Scandals in Perspective

In the ensuing days before a Conclave gathers to elect a new pope the Church is being wracked with scandalous revelations.  These pertain to the alleged misbehavior of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, of Scotland, a report of a highly placed homosexual cabal in the Vatican bureaucracy and the poor administrative judgment of Cardinal Roger Mahoney, former Arch-bishop of Los Angeles.

As disturbing as these improprieties are and the organizational dysfunctions they have unveiled, they do provide us with an opportunity to reflect on Catholic ecclesiology and sacramental theology which rely on no man for their validity.

It is important to remind Catholics that the head of the Church is Jesus Christ. He is the one perfect priest who is in heaven. The Body of Christ is here on earth.  It is comprised of all the baptized, ordained and lay persons who share in His priesthood. This includes the pope, the hierarchy and the lower clergy who are all fraught with human weaknesses and failings.

Christ was well aware of our fallible human nature. St. Peter is a prime example of how easily we humans can fall from grace. This being so, Christ instituted a Church that could provide its members with forgiveness and helps to sanctity.

Firstly, regarding ecclesiology; it is important to know that the Deposit of Faith, the truths about God and His Church were not compromised by those entrusted with their proclamation. And, even if this were so, the indefectibility of the Church, which preserves her from error in doctrine, would prevail.  This means that even if humans err in the teaching of faith or morals, this includes the Pope; the Church herself always preserves orthodox teaching. Infallibility only makes the Pope a conservator of that which the Church always taught and believed.

Secondly, as to the sacramental life of the Church; the sacraments remain effective despite the unworthiness of her ministers. God can convey his graces even though the most corroded conduit, the most sinful of ministers and inept administrators. As long as the matter and form are correct the sacraments are valid.

shutterstock_25178128 2Institutionally the Church has weathered storms greater than the current crisis.  One need only read of the corruption she endured during the Middle Ages and of course during the Renaissance. Many popes and bishops throughout Church history have led less than exemplary lives. However, all of these less than shining episodes with their sordid perpetrators, sad and sinful as they were, have always led to purification.

Is it possible that the current crisis is a prelude to the new evangelization Pope Benedict has been calling for? By stepping aside is Benedict giving way for a more vigorous Pope to bring about the necessary renewal?

It is unfortunate when our leaders let us down. However, it is a reminder to us that our salvation is in God and not in men.  Our Catholic ecclesiology and our sacramental belief should stand as a constant reminder of this. Recall that Jesus instructed the people “The scribes and Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do; since they do not practice what they preach.” (Mt. 23:1-4)

We have all heard the old canard “I don’t go to Church because those who go are all hypocrites.” But, the fact is, that’s why most of us do go.  All of us, priests and laity need God’s grace because we are weak and sinful. We all fall far short of what we profess. Most of us are not saints yet; this includes the hierarchy.

We must remember our faith is not in the Pope, the bishops or the priests, who may and have sometimes let us down, but in Christ. He will never let us down!


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Fr. Michael P. Orsi


Chaplain and Research Fellow at Ave Maria Law. Father Michael P. Orsi was ordained for the Diocese of Camden in 1976 and has a broad background in teaching and educational administration. Fr. Orsi has authored or co-authored four books and over 300 articles in more than 45 journals, magazines and newspapers. He has served as Assistant Chancellor, Assistant Vicar for Pastoral Services, Director of Family Life Bureau, and Coordinator of Pope John Paul II’s visit to New Jersey for the Diocese of Camden. He has also served as a member of The Institute for Genomic Research at the University of Pennsylvania and as a member of New Jersey’s Advisory Council on AIDS. Fr. Orsi holds a Doctorate in Education from Fordham University, two Master degrees in Theology from Saint Charles Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts from Cathedral College. He is presently serving as Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law and Religion at Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. In 2005 Fr. Orsi was appointed as a Senior Research Associate to the Linacre Center for Bioethics, London, England. Fr. Orsi co-hosts a weekly radio program The Advocate which discusses law and culture on WDEO-AM 990, WMAX-AM 1440 in metro Detroit and WDEO-FM 98.5 in southwest Florida [also linked at].

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  • Victoria

    This is absolutely true and an excellent reminder. I go to church to meet Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, who J.R.R. Tolkien called “the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Thank goodness!

    I thought I was the only one trying to tell people to stop being so Protestant about all these problems.

  • Christina

    It doesn’t matter what people think and do. In the end, there is only one TRUTH. We must constantly keep us all in prayer, but especially our clergy. Satan is always attacking those that are close to Him. We must rebuke Satan in His holy name.

  • Brooklyn Warrior

    I stand in awe of our Holy Father Benedict the XVI in the tremendous sacrafice he has made in stepping aside to pray for the Church. We are in dire need for purification. My prayer is that we have the FAITH to indure until the New Springtime. It is clear we are in for a great battle. Humility, Repentance and Hope are needed. we live in the moment where Christ is.

  • Francis

    Clearly he does not understand the power of a man – we were brainwashed into believing acted ‘in persona Christi’ – over an innocent and vulnerable person. Victims/survivors of clerical abuse can truly believe they were abused by Christ, the true Head of the Church. That is not ‘impropriety’ – that is evil, and to suggest it anything less is the sin unpardonable. Christ is the true Head. And the clerics need to take that on board more than anyone else. Even a little power can corrupt in very big ways. People are dead in their graves cause they believed Jesus had sex with, abused them in the most horrendous ways. This man and others like him here would just love to forget that – brush it under the carpet. Well it’s not going to go away any time soon.

