Catholic Exchange: A Call to Spiritual Arms in Response to the Sex Abuse Scandals

What do we do now? That is the question facing all of us within the Mystical Body in response to the ever growing scandals being brought to light. No doubt we are angry, but we must channel and harness that anger lest it become wrath and remain at the level of blind rage long-term.

As long as we are ruled by rage, we are unable to prudently decide a course of action. We often also go deaf and ignore the calls of our true shepherds who seek to guide us through this hurricane.

Spiritual Warfare

The calls for reform, letter writing campaigns, protests, and other similar responses are good. However,they are not the primary means by which we win this battle. The Church needs to be purified from this evil. But that purification requires our willingness to enter into the great spiritual warfare that is going on around us. It has always been our mission, but often we become blinded by the material aspect of our nature and set aside or abandon the spiritual. That, or we  simply forget that the spiritual is higher than the material.

This war is against Satan. It is not simply a matter of Fallen men choosing to do diabolically evil acts. Satan is always after the priesthood and he’s always after each one of us. Every hour of every day, he seeks to drag us to hell.

 

The Enemy wants us to turn on one another. He seeks to sow greater seeds of division. He wants the laity to distrust the priesthood. He wants the priesthood to distance itself from the laity. That’s the whole point.

If we cannot harness our outrage for good and beg for the Holy Spirit to give us the eyes to see as Christ sees, then we will be impotent in the face of the Enemy. The spiritual battle is where purification will spring forth. It will be a long battle. One we will wage for the rest of our lives, but it is the battle we are all called to at Baptism.

We must not forget that the Church is “militant”. She is “the army of Christ”, the “levy of the living God”; “the levy of the great King”, in which we were enrolled at baptism and confirmation.

Henri de Lubac, Splendor of the Church, 185.

Prayer and Fasting

Evil never gives up power easily and without a fight. Our letters and outcry won’t matter at all unless we are first and foremost praying and fasting in atonement for the sins of the Church. Our Lord Himself tells us that certain sins must be driven out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29).

We must view this fight through the eyes of faith, not the organs that allow us to see the material world around us. The Church battles “powers and principalities” internally and exteriorly. The scandals reveal to us the breadth and depth of the fight before us and the rot that infects the Mystical Body.

“The Church is unceasingly torn by internal as well as exterior conflict”; the “mystery of iniquity” is at work without as well as within. The great struggle that had its prelude in heaven is fought out among men through the whole of time. People do not like their apathy thus disturbed and they are afraid of too lofty a vocation; the bonds of flesh and blood take some breaking. The world views as an insult and provocation anything that does not conform to its own ideas; feeling itself threatened by the least of the Church’s spiritual conquests, it is never without reaction to them.

Ibid, 187

This reality is true within the hierarchy, within the laity, and in the world. Far too many people grow apathetic, indifferent, or even hostile to the vocation we are all called to, which is sainthood. This conflict plays out in many ways, and tragically, even to the point of demonic sexual abuse of minors and other people. St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 that the Enemy disguises himself as “an angel of light” and his followers will disguise themselves as righteous leaders. While it is shocking to hear of the horrific deeds committed, it is not surprising once we understand the rules of the battlefield we are all standing on. We are fighting the powers of hell inside of the Church today. It’s been the same way since the institution of the Church.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Avoiding Wrath About the Sex Abuse Scandals

Many of us are still reeling from the report of widespread and decades-long sex abuse in Pennsylvania that came out last week. Compounded with the credible accusations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, reports of corruption and sexual deviancy in our seminaries, and the continuing wave of priests who are coming forward reporting what they have endured during their time as priests, it is clear that a massive festering wound is infecting the Mystical Body of Christ and the corruption can be found at some of the highest levels of the Church hierarchy. It does not appear that we have reached the apex and most of us continue to brace for the next round of rot to come out in the news.

People are angry, disgusted, saddened, heart-broken, confused, and disoriented. It seemed this issue was resolved in 2002 when everything blew wide open, but it is clear that certain issues have not been addressed, such as homosexual activity in the priesthood. Since it is an all male institution–by God–it is much more difficult to root out, especially in an age such as ours where this is seen as an acceptable form of expressing one’s sexuality. Oftentimes, what infects the culture also infects the priesthood.

