There Must Be a Spiritual Response to the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandals

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Wiki Commons

People frequently ask me about my thoughts on the clergy sex abuse scandals and the priesthood. When the news first broke in 2018, I spent a lot of time horrified and angry. I’ve studied enough Church history to know this is not something new and members of the priesthood very often fall into worldliness, corruption, lust, and perversion, but I was still unbelievably angry. I learned a very important lesson during that time about how I am supposed to respond because it was going to pave the way for the path Christ has set me on now.

Early on in the 2018 scandals, I went to Confession and expressed my intense anger at the hierarchy. I talked about how much I was struggling with it. Our Lord, in His infinite mercy and wisdom, had the priest assign me one of the hardest penances I have ever been given. Wait, what? You may be wondering. Christ needed me to answer His calling and the only way He could do that was by getting in the way of my anger and channeling it for His purposes. So, I was assigned praying some or all of the Stations of the Cross for priests as my penance. Over two years later, I now pray the Stations of the Cross for the priesthood nearly every single day except on Sundays.

Staying angry at the state of the hierarchy was doing me no good. I have no control over the state of the Roman Curia or when the McCarrick report will be issued. I don’t even have any control over what happens in my own bishop’s chancery. Our Lord was showing me how we are supposed to respond to situations outside of our control. We are called to pray, fast, and offer reparations.

This answer seems painfully inadequate to us in our Fallen state since we often see material forms of justice and tangible actions as superior to the spiritual weapons we have been given that transform the material order. Whenever I tell someone who is struggling with the state of the priesthood to begin fervent daily prayer for the priesthood and to begin offering sacrifices for priests I am often met with rebuke or incredulity. This betrays a great lack of faith and understanding on our part if we do not understand that prayer must be the grounding force of everything. We cannot act in accordance with God’s will if we are not people of prayer and firm faith that tells us God will work through our prayers and sacrifices.

I cannot spend all of my time expending wasted energy on worrying about things outside of my control. If I focus too much on what one bishop does over another or even the disgusting diabolical sacrilege of certain priests, then I will become exhausted and demoralized. I will stop praying for priests and get stuck in a cycle of anger, which then leads to a desire for vengeance, not justice. I see this cycle running non-stop in the Catholic blogosphere day in and day out.

Being righteously angry about evil is a good thing. It leads us to take action, but it must lead us to take the right action. The starting place for discerning where we are to help in response to evil must come from prayer. It must come from God Himself. If we do not act in accordance with His will, then we will more often than not create a bigger mess or our calls will fall on deaf ears because we sound like a clamoring gong.

Ranting and raving at your parish priest incessantly about the state of the hierarchy accomplishes very little except to demoralize an already wounded priesthood. Pray for him. Pray for all of them. Fight the spiritual battles necessary for your spiritual fathers, but do not constantly throw in their faces what they already live and experience each day.

Forgive the priesthood. Seek to be a part of the solution. Raise holy sons who will answer Christ’s call to become priests. Seek holiness yourself so that you can help draw the priesthood back to its rightful place in the Church. Pray for them without ceasing.

Our Lord, in His mercy, once more reminded me of this fact when I went to Confession recently and expressed my anger and deep frustration about what transpired with a priest recently in Louisiana. The answer I was given was the same one in a slightly different form. I was told to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for the priesthood. Once more, I was told to go to the Cross for priests and pray for His mercy on them and for the conversion of those priests who fall into egregious sins. Christ commands us to pray for those who persecute us. The same is true of those who betray us, especially priests.

We as a people can stay angry at the state of the priesthood whenever a new scandal arises or we can respond with prayer and beg God to renew His priesthood. All of the hand-wringing, venting, gossip, calumny, and wrath we express each day in social media about the hierarchy isn’t doing any of us any good. In an age of instant global communication, we can fall for the lie that we are able to change things on a grand scale. That we must fight every injustice even though it reduces us to an empty shell of anger, resentment, and fatigue.

