Church Abuse Crisis – Join The Conversation
Father Gabriel Richard High School’s annual Familiaris Consortio lecture series for 2019 was called Phoenix from the Ashes: The Sex Abuse Crisis and the Future of the Catholic Church. Hundreds of Catholics heard keynote speaker Dr. Janet Smith and others present the abuse crisis as an opportunity for evangelization and lay responsibility.
Audio of the talks is available here.
Co-sponsor Ave Maria Radio also believes that honest questions deserve honest answers. They are many. Why not leave the Church? How did bishops tolerate such priests? How many priests are involved? What is a “credible” allegation? What made the Theodore McCarrick case so important? What happened at the Vatican Summit on the crisis? Who do I trust to keep my children safe???…
Stay informed and stay in touch. Check out our resource page and Al’s previous correspondence with listeners. And let us know what you’re thinking. Your questions and comments keep the conversation going below.
I would like to make a positive comment and ask a question. I rotate Mass attendance between two churches. I am glad to say that I have noticed a considerable increase in church attendance at both. I hope and pray that this is a sign of a more concerned and active laity. This crisis is being allowed to happen by God and only good can come no matter how painful and difficult the path.
My major concern in this crisis is the seminaries. This is where everything starts. Are there any concrete steps being taken to monitor the leadership and the people on the boards who decide if a man can start and continue his path to ordination? Does the seminarian have a third party to go to if he feels he is being threatened for his orthodox views or refusal to take part in certain activities if he has exhausted his appeals to his superiors?
This is an opportunity for the Church to be proactive instead of reactive.
I am so glad you wrote. Thanks for listening. I am also heartened by your report of increased church attendance. Hallelujah.
Seminaries have been improving steadily since 1984 or so. There was a period after the Second Vatican Council and up until the pontificate of John Paul II got underway when seminaries were not reliably faithful in doctrine or morality to the Catholic Faith. How that happened is a heartbreaking story. But, in truth, John Paul II began cleaning it up and today we have some great seminaries.
Most of the stories we are hearing about go back decades especially to the sixties through the eighties. Seminaries are not the problem anymore. Certainly there remain some bad apples but reporting mechanisms are in place that weren’t forty years ago. Many seminarians also know that they can go elsewhere if they find a rector of a seminary unorthodox or simply unkind or corrupt. If appeals are exhausted in one seminary, there are others. My son-in-law teaches at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, America’s oldest. He is currently upbeat about the quality of seminary teachers and about the quality of the incoming seminarians. The focus on spiritual formation is the best we’ve ever had. Philosophy requirements have been restored in most programs and most places reject any prospect that has deep seated homosexual tendencies. While there are still priests who are homosexual and “gay” friendly- absolutely no doubt- the seminaries, generally speaking, in contrast are not gay friendly anymore.
This is a great time to be Catholic in America in spite of the Mess. Most of the mess is the reporting of old stuff. In Holland, almost all the perpetrators listed in this recent report are now dead and no cases were pending. In the PA grand jury report seventy years were covered and 300 priests were cited of the 15,000 that served. Two percent. Two percent too many. If 2 percent of airplane pilots crashed and burned, I wouldn’t fly. But 2% is not 40%. In the PA grand jury report of the 1000 or so violations only 2 cases were still active. This is major cleanup time.
I came into the Church officially just after the last one rocked the country but because I had already gone through a major conversion I wasn’t , thanks be to God, going to allow Satan divert me back then and although I have had some wobbles all I can say with Peter is “where should I go?”. HOWEVER I have this sense that we are ALL guilty and I wonder if you or others have considered this.
Frankly I feel like the laity are also culpable in this scandal. The majority of us have been all too happy that our clergy have quietly ignored our own ‘sexual misconduct’ in their homilies and teaching. We are awash in adultery, pornographic addiction – both men and women, in allowing our children to watch increasingly more sexually explicit , violent and vulgar things on television . I have never heard a homily that outright said ” if you are having sex outside of marriage, you are in mortal sin, let alone a homily on what mortal sin even means. Even among those of us who are in monogamous, heterosexual proper marriages in the eyes of God and the Church I bet a high percentage are contracepting and have all the above issues. I am quite frankly mad at the lay leaders / elders and clergy – including our Popes- who failed to have moral back bones to call us to repent and be converted and who failed to get our parish priests to preach /catechize us on these things..