That is not to say that some men with same sex attraction cannot rightly order their inclinations because their desire for holiness supersedes those inclinations, but very serious discussions about this issue need to be had within the College of Bishops and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s call for men with ‘deeply-rooted homosexual tendencies’ to be denied entry in the priesthood need to be taken seriously. There is also an issue of those who are leading active homosexual lifestyles in the priesthood. A purge is obviously needed, the same could be said of heterosexual activity in the priesthood, but as many others have pointed out, these men typically leave the priesthood if it is ongoing. The vast majority of this scandal is related to males abusing males of various ages. It’s the elephant in the room.

Anger is a completely understandable response to the onslaught we are currently taking in the Church. We expect the ministerial priesthood to mirror itself after Christ. And while most priests are not saints quite yet, and they will battle serious temptations like the rest of us, this type of abuse of power, diabolical sexual exploitation, and utter disregard for the dignity of the human person is appalling at an astonishing level. It is evil. It is, in the words of both Dr. Robert George and Bishop Morlino, “sacrilege” of the sacred office of Holy Orders. Priests are expected to fight the good fight and battle temptations so that they can love their flocks as Christ loves them. Temptations do in fact teach us lessons on rightly ordered love if we allow them to. Sacred Scripture points to the rewards of enduring and persevering to the end. We seek a Crown of Glory. Our choice is always Christ or the world.

More than anything, a priest is charged with the spiritual welfare of his flock. These actions not only harm the physical dignity of the body of each victim, they cause immense damage to the spiritual state of the victims. There is no Cartesian dualism in Catholicism. Body and soul, these evil acts attack the very heart of the human person. Actions of this kind are the inversion of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This should be logical to even the most poorly of catechized Catholics, but it has not always been so obvious to priests and bishops alike throughout the Church where scandals have come to light. We still don’t know the extent of the cover-ups–we may never know–but it is clear that the people involved chose the world over Christ and a great many people paid the price for that choice. And if there is not justice in this life, there will be justice in eternity.

Those of us who are angry understand the great horror of the situation, but we need to make sure that we are keeping our anger in check and not falling into the deadly sin of wrath. Why? For many reasons. We cannot root sin out with sin and wrath is a deadly sin for a reason. Wrath at its core seeks vengeance, not justice. Anger is an inherently difficult passion to rule. Once it takes over–because we have not sought the spiritual discipline to keep it in check–it rules us. Wrath also causes a form of blindness. We are no longer able to differentiate between who is actually to blame and sweeping generalizations. We then fall into other sins such as calumny and gossip. Or the even deadlier sin of pride in thinking we know better than everyone else. In our desire to seek vengeance under the guise of justice, the anger within us continues to grow the more we dwell on it. It festers.

There is a lot of wrath going on in response to this scandal and wrath is not going to get us anywhere. I myself–after weeks of maintaining a leveled response to the scandals in which I was able to temper my anger–fell into wrath after the St. John’s Seminary scandal broke and the PA Grand Jury Report came out. The horror of it overwhelmed me and my anger rose at an intensity that I could no longer control. I was no longer able to see who was actually trying to shepherd us through this crisis. I started making assumptions such as saying “all bishops” are involved or they should have all known about it. That’s the same as implying that I should know all of the sins of my husband. I don’t, nor could I. I started to wonder how much our priests were keeping from us, which fosters distrust and suspicion. I ignored genuine calls to respond to this crisis at a spiritual level and every statement I read from a bishop or the Vatican rang hollow. Now, some of them are truly awful and rather than being spiritual beacons are lawyer-speak or PR marketing. I’m a former lawyer’s daughter, I can spot lawyer-speak a mile away.

When I realized what had befallen my soul, I took it immediately to the Sacrament of Confession. I walked in feeling blinded by my wrath. I had developed a sort of tunnel vision and could no longer differentiate between the good and the bad and I started blaming people who may or may not be guilty. I was getting close to judging souls. I was particularly wrathful towards our bishops, even my own. This is a very real danger for all of us during this time. I never grouped my own parish priests in with others–except occasionally wondering if they know things we don’t–because I know them personally and I know they are good shepherds and men who are dedicated to the priesthood and trying to become saints. They are both greatly pained and burdened by this crisis and are doing their best to lead my parish through the spiritual and moral chaos.

