness, confusion, and, quite frankly, disgust, about a problem that just will not seem to go away.

People outside of the Church now have even more ammunition to lob our way, which makes it harder for us to evangelize in an ever more hostile culture like our own. Many are asking: When will this evil finally be purged from the Church? The truth is that evil will only be fully purged from the Church when Christ returns.

The dangers of despair

I read various threads in social media about this latest scandal and one of the greatest concerns I had was about those people who are struggling with despair and a loss of faith. Some people are even contemplating leaving the Church for some other denomination or leaving Christianity for good. This is one of the great evils of public scandal within the hierarchy of the Church. It harms the faithful directly and can lead people to the sin of despair. Sin always has communal dimensions, but when it is tied directly to our leadership its reach is far and wide.

When I was stationed in England, at the height of the American Church’s abuse scandal, I worked with a gentleman who had left the Church because of the scandal. He was angry, repulsed, hostile, and had become anti-Catholic. Underneath, I could see great pain and disappointment. He couldn’t stomach that some priests had abused children and this caused him to leave the Faith. There was little I could do to help change his mind. The damage was done.

The McCarrick situation seems to follow the more common issue of a man in power abusing other adults, but the media has made sure the majority of people think that the vast majority of victims were children, even though they were not. This in no way minimizes the seriousness of the situation or the crimes. Abuses of power and coercion for sexual gain, or any other type of gain, is gravely sinful and evil, even more so when children are involved. It is merely to clarify the situation because precision does matter. It also allows us to explain this terrible situation to our interlocutors.

The danger is very real for people to leave the Church as these scandals continue to happen. Rightly so, we have expectations of our priests and bishops that they will truly live out their vocation and be alter Christus — another Christ — to us and the world. We want them to be men of heroic virtue and steadfast holiness. This is understandable, but it isn’t necessarily in conformity with reality. Church history is very instructive here, as is parish life.

Priests oftentimes are not as progressed in holiness as we would like, or even as they would like to be. They have character flaws, weaknesses, temptations, and struggles of their own that they are working on through the grace given to them through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as well as the other Sacraments.

They need the Sacrament of Confession just as much as we do and the grace that Christ extends to all of His people through it. They are also nourished and strengthened through the Holy Eucharist even as they make it present to God’s people. Priests have chosen to walk the path to holiness through that particular vocation, which means they are on the path to sainthood too. All of us, clergy and laity, are works in progress. We are all capable of great evil, which is why we need the salvation extended to us through Christ and His Church. Conversion of heart is a daily—minute-by-minute—activity.

The reality of Church history

The Church has always been a mess. It is one of the reasons we know that it is Christ who is the Head and the Holy Spirit who keeps us on course. There’s no way we would have survived this long with all of our in-fighting, scandals, sins, and blunders over the last 2000 years if the Church was merely a human institution or invention. The Church is always living in dark days and will continue to do so until Christ returns at the end of time. At least bishops aren’t currently orchestrating murders of other priests and bishops while they say Mass, like in past centuries. The hierarchy, for all of its fighting, is pretty peaceful when compared to other times in Church history.

If you are struggling with the state of the Church hierarchy and the continued scandals it would be beneficial to study Church history a little more closely. It tends to turn people into realists and pragmatists. I find rose-tinted glasses and sentimentality don’t do us any good in the spiritual life. The same is true when it comes to understanding the Fallen men in the hierarchy. Church history allows us to understand that our age is not somehow worse than any other. The sins and scandals are still appalling and evil, but the same has been true since Pentecost, and even longer since the Fall.

Our faith is not in princes or men, not even princes of the Church. Our faith is in Christ Jesus. We trust in the power of His Paschal Mystery and the Holy Spirit who guides the Church through history. We know that it is Christ who is leading us to our ultimate destiny. Don’t take your eyes off of Him, even as the waves crash, the wind blows, and the clouds whirl. The Church has survived many storms and she will survive this one. Yes, it is a painful process, but purification is always painful. That’s exactly what is going on. Christ is purifying His Church. It will take time and it won’t be complete until His return.

