SOME THOUGHTS ON THE SCANDALS: BEARING THE "BURDEN OF THE CHURCH" AND THE MYSTERIUM INIQUITATIS
Sorrowful days these are for believing Catholics who love their Church and who know, by the experience of their own continuing conversion to Christ, that She is indeed the “Ark of Salvation”. For scandal and shame have disfigured her face.
In the face of the public exposure of the dark underside of the institutional Church, a storyline is taking shape in the popular mind which creates its own vast expanse of falsehood: that the Catholic Church is a uniquely evil institution, that a degree of depravity exists (and is enabled) there as nowhere else, and that from now on it ought to be treated with the same unrelenting severity as an organized crime syndicate.
No matter that the kinds of criminal behavior come to light among Catholic churchmen are endemic to society and have also been proven to be occurring in many other organizations, from other religious bodies, to schools, to youth sports, to scouting. Other organizations too have resorted to squalid ethics in order to “keep it quiet”. These other cases are well-documented and publicized, although not to the degree and in the way that the Catholic Church’s scandals are being publicized—or should we say, hyperpublicized. Now, as it was during the scandalreporting of 2002, the mass media is creating a climate of moral panic directed against the institutional Catholic Church and her priests. Our bishops, it would seem, have chosen not to put up any counter-point to this, but it is increasingly clear that they are divided among themselves. This is another source of sorrow for believing Catholics: to see our chief shepherds collectively “losing their nerve” and, in some cases, making themselves a party to factions. Neither truth nor charity is well-served by the public spectacle of ecclesiastical score-settling among high churchmen.
Some Catholics believe that this convergence of events will lead to a purification of the Church, as chemotherapy can act on a malignant tumor. I’m afraid I cannot agree at all with that expectation. In human affairs purges, reprisals, “cleansings” and the like never lead to a purer state of things. Rather, they inflame passions of hatred, engulf the innocent as well as the guilty, create new sources of bitterness, serve up scapegoats, and generally leave people exhausted and more closed in upon themselves once the fury has played itself out. And then life just picks up and goes on. Such is the human condition.
What changes things is when people really become converted to Christ and strive to live the ideals of the Gospel in fellowship with other Christians. For Catholics, we recognize that you cannot separate faith in Jesus Christ from faith in the Church which He founded. No amount of scandal, no amount of human failure can nullify Christ’s promise to His Church.
Our duty as Catholics at this time is, first and foremost, to believe and to pray and to learn what it is to bear the “Burden of the Church” in its human element. We are given to understand that in God’s dispensation there is both a “Mystery of Grace” and a “Mystery of Iniquity”— evil, a “Mysterium Iniquitatis”. It is a mystery to us why the devil has so much power in the world, by God’s permission. We cannot precisely measure just how much personal human sin gives what degree of dominance to the evil spirits warring against us. In the midst of these days of scandal, disorder, and recrimination, however, we can only believe that that power human sin gives the devil and his angels must still be very great indeed. “St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in the battle!”