Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"Clerical Abuse? Yes, but the Church is also Huuuuman"



Many Catholics have noticed the grimly providential appropriateness of the Old Testament readings in last week's Novus Ordo relevant to the current wave of abuse scandals plaguing the Church:

"Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD" (Jer. 23:1-4)

The problem is a problem with the shepherds, pure and simple.

And yet, I have noticed that some good-intentioned priests and apologists are trying to put a positive spin on this by appealing to the Catholic Church's human side. I've heard this in a few talks and homilies and the specifics may vary, but it goes something like this: 

"Yes this scandal is bad. Very bad. But hey, we can't get too disheartened. After all, the Catholic Church is a Church of sinners. We are not Puritans who idealize a church of the sinless. We're not Pharisees who demand perfection. The Church is divine, yes, but its also huuuuuuman. Just like Christ...He was divine and human. Our leaders are flawed, broken men. We are all broken people. We are all sinners. We are all flawed. Think of the saints! For all their holiness, the saints also had faults and weaknesses. Yes, the Church is flawed—but if it is, it's only because it's human. It's incarnational. Just like Christ."

Isn't that great? Doesn't that make you feel good? That's the sort of tripe I probably would have been writing twelve years ago. The sort of self-affirming nonsense that morally equivocates the sin of molesting a boy with eating too much chocolate, gossiping at the office, and the common variety of venial sins every Catholic struggles with.

Let's clear a few things up...

The Catholic Church is a church of sinners, meaning we understand that the vast majority of Catholics are not perfect and struggle with certain sins more or less. HOWEVER...that doesn't mean we expect our leaders to be no better than everyone else. We all understood that the Catholic tent regrettably includes the likes of Johnson the Embezzler and Gary the Whoremonger; that certainly doesn't imply we want our leaders to be of the same caliber. 

We are not Puritans who idealize a church of the sinless, but GOOD LORD, we have to make an effort! I know I can't run a marathon but that doesn't mean I give up the very ideal of exercise altogether. Do I have an idealized vision of a sinless Church? No. That would be very unrealistic and unCatholic. Do I have an expectation that the shepherds of said Church ought to refrain from touching boys' genitalia? Um...you're damned right I do, and such an expectation is both reasonable and very much in keeping with Catholic morality.

We are not Pharisees who demand perfection. OKAY BUT...stop equating "perfection" with "not molesting boys." It's not a dichotomy between either perfection or fondling genitalia. That's literally insane. Imagine a prosecutor listing off all the horrific crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer in horrific detail—kidnapping, torture, murder, cannibalism—to which Dahmer's attorney glumly shrugs and says, "Nobody's perfect." Because that's literally what's happening when clerical abuse scandals cause us to say, "well, we aren't Pharisees who demand a perfect Church."

The Church is divine, but it is also human. Absolutely. WHICH IS WHY we need our pastors to help us aspire to live up to the divine calling and not debase ourselves by indulging in our merely human passions. I want a pastor who helps me realize the divine potential God has placed within me and begins by striving to fulfill that potential himself—not wallows in the basest mire of human depravity.

I understand our leaders are flawed, broken men. I understand that we are all flawed, HOWEVER usually when we say "everybody is flawed...everybody is broken" we mean everybody has imperfections they struggle to overcome, or everybody has crosses to bear. We categorically DO NOT mean everybody secretly molests young boys, let alone forms institutional networks to cover up such molestation. That's...never what I have meant when I say "everybody is flawed." That's not a "flaw"; that's horrific perversion to a diabolical degree.

And by the way, yes the saints had faults. I knowwwwwwww, but seriously, what are we referring to when we talk about the "faults" of the saints? Usually things like "St. Jerome was impatient!" or "St. Therese said she struggled with vanity!" or, such things as "St. Francis was prideful before his conversion" or "St. Augustine used to be a libertine." Sure the saints had faults. Faults they STRUGGLED to overcome. They had faults. But their faults were not mortal and they did not persevere in them, otherwise they would not have been saints. Nor did they nourish secret sins. They certainly did not conspire together to form clandestine networks for the mutual protection of grotesque, secret sins. So please stop answering the indignation about clerical scandals with the bungling excuse that "even saints had faults." 

The Church is incarnational, just like Christ. HOWEVER...the union of the Divine Word with human flesh in the Incarnation was meant to glorify and ennoble human nature, not give occasion for humanity's weakness. In other words, the Incarnation is meant to make holiness possible, not offer excuses for debauchery.

So then, please, well-intentioned priests and apologists everywhere, please just stop the "We're all sinners! That's what's so great about being Catholic!" shtick. Imagine walking up to a young woman whose father had just died tragically before his time, patting her on the shoulder and saying, "You know, dear, everybody dies." Derp. No shit.* To say such a thing would be incredibly insensitive, wouldn't it?

God bless you for wanting to affirm people's faith. I commend you, I really do. I heard a homily today on this very subject that was actually quite good. But please, please, let us simply be indignant and grieve this horrific scandal with the magnitude it deserves. If we can't be indignant, we can't muster the requisite energy to properly root it out.

Yes, woe indeed to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock.


*I predict some commentor says "I agree with everything you said except I object to the use of profanity towards the end. It undermines your credibility." To which I reply, "Hey, everybody has flaws. We're not a Church of the perfect. And even St. Thomas More said shit."

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8 comments:

Jack Collinson said...

But then we'd have to acknowledge that hell isn't empty and that some men do go there.

Jerry Rule said...

I don't agree with the use of profanity, but that last sentence had me laughing hard. HAHA!
Excellent post!

Ana Milan said...

Excellent, but will those who could make a difference listen? The virtues of personal responsibility & accountability haven't been nurtured since VII introduce the novel idea that uninformed consciences overrule Catholic Doctrine & Praxis.

cogito said...

We're all sinners="Who am I to judge"?

Kathy Gentil said...

But we are to judge using God’s judgment. We must make judgments throughout life in order to make proper decisions and maintain a just society. While Matt 7 does start off saying to not judge because we will also be judged, it follows that we will be judged according to how we judge. And in John 7, Jesus tells us to judge correctly. Judging correctly means applying God’s Word as the basis for judgment, not our own opinion. If God says it is wrong, it is wrong, and we can levy that judgment from the Word. Yes, we have to account for our own sins, but that does not mean we turn a blind eye to others’ sins and let them go without saying something when those sins harm others and there is no intention of stopping. In the case of the persistent sinful action of the priests involved, there was an attempt not to over come their horrid sin, but every attempt to continue it and hide it. That can and should be judged with punishment sentenced. It certainly should never be glossed over and downplayed. That disrespects the victims.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. We *must* judge in these cases.

Dalriana Campbell said...

Isn't the existence of Hell and the fact that people go there already a Catholic belief?

Anonymous said...

Considering the fact that the heresy of Modernism became the new religion of the leaders of the Church and has since then manifested itself in more of the teachings and practices of these leaders, we have learned that sin is no more. That truth is relative. That there is no one, true religion as all religions can be paths to salvation. That Hell either doesn't exist or it is empty. That man's evolved conscience, like biological evolution, is leading the whole world to this cosmic omega point of divinization, where all of creation is divine. Thus, everything the Church has always believed and taught must be placed into doubt and evaluated according to this new, more enlightened form of intelligence. There is no one Way, no one Truth, and no one Life. Each is on his own path according to God's plan for each individual.