Many Catholics are a bit unsure about their Church these days. The sex abuse scandal within the Church – which has dominated headlines for the past decade – has left them speechless. There is no defending child abuse. And facing the reality that such abuse is happening within the only remaining bastion of orthodox Christianity is tough. So what do we say? Why do we remain Catholic?
Putting it in perspective
We don’t need to make excuses. And there is no justifying evil by pointing to other evil. However, we need to start with a fair and accurate view of reality.
The truth is that sex abuse (particularly of children) is not just a Catholic problem – it’s a human problem. This is not something unique to the Catholic Church. It is happening in every religion. Every organization. Every school system. In fact, many studies indicate that pedophilia (and other sex abuse) happens even more often in other religions and denominations than in the Catholic Church. And it happens more still within the public school system. And that includes the cover-ups as well. In other words, if you think it’s a problem in the Catholic Church, then just remember it is even worse in most every other denomination, organization and within the school system.
Overall, a Catholic priest is half as likely to have sexual contact with a minor than the average adult male. So if anything, the Catholic Church and its priesthood is having a very positive effect on the situation. But, of course, even one act of abuse is still one too many.
Please read this document here for a more in depth analysis of these statistics (w/ sources). It’s very eye-opening and will give you a much more accurate picture of the situation than the media has tried to paint.
The point here is not to marginalize the gravity of these abuses or to in any way justify the failings within the Catholic Church. But a reality check is healthy before solving problems (and before casting stones). And it debunks claims that the problem is caused directly by anything uniquely Catholic, such as priestly celibacy or a male-only priesthood. There are, however, many apparent reasons as to why this did happen the way it has in the Church. But I will leave that for another discussion.
The shadows and the Light
“I remain within, and love, the Catholic Church because it is a church that has lived and wrestled within the mystery of the shadow lands ever since an innocent man was arrested, sentenced and crucified, while the keeper of “the keys” denied him, and his first priests ran away. Through 2,000 imperfect — sometimes glorious, sometimes heinous — years, the church has contemplated and manifested the truth that dark and light, innocence and guilt, justice and injustice all share a kinship, one that waves back and forth like wind-stirred wheat in a field, churning toward something — as yet — unknowable.
The darkness within my church is real, and it has too often gone unaddressed. The light within my church is also real, and has too often gone unappreciated. A small minority has sinned, gravely, against too many. Another minority has assisted or saved the lives of millions.” – Elizabeth Scalia (The Anchoress)
That’s from a recent article by Elizabeth Scalia on this same topic. Please go read the whole thing here. It’s beautiful.
Jesus’ Church is made up of imperfect humans. For some seemingly crazy reason He set it up that way. If the Media were around on the original Good Friday, the headline would have read “Jesus’ Apostles Abandon Him in Hour of Need; Deny Him Repeatedly.” It was a huge scandal. But it wasn’t the end of the story. Throughout history the Church has been tested and scandalized over and over, both from the outside and inside. Yet, it is still here. And guess what? There will be more scandal in the future. And we will grapple with it, through thick and thin, back and forth, as we continue on this mysterious journey toward “something – as yet – unknowable.” The only step forward through this whole mess is a step deeper into what it means to be the Church – not a step out of it.
You can look for a church with perfect leaders if you’d like. But you can be sure that, if you ever do find it, it will not be Jesus’ Church. For He chose to build a Church upon the faith of sinners. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mat 16:18).
So you can also disregard anyone who speculates this to be the end of the Catholic Church. How short is their memory.
But why doesn’t the Church do something about the problem?
Actually, they’ve done a lot. Here’s a chart:
(From the John Jay Study – another excellent resource and itself a result of the Church effort to help the problem)
It’s a drastic improvement, to say the least. And the Church is not satisfied with that. We are still working hard to do better. The Church has implemented an unbelievable amount of programs, checks, safeguards and policies to continue improving the situation. So you can also disregard accusations that the Church continues to do nothing while covering up the problem. At this point it has probably done more than any large institution in the world to help prevent further abuse. And it should. But there is still more work to be done.
What about the Bishops or other leaders who have covered up stuff in the past?
It seems that, to some extent, this did occur. That is inexcusable and infuriates every Catholic – especially the priests – that I know. Just as there are bad priests, there are also bad bishops. And it will take continued pressure from us to make sure they are held accountable. The Pope has already done a lot to address this.
But don’t be too quick to condemn (we tend to do that when we get infuriated). Sometimes when the Church doesn’t deal with something in the manner we expect, we assume it isn’t being dealt with. But the Church is not a country and the Pope a president. The Church is not a corporation and the pope a CEO. It is a unique organization, different than any other institution in the history of the world. It operates differently. Often due to greater wisdom. Sometimes due to corruption or ineptness at some level.
Usually we don’t have the full story (something you won’t find in a news report). So it’s important to get the story straight. But then it is part of our duty to help reform from within where things need it. Oh, and in the case of any recent allegations regarding Pope Benedict XVI, I recommend reading this, this and this from Jimmy Akin.
Bringing good from the bad
The enemies of the Church here are primarily the abusing-priests and the bad bishops. That is clear. But the main-stream-media is certainly an enemy here as well. Most in the media are far more interested in ideology and profiting from scandal than keeping children safe, to be sure. There are few heroes there. You can be sure that many of the things you’ve heard in the media and repeated to you by critics is not entirely, if at all, true.
But some good has come from their malice. It was a needed wake-up call to Church leadership – no doubt about it. As Catholics, we have to take our lumps and move forward. It’s humbling. It hurts. That’s what sanctification feels like. That’s life.
What about the victims?
There are three great groups of victims in this story. The first and most obvious, the children who were abused, who trusted, were preyed upon and bear the burden through life. The second group is the good priests and good nuns, the great leaders of the church in the day to day, who save the poor, teach the immigrant, and, literally, save lives. They have been stigmatized when they deserve to be lionized. And the third group is the Catholics in the pews—the heroic Catholics of America and now Europe, the hardy souls who in spite of what has been done to their church are still there, still making parish life possible, who hold high the flag, their faith unshaken. No one thanks those Catholics, sees their heroism, respects their patience and fidelity. – Peggy Noonan
The abused children are, of course, by far the most victimized. No amount of money or words will heal those wounds. By our actions we must show compassion and fight for justice wherever possible. And most of all, we must pray for them.
So why am I still Catholic?
I’m going to steal one from Chesterton to answer that:
“The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” – G. K. Chesterton
That may be hard to accept sometimes. And it will certainly not be enough for many critics. Indeed, nothing will be enough for some of them. They are angry. They have been hurt. Some of them may have been abuse victims themselves.
Keep the faith. Share with them your hope – share the truth. And then love them.