Keep in mind that our priests and bishops are Fallen men who need our prayers, support, and sacrifice. They struggle with weaknesses just as much as we do. The Enemy attacks priests with great intensity. As members of the laity, we can fight by their sides as their brothers and sisters in Christ in order to help lift them up in their own struggles. They fight for us and we should be doing the same for them. When a scandal breaks, turn to Christ in prayer, hope, and trust. Offer reparation for the sins of our leadership, but never lose hope. When the urge to leave wells up inside of you, remember the words of St. Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).”

By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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  • Patrick O’Brien

    “The Church has always been a mess.” Yes, but not always this big a mess. Despair? No. But lose all confidence in the pope and bishops? Yes. Until I am certain about a member of the hierarchy, I will withhold positive judgment. Am I prejudiced (pre-judging) bishops? Absolutely. It is a survival mechanism. Eyes on Christ? Of course. And we know that Our Lord will give us the strength to bear up under these terrible circumstances of today.

  • cestusdei

    I didn’t join the Church because of the holiness of her priests. Nor will I leave her because of the lack of holiness of her priests. We must avoid the new donatism. We surely need conversion and that will happen, it has before. I take the long view. Focus on the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

  • Park74

    I pray for all priests especially those who are the grips of mortal sin. I am also praying that the those involved with this sodomy behavior that they publicly repent and step down from any position of power.

  • Maggie

    So many uncatechized people cannot see past the wicked prelates to Christ is the thing. A Sister I know who works in a chancery says the evil and corruption there is big and she hopes to make an honest difference for the faithful priests and laity by being there and says they do not fire her because she knows too much and would go to the feds about their illegal doings. She says there are only about a dozen truly holy bishops in the U.S. I think there are more who are personally holy and good but do not have the courage to stand up to the political agendas of the vast majority of their peers.

  • Maria Gabriela Salvarrey Rodri

    Thank you Constance!

  • Roderick Halvorsen

    “The hierarchy, for all of its fighting, is pretty peaceful when compared to other times in Church history.”

    At this juncture, that is exactly the problem.

  • tufty

    This article is so completely without any sort of intellectual merit that it should be used as the classic example of why women should never be allowed to speak. It’s so retarded, it is undeserving of analysis. Promoting false ideas of what the Church of the past was really like. Overlooking homosexuality as the root of the problem. Also ignores the transformative power of grace in those who actually practice the Faith.

  • ArthurMcGowan

    If the nun knows of criminal activities, and is using it to blackmail the bishop to keep her job, instead of calling the cops, she’s an accomplice.

    If clerics lack courage, they are not “personally holy and good.”

  • Battle Royale

    Constance–Despair, but DESPERATION!!! BUT, WHAT THE HECK IS IT GOING TO TAKE for Pope Francis the First, the faithless cardinals, the unholy bishops and archbishops, a large portion of gay or gay friendly priests and monsignors to get rid of the homosexuals in their midst (and that *IS* the problem!) ???? ——->> MY QUESTION: HAS IT GONE TO FAR???……I.E. ARE THERE ENOUGH VIRILE, MASCULINE, HETEROSEXUAL PRIESTS TO RISE UP, REVOLT AND **GO TO WAR** AGAINST THEIR VILE AND EVIL “SUPERIORS” (NOT GOD AND HIS CHURCH)?!?!?!? THIS IS CRAP!!!!! TOTAL DOG DOO-DOO!!!!

  • Susan Lauren

    Despair? Absolutely not! I feel gratitude. These men are awakening those with eyes to see and ears to hear. I am not on twitter, but I have a couple of memes: NotOneThinDime and WalkAwaytheCatholicVersion. No. I will not join a Protestant sect — but what difference would it make if I did? All religions – including atheism – are apparently a means of salvation. And something about the logic of the gospel and eternal damnation (or not).