The solution to the wrath in my soul is the very thing many of my brothers and sisters in the laity are railing against right now. They are angry that we are expected to do penance and make reparations for these abominations. I understand that at a human level, but as a theologian, I know this is to greatly misunderstand what we entered into at Baptism. We are no longer on our own. There is no longer simply me. It is we. We are united to one another at the deepest levels of reality. Sin harms the entire body. Our sins–even though they may not be as egregious–harm the Mystical Body. Wounds of the magnitude we are dealing with require a communal response and reparations from the entire Mystical Body. God is mercy, but He is also justice and these sins call out for Divine Justice. Our reparations bring about mercy, healing, and justice by allowing God to work through us within the Church. They also stay His hand.

Yes, writing to the bishops and blowing wide open these scandals is essential. The darkness must be brought out into the purifying light. It will be painful for a while and this will take generations to root out in order for a renewal to happen within the Church. There is no quick fix. There will be no speedy reform. Church history is very instructive for us impatient Americans. Chances of a mass resignation of bishops is very unlikely. Rather in periods of massive moral and spiritual corruption, God raises up saints such as St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Benedict, and St. Teresa of Avila. Most of us are not St. Catherine of Siena and we don’t have the ear of the pope or the graces God gave her to be successful in her work. The saints often work in mysterious ways and we need to keep that in mind. We should practice some humility before we start likening ourselves to her or other saints. Are we saints? I’m certainly not. We should all be actively striving to become one.

We do have to find ways to direct our anger and heartache properly. We need to be purged of wrath and seek healing from the Divine Physician in the Sacrament of Penance when that deadly sin befalls our souls. We must come to God in prayer and seek His will for our response. It may not be the one we want. Most of us aren’t going to be nailing demands to the bishop’s rectory in our diocese or even confronting the corruption in person. For the vast majority of us, the answer will be to strive for holiness and in so doing we will purify the Church and help lead the people around us to holiness. He’s going to ask us to perform penances and acts of reparation. He’s going to call us to pray and support the priests in our parishes who are shepherding as best they can in an impossible situation. He’s going to ask us to come together as never before in the communion that we are meant to be living, but in our individualistic society fail to live properly. Those of us with steadier faith will need to help to steady our wavering brothers and sisters.

Wrath keeps us from praying. It leads us to sinful judgment and I’ve seen far to many of my brothers and sisters grouping all priests together. They already bear the weight of walking around in public shamed for the collar they wear. While this is the least of the worries for the priests I know since they are most concerned about the victims and their flocks, this is still a heavy burden to carry and we should do our level best to shoulder it and make it lighter by our support. We their brothers and sisters must avoid judging the vast majority of priests who are in fact innocent. We also miss out on the very real spiritual guidance they are offering to us as our spiritual fathers in these dark days if we allow wrath to blind and deafen us. They are meant to help lead us to heaven. They can’t do that if we close ourselves off from them.

The penance I was assigned this past Saturday was exactly what the Holy Spirit knew I needed. It was the Feast of St. Helena and I was assigned offering atonement through a type of prayer to the Cross. Father suggested the Stations of the Cross. I still left Confession burdened, but I walked into the main sanctuary and began praying the Stations of the Cross. With each new Station the wrath I was carrying left my soul and by the end peace had been restored. I spent 30 minutes reading St. Matthew’s account of the Paschal Mystery while I waited for Mass to begin. I spent an hour in a mini-Lent. After receiving Holy Communion in the Mass, I finally felt strong enough and able to begin again and this time I understood what I must do.

I am not the only one in whose soul God has placed a desire to offer penance and reparations as an active response to the pain within the Church. Since Saturday, the need to enter into a Lenten period has increased in my soul and sure enough yesterday I discovered that other brothers and sisters in Christ have been called to do the same thing. It is how we can channel and rightly order our anger and pain.

Beginning tomorrow on the Feast of Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, many Catholics–many fellow writers–are encouraging the Mystical Body to begin a 40-day period of prayer and fasting. Christ Himself tells us that certain sins can only be rooted out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). This is an opportunity for us to help begin to bring about healing and renewal in the Church. Spiritual weapons are vastly more effective at bringing about the purge needed than even the most eloquent of emails to the USCCB. That doesn’t mean we should stop voicing our concerns and desire for reform. I simply mean that we cannot hope for change if we are not entering into the very dark and real spiritual warfare embroiling the Church. We also need to be willing to play the long game. This will not be completely purged in my lifetime or even my daughter’s. You can find information about this period of prayer and fasting here.