We are also culpable for failing to pray for holy priests and for praying for protection of them from evil.
I have also not heard any discussion of – what made these men like this? Perhaps – like my own homosexual cousin has told me- they were victims of abuse themselves when they were younger. Where is the mercy and prayers for healing of not just victim but also the perpetrator’s soul? These Priests, Bishops and Cardinals will be much more severely judged by God and frankly I would not wish hell on my worst enemy
As I’ve often said, parishes often get the priests they deserve. In the grand sweep of history all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and repentance must be not only an individual act but a communal act. The Church must repent not merely a priest or bishop here or there.
When I call for the co-responsibility of the laity I always do so in the spirit in which Benedict XVI used it. The lay faithful who are called to co-responsibility are those who identify with the mission of the Church, are engaged in the quest for personal holiness, are championing the teaching of the Church, studying Scripture and the Catechism, are reading the signs of the times in our culture, are participating in the sacramental economy of the Church. While all laity are vulnerable to personal sin, the lay faithful I am referring to are not guilty of spiritual apathy or ignorance. They are invested in the Faith. They have formed their identities as disciples of Christ. Just as I’d like to see unfaithful priests leave the Church, I’d like to see laity who are in chronic opposition to the Church teaching either repent or leave.
When all is said and done the personal guilt of this crisis lands with the priests and bishops who committed these sinful and sometimes criminal acts and created an environment of enabling perpetrators to continue. While we should all repent of our sins and sacrifice on behalf of the Church, I don’t want our general confession used as a way of skirting around the personal culpability of particular priests and bishops.
Thank you again for your fidelity to the Truth in an era of lies.
As I continue to read news accounts and ponder the current situation in the Church, it occurs to me that perhaps, instead of calling it an abuse crises, it is more fitting to call it a clerical sexual immorality crisis. This occurred to me after I remembered a family wedding about 10 years ago which was officiated by an Archbishop. During the reception, I had a passionate disagreement with him regarding whether the abuse uncovered by the Boston Globe was a matter of pedophilia, as he was stating, or homosexuality. My position was and is that since, by definition, the overwhelming majority of the victims were pubescent or post-pubescent, that it was an issue of homosexuality, not pedophilia. The Archbishop attempted to use his status to argue vociferously that I did not know what I was talking about. I would not back down because I believed it to be a grave matter of principle. My mother, upon hearing the inflexible disagreement between us, told me to stop the disagreement (no voices were raised) and “be respectful”(we were) because he was the Archbishop and he was right. I told her I would not hold my peace because it did not matter to me who he was because he was wrong.
One further thought…I am in total agreement about the need for the laity to step up. I do not think the clericalism you referenced will be dented without such participation. What I am wondering is what would be ways that laity can be effectively engaged and involved? I believe it would be helpful for the local churches to identify areas of need that the laity could fill, the type of ‘qualifications’ desired, etc. There is much to do to move forward and it will not be possible without all of us grabbing an oar to help put the ship back on course. Ave Maria Radio putting forth programming on how the laity can be so engaged, I believe, would be instrumental in doing so.
Your story is all too familiar. The patronizing tone, the reassurance that all is being taken care of, the refusal to acknowledge the obvious because it doesn’t play well in the press- is deeply troubling. It is a style learned somewhere just south of hell. East of Eden is too generous.
I’ve started calling it the “sexual misconduct crisis”. “Abuse crisis” unfortunately is now part of the vocabulary and it will be awhile before we purge our language of it. But I don’t care for it either.
To flesh out the “co-responsibility of the lay faithful” we need some concrete projects.