Christ asks us to work where He calls us to work. We are meant to primarily influence and transform those around us within our families and our local communities. We accomplish this by dedicating our lives to growing in holiness and seeking God’s will over our own. In relation to the priesthood, it means Catholics should be praying daily for your own parish priests, bishop, our Holy Father, the priesthood as a whole, and for an increase in vocations. They need those prayers more than you realize. It doesn’t matter how holy you think your priest is. He needs your daily prayers.

It’s time to step away from the cycle of outrage and anger and into the silence of the Most Holy Trinity. Christ and Our Lady want a holy priesthood that is raised to the dignity it is meant to be placed at after such tremendous damage has been done. We help in that mission when we seek to pray and sacrifice for priests and believe that prayer transforms the world. We don’t know how much one Rosary can change a priest’s life in the course of day or if it could provide the graces to keep him from serious sin. Real change begins when we start to pray. I hear Stations of the Cross are a good place to start.

The Spiritual Life: Are We All In?

Are we all in? This is the question that is posed to us repeatedly in the spiritual life whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Do we truly mean to be disciples of Jesus Christ? Do we really want to be saints? On one level we answer this question with a yes, but we still hold back from God. We still believe that we won’t have to give Him everything. Everything. Deep down we still believe that we get to choose the path and the process to holiness. I know that I am asked this question daily, even hourly. With each new test and task, Our Lord is seeing if I am truly willing to do all that He is asking of me.

There’s an episode in the life of St. Faustina that illustrates this point quite well. Our Lord asked St. Faustina to go to her Mother Superior to request to be able to begin wearing a hair shirt as a penance. She is rebuked and told she will not take on any such penances. St. Faustina leaves, confused by what has transpired. Our Lord meets her on the way and explains to her that He is not looking for her mortifications, but ultimately her obedience. Why is this so important?

Obedience is how we show Christ that we are willing to do what He asks of us no matter what, even if it means rejection or ridicule in the process. Rejection and difficulties are guaranteed if we truly seek to follow the path to sanctity. We will be asked to do things we do not understand. They may confuse us or even cause anxiety, but Christ is leading us where He wants us to go. If we refuse Him, then we cannot fulfill the mission He has for each one of us. He cannot entrust greater tasks to us if we are unwilling to be obedient.

What’s even more, if we refuse to do what He asks of us, our souls begin to turn into a chaotic storm. This is because we are living against our very nature when we refuse to walk the path Christ is calling each one of us to walk. A path that will differ very much from our neighbor, even at times, our spouse. We then let in the Enemy who attacks all of our weaknesses with his lies, accusations, and seductions because we are not resting in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. We can only be happy if we are living God’s will for our lives.

I was pondering this truth earlier today when I realized once again how much it costs to be all in. Unfortunately, the saints discovered that a lot of people have no interest in surrendering everything to God. They are content with mediocrity or even doing nothing. This was a source of endless frustration for many of the saints who learned that all they could do was rely on God alone. They learned that it doesn’t matter if the people around them are as dedicated to following God’s will. That is true for all of us. What matters ultimately is that we are trying to do His will and hopefully by His grace that will lead others to do the same thing.

What matters each day is that we keep our gaze firmly fixed on Christ and try to walk where He is asking us to go. There will be many times He will lead us where we don’t want to go, but we must follow Him. We must follow Him into spiritual battles, dryness, doubts, fears, and the difficulties of this life so He can strengthen us. Without these battles, we will never grow spiritually. It is in trial, testing, and trust that we grow in holiness. When we come to realize that we must surrender everything to Him, it is then that we can truly begin.

Why I Deleted My Social Media Accounts

My husband and I made the decision to leave social media. I went through and deleted all of my social media accounts, except for Instagram. I don’t post anything to it anymore. I only use it to pray the Rosary with a friend of mine who is leading virtual prayer. The decision has been a long time coming and those who have followed my writing for years know that I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I deactivated for a year and still have no idea how I ended up back on it for a few years.

The volume on social media is such a cacophonous din of rancor and over-politicization of everything that it was robbing me of much needed prayer time and peace. I watched as both sides of the political spectrum sought to demonize the other in the name of the dignity of the human person. An irony lost on many, I’m afraid.