I personally believe that God is calling me into a period of greater silence for the next 40 days, so I will be fasting from social media and television as well. I plan to write as I am able to and I will continue my regular Thursday contribution at Catholic Exchange. I pray this time is fruitful for all of us who enter into the tremendous Cross the Church is enduring in our age. Our hope is in Christ and we can enter more deeply into love and communion with Him by our prayers and sacrifices. I will be praying for all of you throughout this period. May God bless you always. Pax Christi.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

Catholic Exchange: Supporting Our Parishes is an Act of Love

One of the biggest struggles many Catholics face each year is how to financially support our parishes and dioceses, while also giving to the poor and needy, and providing for the needs of our families. This topic results in a wide range of opinions, some of them heated.

The most recent sex abuse scandals, including the horrifying Grand Jury Report out of Pennsylvania, has made it even more difficult for many people to want to support their parishes or dioceses financially. This withholding is seen as a just response to the scandals and it is true that money talks. Withholding financial contributions is an effective mechanism for bringing about change, but in doing so we need to consider prudently, justly, and charitably what we hope to accomplish and the consequences of withholding our financial support, especially within our own parishes.

There are in fact just reasons for not donating to a certain cause, even within a diocese, but we should prayerfully discern if this is what God is truly calling us to do. We are stewards of the parishes we are members of and we share in that responsibility together as a community. If we do not provide for the material needs of our parishes, then they will no longer be able to function and provide for the needs of the worshipping community now and for future generations. In truth, our sharing in the material gifts and goods that God has given to us is an act of love towards God and our neighbor.

Our decision should be measured and prudent, so that we don’t end up hurting our own communities and the efforts of the many good and holy priests serving our parishes.

Financially supporting the Church in love

There is much more to supporting the Church financially than simply an obligation or a duty. In fact, a sense of duty only moves us so far. We are meant to support our parishes and the Church out of love—caritas. It is within our parishes where we are nourished by the Word of God and the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in the Holy Eucharist through the celebration of the Mass. It is in our parishes—as the worshipping community—that we enter into the great mysteries of our faith as one body and encounter the Living God. It is in that encounter where we learn to love as Christ loves and that love sends us outward into the world.

Love dwells in relationship and relationships always require something of us. There is nothing more demanding and life-giving than our relationship with Christ who draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity and who binds us to one another in the love between the Divine Persons.

In the love-story recounted by the Bible, he comes towards us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross, to his appearances after the Resurrection and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, he guided the nascent Church along her path. Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his Word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence, and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives. He has loved us first, and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 17

This community of believers is comprised of those men and women who have entered into the Sacrament of Baptism in order to die to self and rise to a new life in Christ. We are no longer on our journey alone, rather, we are now in communion—communio—with the rest of the Mystical Body. We most readily live that communion through our parishes when we come together in the Liturgy, Sacraments, prayer, service, and community. In order for the Sacraments to be made present to us, to attend Mass, enter more fully into communion through ministry, and delve deeper into what we believe, we must have buildings and resources at our disposal. This is an aspect of being a member of the worshipping community.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

There Are No Words For The News Out of Pennsylvania

I know a lot of Catholic writers are responding to the the release of the Grand Jury Report out of Pennsylvania yesterday. I honestly don’t have any words. I can’t bring myself to read the report. Some of the excerpts that I’ve read horrified me so much that I couldn’t read any further. All I could think was that these deeds came straight out of hell. If anyone still thinks Satan is a myth or a symbol, yesterday’s report should wake them from their slumber. Lives have been utterly destroyed. Demonic, vile, evil acts have been perpetrated on children by predators who were supposed to be the very spiritual fathers God gave to them to aid them on the path to heaven. Our bishops continue to bumble about. How can they not be utterly and completely horrified, appalled, and deeply pained by what is going on? Where are our shepherds?

The wound in the Mystical Body is great. The Enemy has struck a direct hit on the priesthood once again, which is a direct hit on the Church. Driving a wedge between the laity and the priesthood is an effective tactic for sowing division. The world sees us as irrelevant, or worse, evil. The entire Body of Christ is hurting. It will take generations to recover from such treachery, betrayal, and heinous acts. What are we to do? Pray and fast for the victims, the perpetrators for their repentance and conversion, as well as justice to be done for those still living, as well as for our priests, our bishops, and the entire Church.