Holding our priests and bishops to a higher standard is biblical, canonical and theological good sense. They aren’t teachers, or boy scout leaders or managers of NGOs. They are priests who extend the priesthood of Jesus Christ into the world. The thought that we have to ask ourselves is this a good guy or a bad guy so sickens me I want to create a new less institutional form of Catholic fellowship. Why we burden ourselves with parishes that are unfocused and often work against disciplemaking is perhaps part of the mystery of iniquity. It may be time to find some order or movement priests who will work with the lay faithful to create a more focused Catholic community apart from the diocesan institutions.
It seems to me that Catholic priests, perhaps from a religious order, should team up with called and gifted laity to present a simpler, more focused form of Catholic community geared towards Scripture study, contemplative prayer, transparent relationships, mutual encouragement and exhortation, the corporal and spiritual gifts of mercy, and, of course, celebration of the Eucharist. The aim is to become partakers of the divine nature and manifest the Son of God in our midst so that the world would know that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
I’ve heard it mentioned on your show and elsewhere how every 500 years or so, the Catholic Church goes through an upheaval caused by corruption or scandal, and each time that happens the Church produces some of its greatest saints. I’d love to learn more about this.
You make a great point. How do we face this darkness as disciples of Christ? The saints have done so throughout the ages. They are our models. During the days of St Peter Damien this problem was rampant – check out the story here.
Newman, Luther and others were disgusted when they visited Rome – because the clergy of this day were conformed to this world. They indulged in the seven deadly sins and mocked the idea of holiness. We don’t know how widespread the corruption is or where this will rank historically as an era in wickedness. But I know there are good priests. We all do. We need examples of saints like Catherine of Siena. They are the Church, not the corrupt clergy we’re hearing stories of today.
As a listener I am very discouraged by the sexual scandals and coverups in the Church. Can you recommend any books on Church history, particularly any that cover different scandals, bad popes, etc? I am not saying Pope Francis is a bad pope. I just do not understand his decisions. I know the Church has weathered storms like this before and it think it might be helpful for me to read about them and see how the Church was reformed.
As Bill Clinton used to say, “I feel your pain.” This has been my worst year as a Catholic. Let me share one thing that I’ve had to do through this period. I have had to think of the priests I know and have spent time with rather than thinking of “priests” or “bishops” as a collective. Remember the priests you know who are living the life as they should. You may know some who haven’t lived properly. Two of the three priests who have pastored my family in our 27 years as Catholics have been laicized or had their faculties revoked for sexual misconduct with a late adolescent boy and young adult man. Nevertheless, I do know a number of Godly men who are priests. WE judge the priesthood by those who are fulfilling it as Christ intended rather than by those who corrupt what Christ intended.
Human Sin has always tainted our history. The history of Ancient Israel is instructive as St Paul puts it in 2 Tim 3:16 “All Scripture (for him that meant the OT) is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, and for training in righteousness.” In Scripture, we see corrupt priests. WE also see God bringing judgement and redemption. His people continue through history even if it means exile and captivity. The Jews persist today. God’s promises are irrevocable. If God has preserved the Children of Israel, how much more should we expect Him to preserve the Body of Christ? Check out Jeremiah 5:31, Ezekiel 22:26, Malachi 3:2 At no time do the prophets urge the sons and daughters of Israel to start a new tribe in order to purify the nation. Rather they are told to separate themselves from Sin, not the covenantal family.
I do understand your frustration with Pope Francis. His prudential judgments are frequently not in sync with those I would make under similar conditions. Yet his formal teaching documents are all orthodox. the only significant debate is over two footnotes in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia and Archbishop Chaput believes these strain but are not incompatible with Orthodoxy.
I believe, in some ways, we were spoiled by JPII’s long pontificate, followed by his right-hand man Benedict XVI. These were two exceptional people. JPII may have been the greatest moral philosopher and Benedict the greatest Biblical theologian in the history of the Papacy.
As for recommended reading, James Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church is one I recommend without hesitation. James is a professional historian and Orthodox Catholic. He doesn’t believe in whitewashing the sins of the Church, but he’s no cynic or skeptic either.