My Catholic friends spend hours arguing about everything and anything in the Church and politically to the point that I realized anyone on the outside watching the dumpster fire of Catholic social media would have no interest in joining our ranks and would rightly head for the hills. I knew more about my friends’ political beliefs than I did about their lives or their Catholic faith. Either that or I could see how people would mistake Catholicism with an allegiance to a particular political party and not an encounter with Jesus Christ.

We are not called to evangelize primarily through a political or moral message. Many Catholics berate Bishop Robert Barron’s approach, but he understands that the radicality of the Gospel message does not come from the law. Christ is the fulfillment of the law, but our Faith is not purely the law. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said the same thing in Deus Caritas Est: “We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” We are Christian because we have encountered the Risen Lord and chosen to answer His call to follow Him.

The problem today–as it has been in other ages–is we often want to put the cart before the horse. We think we can tear into the virtual world of competing ideas and ideologies and declare the moral law–usually through a political driven lens–in order to convert souls. This is not how we convert the culture. When we do this we forget that our own conversion was first an encounter with Jesus Christ. Once we came to love Him, we were able to choose to surrender ourselves to the moral law and all of the requirements of Christian discipleship. We have to lead people to Christ first and then the moral demands of following Him.

The reason that Catholics are unable to radically impact the culture is because we look exactly like the culture. We fight, demonize, and divide. We are just as much a part of the problem as those we criticize on the other side, whatever side that may be. The truth is necessarily divisive, but we must offer it in love and not primarily through an ideological lens that is influenced more by our political beliefs than by our identity in Christ.

We cannot change hearts and minds when we are uncharitable and aggressive in our response to those who oppose us. We cannot force others to convert. There’s a reason Christ commands us to pray for our enemies. It is not only for their sake and conversion, it is for our own conversion of heart. It stops the Enemy from fomenting animosity, division, and hatred in our own hearts.

Oftentimes we falsely believe that we must constantly berate others with the moral law. This is impossible in an age marked by nihilism, relativism, utilitarianism, materialism, hedonism, and a growing hostility to religion. In an age of “me” it is very difficult to lead with morality since people will take it as an attack on their autonomy. Leading with morality in an age when morality is set by the individual will only lead to further entrenchment.

Instead, we have to lead people to Christ through our own example first. If we are committed to holiness, then we can be a light in the darkness to our lost culture. Once that light begins to shine in the hearts of others, we can begin to lead them down the path to Christ where ultimate conversion takes place. It is this light that reveals to our culture how lost in darkness it truly is. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I wondered where this light is because it is in short supply.

For decades we as Catholics have been taught that our role is primarily social justice related. This has infected the priesthood and the laity. We are constantly called to action. We must achieve justice. We must always be doing something. Usually how this is accomplished is vague and in purely humanistic terms, even if not intended. The de-emphasis on prayer and the Sacraments is indicative of this mentality in the Church today.

We no longer see holiness as the primary means by which we evangelize and transform a culture. Instead we see it as primarily accomplished politically or socially. It is prayer and intimate union with the Father that is the source of Christ’s ministry, not the other way around. We cannot grow in holiness and become saints if we are not grounded in prayer and the Sacraments above all else. We cannot transform the culture and win souls to Christ if we are not immersed in prayer and the Sacraments first. It is from prayer that we can go out into the world to do God’s will.

The saints are the example to us of how to evangelize and transform a culture. We are never going to do away with all injustice in the world. That will only be accomplished at Our Lord’s glorious and triumphant return. What we are called to do is transform the community around us. If every Catholic was truly dedicated to a life of prayer, the Sacraments, and the pursuit of holiness, then our culture and the world would transform overnight. Ranting endlessly about politics online is not leading anyone to holiness, including the person who is doing it. An over-emphasis on the political life runs the risk of turning our political beliefs into a false idol and leads us to build our house on sandy ground rather than the solid rock of Christ.

