In the combox on an earlier post, commentary table member and Lutheran blogger, Pastor Mark Henderson, made this comment:
There you go, David – you don’t mention it.
The pope’s resignation is not the crisis, my friend – it’s symptomatic of the crisis.
The crisis is __________ . Fill in the blank, David.
Out of the mouths of babes – today my wife and eldest son and I drove past St Patrick’s Cathedral here in Toowoomba. I remarked “There is no Pope. Sede vacante -the see is empty.” My son, typical teenager, said, “Oh yeah, why did he resign?” My wife, a former Catholic from abroad whose leaving of the church some 20 years ago was directly related to loss of confidence (the plausibility problem) in the priesthood because of personal experience of the sexual abuse scandals, remarked, “He resigned because he discovered all the evil in the church and it broke his heart.”
I wrote out the following reply and decided to make it a blog post in its own right, rather than getting lost somewhere down the commentary list. Here it is:
What, you wanted me to say “sex abuse”? Happy now? No. I don’t talk about it very often. Because my reaction to it is just what your wife thinks Benedict’s was: it breaks my heart.
And yes, I am sure that it did break Benedict’s heart too. I am sure he knew a lot more about the evil in the Church than you, or I, or your wife or anyone could possibly know.
But to say that this is the reason he resigned? I don’t think so. He has had to deal with that particular evil his whole papacy. I am sure it wore him down, but… some other needle must have broken this particular camel’s back.
If “the crisis” to which you refer, Pastor Mark, is “evil in the Catholic Church”, well, then that truly is a crisis that has been with us since the beginning. It is the very same crisis that I find every time I look into my own heart and see what is there – more than you, or anyone else other than God, could know.
But perhaps one of the greatest evils that has come as a result of this particular evil is the fact that it has become the only evil we can see. It is like the person who goes to confession again and again and confesses the same sins each time. This particular sin becomes the only thing he can think about, the only thing he thinks he needs to repent of – and he does not realise the other more subtle evils affecting his life.
Yes, evil exists in the Church. This is not something to be accepted (“well, it has always been so, so why try to change it?”) but it is certainly not something we should be surprised at. I would have it that the whole world could look at the Church and see nothing but holiness and love – what an evangelising moment THAT would be! Instead the body of Christ is shamed and spat upon because of the betrayal of her members.
But should anyone stand like the pharisee in the temple and say to himself “God, I thank thee that my church is not like that one over there in the corner etc” – well… Pastor, if you and your wife and family have found a Christian community in which there is no evil, no crisis, I wish you luck.
I didn’t choose to become a Catholic because Catholics were more holy than other Christians. I wish it were so, but on balance I know that probably they are not. I chose to become a Catholic because I was convinced that the Catholic Church is the visible society upon earth in which the Church of Jesus Christ fully subsists. That is something quite different.
All that having been said, I do remain convinced that if one is seeking to become holy, then the Catholic Church is the place where the means of attaining holiness are most fully to be found. For all the dreadful, horrific evils committed by members and priests and leaders of the Catholic Church over all the centuries, yet I can name you so many more whose life here on earth, by the grace of Jesus Christ working within them, enabled them to reach that perfection of holiness in this life that there was no sin at all left in them from which they needed no be purified after their death.
Does that sound horrific to you? Does that scandalise you? It should not. Because I used the words “by the grace of Jesus Christ”. One thing you must say about us Catholics: we believe in the power of God’s grace – perhaps more than the most ardent protestant – because we believe that God’s Grace in Jesus Christ really CAN change lives and make sinners into saints.
That is – now and always and world without end – the answer to the crisis of which you speak: the crisis of evil in the Church.