Why haven’t we had a comprehensive and coherent narrative about the Mess? We still don’t know much about the McCarrick abuses. Who knew about him? Who enabled him? Why aren’t we getting these facts?
I’m glad to see you get it. How can we solve a problem when we don’t know how it developed? Unfortunately, this attempt to fix the problem without establishing responsibility is standard operating procedure in most dicoeses. I use the example of Archbishop Daniel Buchlein’s honest admission that around 1999, 80% of catechetical textbooks contained doctrinal deficiencies. He started fixing the problem. Good. But how could the bishops have allowed 80% of our textbooks to be so corrupted? That’s pastoral malpractice. No wonder we lose 50% of those we baptize.
For some reason, Catholics in my town don’t want to talk about what’s happening in the Church. I’m not sure why. It it because it makes them uncomfortable and they don’t like unpleasant subjects? Am I the only one who thinks the laity needs to step it up and find ways to fix this? After all, we’ll be the ones paying for it.
Thank you for your passion for finding the solutions to this mess. I believe we are on the cusp of a great reform in American Catholicism. Right now we are seeing the early stages of a lay movement finally awakening to their co-responsibility for the Church. We have been cooperative. We have collaborated with Clergy. We do not want to take the place of our bishops and priests.
But we have also been patronized, lied to and treated as second-class members of Christ’s body. This new laity finds its identity in baptism and looks upon priests and bishops as fellow Christians with their own unique callings and gifts. This new laity finds it necessary to practice St Paul’s “One Another” Commands.
Too many Catholics regard their priests and bishops as somehow in a separate category for clergy. Consequently, a false deference is practiced. Dishonesty and lack of transparency enter the relationship and we fail to treat them as peers and fellow adults – and they are encouraged to treat us like children.
Thankfully, this is changing. We are not revolutionaries but we are responsible for the Church. Archbishop Fulton Sheen gave us our marching orders in 1972: “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops. Not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops and your religious like religious.”
I believe the leaders of the Church need to wake-up to the fact that the Bible condemns homosexuality and unmistakable connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. So why are there still homosexual priest in the priesthood? Why have they not be sanctioned and released? In my opinion, there needs to be action taken and not another ‘conference’.
On November 4, 2005, the Congregation for Catholic Education decreed: “…[t]he Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called ‘gay culture’. Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
Official teaching couldn’t get much clearer than that. The background for this decision derives from the Church’s high ideal for its clergymen, manifest in the following documents:
• Optatam Totius (Vatican II)
• Pastores Dabo Vobis (John Paul II)
• Letter to Seminarians (Benedict XVI)
• Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis (Congregation for the Clergy)
• Program of Priestly Formation (USCCB)
Soundly rooted in Scripture and Tradition, these writings are inspiring a new generation of dynamic, orthodox priests. The homosexuals who attended rampantly gay seminaries in the 70’s and early 80’s are a dying breed.
The problem is not the Church’s teaching. The problem is that some people choose not to implement the Church’s teaching. Though many dioceses rejected it during the post-Vatican II confusion, truth is outlasting wacky theology. Though February’s conference failed to proclaim it as clearly as many Catholics had hoped, formerly hushed issues are being brought to light.
The Church cannot redress all her errors at once. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, which decries a whole host of problems, makes that clear. Nor can she right malignant wrongs overnight. A change of heart can take many years. Sure, it would have been nice if the conference had denounced every rotten name and every foul deed. Does the fact that it didn’t mean it was a total waste? Of course not. Like revival meetings, big Vatican get-togethers serve more to remind us of our high calling than to condemn individual malpractice. They may not be leaps and bounds toward renewal, but they are certainly steps along the right path.
“Im obliged for the blog article.Much thanks again. Fantastic.”
Al, how can you believe that the bishops are not consciously involved in some global conspiracy when these homosexuals are running around having their way in parishes and dioceses?