    No. I will not leave Christianity. Unfortunately “Catholicism” is no longer Christianity. What then? What remains standing? The Rosary. Holy Scripture. Spiritual Classics. The Baltimore Catechism. Prayer. Tradition. It’s pretty bad when Catholic Exchange prints such an article, but I expect it to get even worse. Bless Homosexual Relationships? Absolutely. Joint Catholic/Protestant Communion. Just wait. It’s coming. And much, much more.

    The great apostasy is well underway. Next up. The False Prophet introduces us to The Anti-Christ as we are all invited to join that One World Church.

  • Constance

    Yes, there is much work that needs to be done. It largely starts with us striving to lead lives of authentic holiness, only then can we bring about real change. If we aren’t doing the work ourselves, then we can’t fix it either.

    On a practical level, there is a need for greater over-sight. I don’t have the expertise at this point in time to know what that would require, but I do agree with you. This appears to be institutional and only outsiders will be able to help cleanse it out of our ranks. Unfortunately, the good old boys club is a problem in a lot of places. I saw it frequently in the military.

  • Constance

    I clearly meant it in relation to bishops and priests murdering one another. That is not the problem. It’s an improvement, even though things are still quite bad.

  • Constance

    All caps are always convincing and effective. Thank you for that!

  • Constance

    The end is nigh doesn’t usually prove effective. I’m not entirely sure why you wasted your time reading my article if you know better than the rest of us? Thanks for reading, though!

  • Constance

    Thanks for reading!

  • Constance

    I agree!

  • Constance

    Read Church history. It’s been much worse.

  • Susan Lauren

    You accuse me of being “better than the rest of us”? I call “strawman”. I didn’t come up with these ideas on my own, Constance. I read the writings of St. John (author of the Apocalypse), Archbishop Fulton Sheen, our Lady at Fatima, Fr. Sylvester Berry and many more

    And I read modern day headlines … Yep, it seems we are right on schedule. June 21st. Francis travels to Geneva Switzerland to participate in the World Council of Churches. 70th Anniversary Celebration. Why? Because ecumenism is more important than truth. It’s a Big Tent & All are Welcome.

    I read your article because I find it startling that a mainstream Catholic publication is doing damage control because things have become that bad.

  • Patrick O’Brien

    True, true. But it’s no consolation to know that my ancestors were being beaten with a hundred pound club, when all I am being beaten with is an 80 pound club. In addition, we know too much now. Every non-Catholic utterance of Francis is broadcast around the world.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Susan, there’s no “damage control” going on here and you really need to calm down. CE is not an arm of whatever conspiracy theory you think we’re part of. I was going to ignore your comment, but this is offensive to suggest and reflects a reactionary and uncharitable stance if I’ve ever read one. I’ve gotten death threats, accusations, and all kinds of trouble for what we publish but I don’t tell authors what to write (though I do try to guide them) and there isn’t some group of evil people working in the shadows over here. I work in the daylight.

  • Constance

    Sin is never a consolation. I wasn’t arguing that Church History would be a form of consolation. It’s meant to make us more realistic and practical when scandals break out. There isn’t a golden age of Catholicism when everyone was perfect and sinless. That won’t happen until the end of time.

    Some people place too much emphasis on the hierarchy in their faith life. They expect too much of sinful men. We should be able to expect our leadership to be chaste and celibate, but when that doesn’t happen, we cannot allow it to lead us to despair or sinful anger.

    Even though the scandals disgust me and cause me great disappointment and righteous anger, I am no longer surprised by them in a way that impacts my faith. Our faith is in Christ and that doesn’t change because of the evil committed by some members of our leadership or our neighbors in the pews. We fight against that evil, but we don’t allow it to rob us of the joy and peace we have in Christ. Plus, I know there’s great evil in my own heart that I need to contend with under the guidance and grace given by Christ.

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