  • bluesuede

    Good article Father. I know we have to be charitable, but the word “improprieties” doesn’t seem to be a strong enough word to describe the enormity of harm that could be perpetrated by a force within the Church that threatens even salvation of some souls.

  • Fr. Paul Grala


    Well stated, Fr. Orsi. Jesus told the apostles – in His last words to them before He ascended into Heaven, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age”
    (Mt 28:20b). Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever! God bless you!

  • Ramanie

    Thank you Father Michael, for this wonderful article. God bless you and us.

  • John Smithers

    you look like Bob Barker from the Price is Right…but Bob always seemed to apply logic in his approach to life – it seems you are very different in that regard

  • 96706

    I totally agree with you. Our Lord IS and always will be the head of our Catholic Church. No ifs, ands, or buts about that.

  • Transcend Over

    There is no new evangelization or Pentecost. People you got to check out this information about Catholic End Times:

  • NYCFiredog

    So, I get the fact that all of us are human and weak, but this does not absolve the evils that have been allowed to fester in the Church by the Church hierarchy. Yes, the Church has undergone scandals in other ages. Does THIS absolve the leadership of their being accomplices and protectors of the agents of such evils? This is not simply a matter of not going to church because they’re all hypocrites. Pope Paul IV warned that the smoke of Satan has entered the Church. That this happened around the time the St. Michael Prayer was removed from each Mass, said many thousands of times a day may not be a small part of this. And who was behind the removal of this Prayer? Who or what would benefit the most from such removal?
    And one of the problems of the Church is they have misused Spiritual forgiveness for enabling the abusers to continue destroying lives of boys, and their families. Yes, Christ will forgive the penitent sinner, but to protect the abusers from accountability of the Law is a grave sin in itself. I am grateful for the apology of Holy Father Benedict, but have yet to see the evidence of a gutting out of the ones who protected the abusers. Cardinal Mahoney of LA may have been allowed to resign, but he should have been ejected from the College of Cardinals. The fact that he is allowed to vote for the next Pope is a travesty. He should be in Jail along with the abusers.

  • NYCFiredog

    Yes, this is true. And yet sometimes the agents of Satan wear red skullcaps. Was it St Augustine that said the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of Bishops? The Church of Our Lord needs a thorough house cleaning. May our next Pope be up to the job.

  • Richard 138

    I am appalled that the word improprieties is used. The damage these scandals does to the body of Christ is incalculable. I, personally, have had enough of this evil. If these scandals are true, the cabal must be publically humiliated and turned over to authorities. I am embarrassed that our faith is in the hands of Satan.

  • tz1

    Why can’t we seem to denounce evil? Clearly, unequivocally. Especially when the cover-up has compounded the evil. Do I have to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation if I commit “improprieties”? Should the perpetraitors have a nice, comfortable, retirement, or should they be excommunicated, prosecuted, and the rest? Or given some kind of proportional penance. (Legionaries of Christ).

    You can’t have it both ways. These are going to be a constant stain and will repel converts.

    How do we convince those within or without that contraception is a serious matter when we don’t hold the clergy to any standard? They get a pass. Do they even believe in Jesus Christ? Where is the repentance? “Organizational Dysfunction”? Nixon in Watergate? Clinton’s definition of “is”?

    Remember these same bishops were telling people they can lose their souls for knowingly and intentionally voting the wrong way.

    Benedict 16 did a great deal, but with the effusive praise, it seems we should open the cause for his canonization while he is still breathing. I don’t think so. We aren’t held to heroic virtue, but ordinary virtue. B16 had the latter, and did what he could, but didn’t go beyond.

    The greatest argument for the Catholic Church is her saints. One Mother Theresa is worth hundreds of bishops and theologians. But it works the other way too. When there is notorious and grave sin – and it isn’t treated like the horror from hell that it is, it sends a message. Or as St. Francis said, Preach always, sometimes use words. If what is being preached – by the actions and even words – that grave sin is merely an “indiscretion” or “impropriety” instead of a horrible evil, it makes it appear that you simply cannot tell good from evil. Or yourself are part of the evil and corruption (if you know it is evil).

    If each instance of raping young men is not TREATED and discussed as being as serious as abortion, you aren’t going to be able to convince anyone abortion is serious.

    Will you going forward use “impropriety” to describe abortion, and let us consider the response in the light that it is ok to have “organizational dysfunction”.

    Isaiah 5:20 – Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

    Perhaps you aren’t calling an evil as good, but are using such euphemisms that make it appear the entire scandal is an “imperfection”, not even a venial sin, much less a (probably – full will and knowledge) mortal sin.

  • Perhaps you should turn off the tv and open and study a Bible. It will do you and your soul good.

  • Another thing bothers me….that Cardinal Mahony is allowed to be a part of the conclave electing the new pope. He should have the common decency to recuse himself.

  • Guest

    I agree, sin is sin. May God help us if relativism seeps further into the church walls than it already has.