Listen carefully. I don’t see evidence of a well-coordinated international lavender mafia. I do believe there are pockets of corruption in local areas or even in the Vatican. But exaggerating the extent of corrupt clergy leads to a different set of problems than minimizing the extent of corrupt clergy. Both cause suffering and discredit the gospel.
We know the John Jay report claims that roughly 4% of priests in America were responsible for the reported incidents of abuse. We don’t have a good percentage on the bishops involved.
I also don’t think corrupt clergy are having their way all over the Church. Remember that this is not only the Church of the crisis; it is the Church of the cleanup and the New Evangelization. For many Catholics very little has changed. They go to Mass, like their pastor, receive the sacraments, and send their kids to CCD. They aren’t consuming Catholic media following this problem.
When a body is sick, the question one asks is: “Is it terminal? Or is healing on the horizon?” As you know, I live in hope if not optimism. My hope is in Christ not circumstances. Or as some put it my happiness in the Church doesn’t depend on the happenings of the Church. Those who have committed crimes are being reported and “defrocked.” I expect the purification to continue because I believe Christ is shaking his Church.
Those who have never managed an institution find it hard to imagine why things don’t get done. Churches are very bureaucratic with all kinds of real but bad reasons why bishops might not act and things don’t get done. Oftentimes bad things happen not because of immorality or nefarious intent but because of incompetence and bad management.
I can think of a number of reasons bishops don’t act with speed and decisiveness when facing corrupt clergy.
First of all, getting rid of a few corrupt priests may not be a priority or the bishop may think that they aren’t corrupt, only flawed like the rest of his presbyterate. Bishops might imagine other things are more important. In 1 Corinthians St. Paul had to meet a dozen different problems at once. What should he have prioritized? There was at least one problem of sexual misconduct that wasn’t handled very well at all (1 Cor 5:1ff).
Second, when you interfere with people’s expectations, you must be prepared for a fight. People like their priests. Even when priests are found to have acted improperly, many parishioners don’t believe it. Some call for mercy. Some grudgingly let the priest go. Often a fight ensues after a priest is removed. Yet bishops believe avoiding conflict is a skill that got them appointed bishop. They don’t shake thing up in any obvious way and often come across as appeasers. They may be personally ambitious and want to climb the ecclesial ladder but they aren’t entrepreneurial. They are not given to swashbuckling action or radical changes. They avoid confrontation and conflict. Is this unhealthy? Yes, but it is real.
Third, there may be something in a bishop’s background for which he is ashamed. He hasn’t figured out how to avoid that disclosure. He may be holding himself or others are holding him hostage. Is he being emotionally blackmailed or even dealing with financial extortion.
Fourth, he may have misplaced compassion for those involved. He knows he must offer Christ’s salvation to all sinners, including those who sin homosexually. A person struggling with same sex attraction is still someone for whom Christ died. The bishop may think that attending heterodox Dignity rather than orthodox Courage is better than nothing. “Religious” involvement somewhere is better than nowhere. They don’t properly weigh the fact that Dignity is leading the person to hell because, perhaps, they don’t think much about hell.
I could go on. But those are four plausible, if not satisfactory, reasons for episcopal inaction. These reasons plausibly explain episcopal inaction as readily as participation in some global conspiracy of the lavender mafia. I’m convinced incompetence is as common as corruption and malice.
There is plenty of evidence of priests and bishops sympathetic to homosexual acts or even engaging in illicit sex themselves. But there is little concrete evidence of an international well-coordinated lavender mafia. I may have too high a standard for a systemic lavender “mafia.” But even Frederic Martel who interviewed 42 Cardinals on the record, over 50 bishops and monsignors, used 80 researchers over a three year period and was, himself, an expert in homosexual activism, literature and culture failed in 550 pages to uncover anything resembling a smoking gun. It is the most sophisticated bit of innuendo I’ve read.
Best way to spend my time on Saturday! I felt this is just the conference we need in order to learn how to cope and turn this terrible crisis into a moment of grace. I was very moved by the video of our young people. This video gave me hope that the future of our church is still strong, I am so happy it was included.