The only answer to such evil is the Cross. We must enter into the great mystery of the Cross together and stand fast as the much needed purification of the Church takes place. It will be extremely painful. This isn’t even close to over. In the end, Our Lord will bring good out of this evil and the Church will be cleansed so that she can boldly live her mission once more. This purge is needed and only then will we be able to move forward. Our hope is in Christ. Love always wins. The victory is won, even as we must endure the battles here until the Second Coming. Hope in Him.

As a side note, I’m going to go ahead and publish my piece I wrote for this week for Catholic Exchange tomorrow on financially giving to our parishes in a movement of caritas (love) and communio (communion). A lot of writers are encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ to withhold money from the Church as a response to the scandals. While I can see how one can in good conscience refrain from giving to a diocese where a bishop is embroiled in scandal or doing nothing in response to the scandal, I can’t support us withholding money from our parishes, especially where good and holy priests serve. If there’s heresy or scandal in a parish, sure. That I can understand, but in our anger, hurt, and betrayal we cannot inflict deeper wounds on our own communities.

My own parish is staring down a massive campaign to fund repairing the leaking roof of our gorgeous historic church. The scandals do not change that we must support our parishes in order to keep them running. Giving from the financial gifts God has given to us is not simply an obligation, it shows our love for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ through the communion we share. I don’t want to see my brothers and sisters in the pews or my spiritual fathers/brothers in the priesthood suffer because we are angry. Wrath will get us nowhere. To heal we must demand reform, accountability, an investigation, consequences, repentance, and more from our bishops. At the same time, we must be seeking lives of holiness and learning to live the communion we share in the love of the Divine Persons. We cannot allow these horrors to divide us. We must come together as one in Christ. Prudence and charity must inform our sense of justice in times like these. May God bless you always on this Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.

Catholic Exchange: Living Holy Lives Will Help Heal the Church

As the depths of the moral and spiritual corruption in the hierarchy continue to be brought into the light, many in the laity are wondering what should and can be done in response? Some want massive overhauls of the hierarchy, but quite frankly, that is not in our power within the laity.

We should, and must, demand accountability, correction, reform, strong leadership, justice, and a cleansing of the Church. We need our shepherds to in fact shepherd, and as they dither and waver, souls are lost as people leave the Church.

Lives have been utterly destroyed and a great wedge has been placed between the laity and the hierarchical priesthood. Our trust has been broken one too many times and the betrayal is a deep wound in the Mystical Body. It is a destructive divide that has gotten wider and it has created division even between good and holy priests and the laity. The Enemy has made a direct hit, but all hope is never lost, and Christ constantly renews His Church throughout her course in history for the betterment and good of souls.

While many members of the Church—both priests and laity—put forth ideas and proposals to fix the situation, it is clear that the entire Church needs to come together to find solutions in order to root out—what appears to be—widespread corruption in the highest echelons of the Church. God is cleansing His Church and He will appoint the right people from all levels of the Church to help bring good out of evil. Purification is painful, so the process will be difficult for all of us. We love Christ and His Church, and it is both maddening and heart-breaking to see the evil currently being brought into the light.

We trust that He will raise up saints for our time to help us through this difficult period. He has done it before and we know He will do it again, but he is not only calling a few chosen souls to be saints. He is calling you and me to become saints. Through our constant conversion of heart and ardent desire to lead holy lives, Christ will heal the festering wound that is hurting the Mystical Body. We all have a role to play. We are one body, united together under the headship of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The call to holiness and the mission for our lives is given to us in Baptism. The essence and meaning of our lives is fully realized in our baptismal promises and our participation in the life of Christ and His Church. We die to our old selves and put on Christ. This transforms us at the deepest levels of reality, but it also means we are meant to move outwards in order to transform the world around us and draw others to Christ through the holiness of our lives. Holiness is not something we achieve in isolation. We learn to become holy people of God through the life of the Church, the Sacraments, prayer, our vocations, and the holy relationships we develop with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not in this alone. Holiness is not a path of isolation. It is a path grounded and firmly rooted in communion.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: 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.

 

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.