As I sit here before the computer, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me in my search for God, a striking thought keeps infiltrating my consciousness. Earlier in the week, I had read an article in the “Tabloid” press about how the Vatican had defrocked Cardinal McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington D.C. for his repeated sexual abuse of young boys. Usually, I would have glanced at the article, expressed great sorrow that someone dedicated to Christ had abandoned his calling in the most horrific way, prayed for the victims of the atrocities that they might find peace in their lives, then moved on. The author of this particular article, quite properly, described that Cardinal McCarrick was now Mr. McCarrick. What stood out for me was his description that he was punished by being made a layman, without authorization to celebrate Eucharist. What made me a bit angry was the word, punished by being made a layman, as if that was the most horrific thing that could happen to a Roman Catholic for the most horrific betrayal of his vow of celibacy. What follows is a listing of my thoughts about the whole controversy. These thoughts may be random and might not all be linked together well.
There are two states in the Catholic Church. One is a cleric, anyone incardinated into a diocese under a Bishop; and another is a layperson, anyone who practices the Faith in a particular diocese. Both are equally focused on Christ as their center. A variation on that is the consecrated religious vocation and various lay institutions or associations recognized by the Vatican.
The Paraclete Fathers have, as their sole ministry, to help priests recover from mental health issues. Have they been criticized both fairly and unfairly for not doing enough to keep predatory priests from the flock, much like a shepherd who guards his sheep with these priests being the wolves in sheep’s clothing? Some truth to that, but like all fodder for those who want to find fault, there is always plenty to fuel the lust for vengeance, hatred, bias, and conspiracy. Always!
My discomfort, in addition to being humiliated by priests and religious who have not kept their vows, has to do with the statement in the press that Mr. McCarrick is punished by being made a Layman and “reduced to the Lay State”. When is being a Layperson a punishment? When anyone stands before our Father to give an account of our stewardship, the only thing we will be judged on is how well we loved. Matthew 25:36 gives us an accounting of what we will face. All of us are sinners, even the lawyers that trumpet the corruption of the Church, to further their own gain rather than justice for victims. It is not pretty! In fact, I find it downright terrifying.
In the wake of the revelations of multiple priests being found guilty of sexual crimes against a minor, I offer some thoughts about what are the actual principles which we should strive to keep in mind. I go back to the core principles and values that the compendium of our Faith used in times of crisis, both external and internal.
DON’T JUDGE OTHERS- Christ is the just judge before whom we must give an accounting of our stewardship. No one gets away with anything. It is important to remember that all sins, even those such as sexual abuse, may be forgiven. That does not mean this sin is okay. Each sin has to be atoned or have reparation. That is the meaning of Christ dying on the cross. It is also why each of us must be a penitent man or woman in the face of our sins against both God and each other. Christ has mercy on all of us; we must forgive others as we want God to forgive us.
THE GATES OF HELL WILL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST THE CHURCH –– Because the Holy Spirit is with each of us in each age, what do we think we have joined by being a member of the Body of Christ? It is like the Elks, the Moose Club, a Country Club (if you can pay the fee, you can get it)? This is spiritual warfare between the forces of evil and the forces of light. It always has been that way. It always will be. In the context of Original Sin, the Church Universal (made up of individuals, all on the same level of being sinners) will prevail, but our personal and individual approach may fail. For every Mr. McCarrick, there are examples of exceptional heroism, some even giving their lives for Christ. I would not give my life up for the Church (like the Moose or Elks Club), but I would give it up for Christ as head of the Church Universal. How weak is your Faith in Christ if you are buffeted by the winds of change and misfortune, both internal and external. On what have you based your Faith. Are you a reed shaken by the wind, to bend and perhaps break when times are difficult. They have always been difficult. Thanks be to God that Christ has given us the gifts and His Own energy to help us. Without the energy of God, we fall back on our own devices and the gates of Hell will have prevailed over us as individuals. As the Body of Christ, together, we prevail against the gates of Hell. It is not easy. Just because your road is rocky and you may be a victim, don’t let that keep you from your destiny. All of us are victims of sin, all of us are victims of the failings of someone else. Unless we rise above that, we remain just victims, angry at someone else, and unable to forgive even ourselves.
THE CHURCH MUST BE PENITENTIAL —Here is a great source of knowledge and prayer that re-centers us on what is important, loving others as Christ loves us. I quote the reference in its entirety so that you may experience both its power and significance.
It is important to remember that this is not an academic exercise for other people but meant for each one of us to embrace as part of the humility it takes to take up our cross daily and follow in the steps of The Master. Use the following site as part of your Lenten devotion of penance and mercy.
During times when we wish to express repentance and especially during Lent, it is customary to pray the seven penitential psalms. The penitential designation of these psalms dates from the seventh century. Prayerfully reciting these psalms will help us to recognize our sinfulness, express our sorrow and ask for God’s forgiveness.
Within the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we encounter four poetic sections known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant. The specific identity of this Servant of the Lord remains the topic of scholarly debate. Perhaps it refers to the prophet Isaiah himself, perhaps the entire nation of Israel, or possibly the promised Messiah. Christian faith sees these prophetic utterances fulfilled in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Lord.
Because of the Christian identification of the Suffering Servant with Jesus, the four Servant Songs become a way of encountering the Lord during this Lenten Season. Not only do they give us a sense of the commitment and endurance that characterized his messianic ministry, but they become a way of touching the bruised face of the Messiah, of hearing the resolute determination that sustained him in the midst of trial, and of rejoicing with him in God’s ultimate vindication of his calling and service.