How did the rest of the conference goers think this crisis will affect our young people? I would love to hear from people in this regard.
My impression of the video of the kids was not as sanguine as yours, for 2 primary reasons:
1) I am not at all convinced that the average high school age Catholic student holds the same position that the featured kids did. I knew some of them personally and they are from exceptional and faithful Catholic families. But we know that the vast majority of self-identifying “Catholics” are not that intentional in their faith. I don’t know that their children are as optimistic about the Church getting through this crisis.
2) The overall impression I got from that video segment was an unduly positive one. It suggests to me that those kids – and likely many adults – don’t realize the depth and breadth of the evil that is at root in the Church. Saying that “the Church is full of sinners, but the spotless Bride of Christ will overcome” seems too blithe a response and kind of alleviates the obligation we all have to step up and do something.
I was hoping for more of a call to action from this conference. But this was a good and necessary first step. Now what?
The content of the conference–especially Dr. Smith’s keynote address and the Q&A with the panel–was too good to limit to the 200 people who were able to attend. Were they recorded, and if so, would Ave Maria Radio be willing to post those two parts?
Talks are now available! Click Here
I attended the talk today. I appreciate the time all of the presenters and panelists put into speaking and answering questions. I did submit a panel question. We ran out of time at the event, and I was hoping to present it here. My question was this: “Clergy abuse survivors are leaving the church in droves. Survivors of abuse outside the church are leaving with them due to the lack of response in their parish communities. Survivors, and how we plan to serve their needs was barely mentioned. What has each panelist done, or planned to do, to educate themselves about the following 1. Sexual abuse facts and myths 2. How to use survivor first speech and actions. 3. Power dynamics in abuse 4. The spiritual/psychological experience of survivors?”
The Catholic Laity in America is indistinguishable from the rest of the country. We contracept, cohabitate, drink to excess and place far too much value on material goods. Rates for Mass attendance are low and rates for same-sex marriage support are high. Can we trust this laity?
No, we can’t trust the laity indiscriminately. Being a layman doesn’t necessarily qualify you for anything, least of all taking responsibility for Christ’s Church. “Layman” simply means “secular man”, i.e., men of the world rather than religious orders. The layman is just your basic unqualified human being, not especially trustworthy. In John 2:23, Jesus was developing a little following, a little “congregation” when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival. As he performed signs, people marveled and many believed in his name. But John makes an observation. In spite of all these “laymen” getting excited and believing, “Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.” No, we should not trust human beings indiscriminately especially the average Catholic in name only. When Benedict XVI called for the co-responsibility of the laity, he also described what laity are qualified to take co-responsibility.
They are those who will embrace the missionary mandate of the Church “with prayers, study and active participation in ecclesial life, with an attentive and positive gaze at the world, in the constant search for the signs of the times.” The laity qualified to take co-responsibility do so “through a serious and daily commitment to formation” and they “never tire of increasingly refining the aspects of [their] specific vocation.” They must discover the gifts, the charisms given to each individual by the Holy Spirit and cultivate those gifts. “Live to the full your charism which consists in taking on the apostolic aim of the Church in its entirety, in a fruitful balance between the universal Church and the local Church and in a spirit of close union with the Successor of Peter and active co-responsibility with your own Pastors” (Benedict XVI’s Message to the International Forum of Catholic Action, published August 23, 2012. See also the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, Apostolicam Actuositatem, n. 20). So the laity qualified to exercise co-responsibility are those who pray, study, participate in the sacraments and church life, attend to culture and have a positive approach to the world. They are always looking for what God is doing in the world. They have a clear sense of their own calling and have discovered their spiritual gifts and are using them in close union with the Pope and their own Bishops and Priests to build the Church.
This is a great time to be a Catholic layperson in America. Remember, trials are opportunities for purification. Many cultural Catholics will die out as a result of the crisis. You have to realize that calling such individuals Catholics is really a misnomer, just as it would be a misnomer to call people athletes just because they play EA Sports or watch Monday Night Football. The real Christians are those who, though sinners, consciously pursue friendship with and transformation into Christ.
