Quoting the words of the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution On The Church’ (‘Dei Verbum’), the Catechism tells us that –
“Christ is the light of humanity; and it is, accordingly, the heart-felt desire of this sacred Council, being gathered together in the Holy Spirit, that, by proclaiming His Gospel to every creature, it may bring to all men that light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church.” (Catechism, para.748)
And yet in these days, many Catholics are questioning whether the Church is a source of divine light or of diabolical darkness. Catholics are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult – if not intolerable – position regarding how they view the Catholic Church.
On the one hand, we have always been taught to love the Church and her ministers; the Church was instituted by the Lord to do good in the world and to bring His own light to a world steeped in darkness. But on the other hand, that view is sorely tempered by the realisation that the Church is anything but perfect.
This realisation is brough sharply into focus by the release of report after report confirming what the world (and all of us) already knows – that in recent years, many ministers of the Church have completely failed those in her care either by the direct abuse of some of the faithful, or by covering up abuse when it is discovered.
For the ordinary Catholic in the pew, this is an incredibly dangerous moment.
The common theme in all these reports is that the Church placed it’s own well-being above the good of souls. It did this by turning a blind eye when abuse was reported; moving abusing priests from place to place; not reporting to the Police or other authorities; using money to buy silence; and denying all knowledge of wrong-dong when it was made public. And all while saying, time after time, that safe-guarding is it’s primary responsibility. Each successive report reaches the same conclusions – and yet it is rare that any specific person is actually called to account.
Catholics are angry – and worse, now, mistrusting of priests and bishops. In the view of many, the shepherds are actually the wolves.
This is such a difficult position for any Catholic to find themself in; their trust has been betrayed over and over and that takes some interior processing on the part of the believer before they are able to find a spiritual path forward.
The temptation is to see the Church as evil, corrupt and dangerous – and it is hard to argue this is not the case, at least to some degree. But on the other hand, the Church is more than this and she is greater than the many faults of her ministers, no matter how grave they might be.
Perhaps a way forward is to accept the reality and presence of evil in the Church as much as it is present in the world more generally; but to see, too, that this is not the whole story. The Church is more than her ministers. If she is evil because some of her ministers are evil, then by the same token she must be pure and holy because so very many of her members are pure and holy. The reality, of course, is that she is both things at the same time – a strange dichotomy, to be sure. As in many areas, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Without wishing to downplay the gravity and the great evil of what has been done by some priests and bishops, the Church is more than these men – and she is more than just an institution. She is something beautiful and holy despite what might be done in her name. She is the Mystical Body of Christ; in all the world, she alone posesses the fullness of Truth and she alone can provide us with the Sacraments.
While our temptation might justifiably be to abandon her, I think this is generally the wrong repsonse, even if it is perfectly understandable – and especially in the cases of those who have been most intimately betrayed and harmed by those working in her name.
I think that ultimately, whatever is going on within the Church is spiritual in nature, rather than merely human; any true and effective resolution, therefore, also has to be spiritual. And for us, that means prayer. We need to pray every single day for the Church – for the Pope, the Bishops, the Priests, the religious and for the ordinary men, women and children of the laity, all of whom form ‘the Church’. This should be done by every one of us every day, withough exception. I think it also calls, too, for offical and public acts of reparation for the great evils done; some such acts have taken place, but nowhere near as many as are needed. Now, that is not to deny the need for practical action also; this evil needs to be rooted out once and for all. And as part of this, there needs to be clear accountability, no matter who is involved nor at what level of the Church. There are many active within the Church at upper levels who siply should not be there.
But above all else, if you are struggling to find a way forward amidst all this, and if you are having enormous difficulty coming to terms with what is being revealed, I beg you – please do not abandon the Church. She needs you. She needs people for whom the living of the Faith is a real struggle – the fact you are struggling says it means something to you, that you – like the Church herself – are wounded by it. For you, it is not habit or mere repetition – the pain is real because the love is real. Stay with her, no matter what.
That “light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church” seems dimmer at various moments in history, and this is certainly one of them. But it will grow bright and strong and pure once more.
Our task, by means of our prayers, our sufferings and our pleas before the Lord on behalf of His Church, is to bring this about. But we can only do so from within the Church.
Stay with her.