Interestingly, I lost more friends in social media over the years because of my over-emphasis on divisive political beliefs–which have evolved considerably–than I ever did when I stopped those posts and began sharing my Catholic faith publicly. I would post on moral issues at times, including my involvement in 40 Days for Life, but most of the time I shared a lot about the spiritual life, the Cross, and the demands of Christian discipleship through my own experiences and the saints. I had friends email me who were of different faiths to tell me that they appreciated my willingness to share my faith. The issue is not our Catholic Faith as it is in reality. It is ideologically driven or weaponized counterfeits to our Faith that turn people off right now.

This is why I also see it as disastrous for Catholics to endlessly fight over cultural Catholic issues. The bickering about the Liturgy, reception of Holy Communion, and the in-fighting in the Church does nothing except push people on the outside away from our vitriolic battles against one another. Ideology in all of its forms is a counterfeit that leads to division. We know the spirit of something by its fruits and that which rancorously divides is not from Christ, but from the Enemy. We can disagree, but we are called to do so in love and respect so that the world knows we are brothers and sisters, rather than in the Pharisaical and judgmental way we do it today in social media.

We also should have the humility to be open to correction if our beliefs are counter to the Church’s. My own understanding changed dramatically when I took graduate Moral Theology and Catholic Social Teaching. I realized how many of my beliefs were from my political ideology and not Christ and His Church. I got a stern talking to in Confession from a good and holy priest when I talked to him about it. It was necessary for Christ to lead me to a fuller conversion of heart. He continues this process within us throughout our lives.

We also need to grow in enough self-awareness to know that If we feel the need to hunt people down to correct them, then it is our own pride that has blinded us. It is a temptation for all of us to want to get the last word in. I battle it myself. But it is also one of the reasons so many relationships are destroyed in social media. Pride. A very heavy and deadly sin we all battle that social media enables. One of the clearest signs we are dealing with pride is when we must be the last to speak and/or correct.

Are we truly interested in converting souls to Christ and His Church? If so, then that should be priority number one instead of constant fighting and bickering. We cannot lead people to the beauty and truth of Catholicism if we ourselves do not cast light. I believe the division in the Church and the world today greatly wounds Our Lord’s Most Sacred Heart and Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. How could it not? We are called to communion, but we have ignored or forgotten this call.

I finally made the decision to leave the hurricane of anger and division because I realized that I could do more to help in the long run through more time dedicated in prayer than I could ever do trying to call people away from blind ideology towards a less divisive way of seeing things. I also realized that my call for people on all sides to demand greater moral character from our leaders fell on deaf ears. I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish anything in social media as it stands today.

All of the time we spend arguing could be better utilized in prayer and serving our families and communities. We should be building up authentic forms of communion rather than reducing ourselves to a false form of communion that works for a Cartesian world, but not for the body-soul reality espoused by the Catholic Church. We need to be truly present to one another in body and soul in order to love as we are supposed to and to dwell in communion together with the Most Holy Trinity. Social media should never take the place of the community that is truly present in the world around us. We are needed in the city we live in at this moment in history in order to lead souls to Christ.

We should not disengage with social media altogether if we are able to handle it in a way that keeps us from sin. I’m still a writer. There are some Catholics doing good and evangelizing through social media. I think we need to seriously discern in prayer, however, whether or not it is leading us to holiness. We should at least pray for true conversion of heart and a clear conscience to show us where and when we fail to live as Christian disciples in social media. I do believe he is calling some of us away from it and others to be a light on it. We have to discern what He is calling us to as His disciples.

Funnily enough, because that’s how the Holy Spirit works, I just discovered this is today’s first reading for daily Mass today from Galatians 5:1-6:

Brothers and sisters:
For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

It is I, Paul, who am telling you
that if you have yourselves circumcised,
Christ will be of no benefit to you.
Once again I declare to every man who has himself circumcised
that he is bound to observe the entire law.
You are separated from Christ,
you who are trying to be justified by law;
you have fallen from grace.
For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness.
For in Christ Jesus,
neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything,
but only faith working through love.