So no, you can’t trust the layman indiscriminately. But yes, you can trust those who lean on God and walk in the Spirit as they are learning to live the authentic tradition of Christ’s Church.
The greatness of being Catholic lies in the potential to become a saint. If you look through the history of the Church, every age has had its difficulties. St. Athanasius stood up for truth when 80% of the bishops in the world had gone over to the Arian heresy. St. Peter Damian wrote his Book of Gomorrah deploring the heinous morality of the clergy of his time—no less depressing than the worst of what we are seeing today. St. John Fisher was the only bishop in England to remain faithful to the Pope under Henry VIII—and his head was lopped off for it. Examples abound of holy men and women who stood up for the eternal Word of Christ in spite of unpopularity, disdain, or even death. Remember every saint starts as a layman. So get started being the saint you were called to be.
You keep saying this is a great time to be a Catholic in America. What’s so great about it? We were already facing a hostile culture who views our beliefs as, at best, something to be ignored. And now we find our own leaders are still hanging us out to dry. Our moral credibility has been destroyed. How are you so optimistic?
Optimistic, I’m not. Hopeful I am. Are you optimistic that you will be raised from the dead? I’m not. When I look around I see dead people. The evidence of my senses is pretty overwhelming: Dead men stay dead. But there is a pin prick of light that emerges 2,000 years ago that makes me doubt that my senses are seeing all of reality. “He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of who are still living though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also as to one abnormally born” (1 Cor 15:5-7). The Resurrection of Jesus changes what appears to be obvious. Dead may not stay so dead after all. Sometimes what seems certain is overturned with just one remarkable unexpected moment. And the one who came out of the grave, is the one who said the gates of hell won’t prevail against his church. My hope is in him, even if I’m not optimistic about the evidence of my senses.
Remember it was just twenty years ago, that two saints, John Paul II and Mother Teresa were the public faces of Catholicism. Today the public face of Catholicism is probably a dirty old man in a Roman collar or miter. If the forces of evil can shame and humiliate the bride of Christ in twenty years, imagine what changes the Spirit of the Resurrected Christ can effect in another twenty years. More lay Catholics than ever are discovering their personal callings and gifts and are using them to build up the Church. The problem of sex abuse is rooted in the past. The new priests of today are rooted in John Paul II’s visionary apostolic exhortation, “I will give you shepherds.” They are not just chaplains to a stable American Catholic constituency; they are missionaries to a lonely, confused and adulterous generation. They are on fire. Our catechetical textbooks are vastly superior in content and design than at any other time in our American history. Catholic media has grown in radio, TV, Internet, and social media. I recently noticed that when I meet a Director of Religious Education today, I can count on him or her being excited about the Catechism. That wasn’t true in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Dark times are when lights shine brightest. This is why we have the greatest opportunity for lay ministry and apostolic work in our history. The engaged laity are poised to take co-responsibility for the Church as described by Benedict XVI. The collective failure of the bishops to properly lead has created a vacuum which must be filled by mature laity. Laity can never fulfill the sacramental task of the ministerial priesthood. But laity can do apostolic work that leads to revival, renewal and reform. St. Paul urges the lay faithful to cultivate the gifts the Holy Spirit has sovereignly bestowed upon us in baptism and confirmation and do “works of service so that the body of Christs may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12, 13). This can’t be done unless we place the universal call to holiness above every other “project.” The reason our clergy have failed us in large measure is because they did pursue holiness. They lost the drive for holiness because they lost hope in a Holy God. I haven’t lost hope because I see Christ alive in his Church, in his sacraments, in his Word. Even when the circumstances around me scream disaster and corruption, Christ’s Spirit is his down payment on what I know is coming at the end of the historical process. We don’t know what’s coming from day to day. But we know who is coming at the end of days. I’m hopeful, not optimistic because my hope is in Christ, not in circumstances.
How profound your words are! I rejoice at the laity and clergy working together. It is a new spring for us all!
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