Perserverance in the Face of Imperfect Ministers


Too frequently, practicing Catholics encounter family members and friends who are dismayed by the priestly and hierarchal abuse scandals. They have lost faith in the hierarchy and priests, not knowing whom they can trust. Consequently, they have strayed from the Church and may even be trying out, so to speak, other religious communities. Fashioning a response to such understandable visceral reactions can seem elusive. Yet, any such response must make it clear that the Catholic Church cannot be defined by the sins and failures of certain priests and members of the hierarchy. Too much is at stake to let the Church’s message be sidelined by these scandals.

Christ preached that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He wants people to believe that He is the Son of God, that all creation came into existence through Him, and that He desires each of us to share in His Divine life. He wants each of us to develop an intimate relationship with Him, for, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has concisely stated “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

That encounter assists the believer to understand that Jesus has also directed him or her to live lives in accordance with the Father’s design as reflected in the operating manual for human beings known as the Ten Commandments. This is reflected in two episodes. When the rich young man approached Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus first instructed that the young man must keep the commandments (Mt 19:16–30). Even during the Sermon on the Mount, Christ called for his followers to obey the Commandments (Mt 5:17-32).

He, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity led by example. He honored His Father by keeping the Sabbath and following Jewish practice, including the required and very inconvenient trip to worship in Jerusalem at least once a year (Lk 2:41–42; Jn 2:13). Jesus suffered perhaps the most ignominious death — scourging and death on a cross — as an offering to His Father to redeem all of humanity from its sins. He even gave us a Memorial of His Sacrifice — the Mass — in which He re-presents His sacrifice in an unbloody manner turning bread into His Body and wine into His Blood. He humbly permits His body and His blood to be present in that small host and cup so that they can be consumed.

It was the specific will of Christ that His Gospel was to be spread through the Church. When Simon correctly identified Christ as the Son of God, Christ told Simon that, from now on, he would be called Petros (Rock) and on this rock Christ’s Church would be built. At the same time, He gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven instructing that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in Heaven. (Mt 16:13–19).

It is also true that, from the beginning of time, God placed the fate of the world in human beings, who using their freedom, could reject God’s design and seriously sin causing great damage to individuals and humanity. In the Old Testament God entrusted the governance of His people to fallible persons from whom he did not remove their freedom.

Moses disobeyed the Lord’s direction at Meribah and was prevented from entering the promised land. (Nm 20:6–12; Dt 32:48–52.) The great King David, from whose family the Messiah would come, out of lust for Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and having already impregnated her, had Uriah sent to the front lines of battle so that he would be killed and David could take Bathsheeba as his wife. After dramatically repenting, David continued to lead Israel (2 Sam 11:1—12:14). Solomon who was granted great wisdom eventually turned away from God to worship false gods (1 Kgs 3:10–12; 11:4–8).

This pattern continued in the New Testament. Indeed, one of Christ’s intimate friends, one of the original 12 apostles, Judas, was both a thief and the traitor who betrayed Jesus.  St. Peter denied Christ three times as Jesus was headed to His crucifixion. Yet. St. Peter, like David and unlike Judas, immediately repented and became the Head of the Apostles, the first pope, and strengthened his brethren as Christ had directed him to do at the Last Supper.

Jesus did not guarantee that the leaders of His Church would be perfect, that their human judgments would always be correct, and that there would never be corruption or sin. The only infallibility He guaranteed was in proclaiming dogmatic and moral truths, not that the proclaimers would always personally adhere to these truths. He knew that He was leaving His Church in the hands of imperfect individuals who always possessed the freedom to stray from the gospel mandate.

Christ guaranteed that He would be with the Church forever so that the Church would always be present to transmit His message and grace through scripture and the sacraments, and that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church as to the truth of that message. Indeed, whenever the Church has needed reform, Christ, through the Holy Spirit, has raised up saints to set the Church back on the right track.

The Church has done far more good than the bad committed by individual sinners within the Church. Peter, the other 11 Apostles, with Matthias as Judas’ replacement, St. Paul, and their associates spread the Gospel to the known world, suffering martyrdom (with the exception of St. John) in the process. Their task was carried on by their successors — the popes and bishops — with the assistance of many faithful priests and lay faithful, male and female, over the last 2000 years. The Church has thereby saved many souls leading them to share in God’s life.

If one considers all of the dioceses and Catholic organizations around the world as one, the Church became and continues to be the largest charitable organization in the world, caring for the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the hungry. Prior to the Reformation, Europe had been formed around the unity of the Catholic Faith. The Catholic Church was also the bulwark against Communism in Eastern Europe. In particular, the faith of the Polish people sustained them during Nazi rule followed immediately by Soviet repression. Their faith and belief in the dignity of the human person, given voice by St. John Paul II, who had been shot at the direction of the Soviet Union, led to the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet empire.

The Church has been at the forefront in confronting the legalization of abortion throughout the world. The Vatican fights, through its participation in the United Nations, to stop the ideological colonization of third-world countries, to whom financial aid is often tied to implementation of social policies inimical to their cultural heritage.

Whenever ideological movements seek to dominate a nation or a society, they always seek to destroy any trace of religion and particularly the Catholic Church which has always stood as the predominant icon of religion. Instead, such movements want their ideology to replace true religion. That is why the Catholic Church will always be the subject of attack, while most other religions and institutions are given a pass.

Unfortunately with the abuse scandal, some priests and prominent members of the Catholic Church have provided the ammunition for such attacks and greatly diminished its credibility at a time when the Catholic Church’s lived preaching and leadership is most needed. The progressivist forces in America are trying to impose their ideological agenda on our nation’s people. To the extent that they can diminish the salutary impact of religion, and particularly that of the Catholic Church, on American society, the easier it will be for the Progressive agenda to be imposed. If the Catholic Church had not generally been a force for good, then it would not be the subject of such attacks in instances both when the attacks are, and are not, deserved.

However, there is no religion in which all of its leaders are perfect. Wherever money is needed for charity, construction and maintenance of buildings, or to pay staff, there is the potential for greed and corruption. Additionally, as long as men are alive, the temptation to lust of all kinds will exist. Accordingly, as long as imperfect human beings inhabit the Church, evil can be perpetrated by any of them.

To abandon the Church now is to play into the hands of those so-called Progressivist forces which this writer suspects are inspired by the Devil. Christ expects us, not to walk away amid great scandals, but to contribute to the reform of the Church by remaining faithful. He wants us to grow in holiness through regular prayer and reception of His sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and through adherence to His commandments, including keeping holy His Sabbath when He asks that we weekly unite as a Church to place Him above all our priorities and offer gratitude for all of His gifts. He seeks to have us join any suffering and voluntary mortifications to His sacrifice for our individual benefit, for the straying brethren, others who need our prayers and offerings, and for our nation.

The Progressivist agenda cannot be resisted and defeated except by a holy people. Our nation needs a restored Catholic Church to again inspire the spiritual regeneration of its adherents and those of other religions or no religion to defeat this agenda. This defeat will not come about primarily through political confrontation, but rather by attracting others to Christ so that they will be inspired to live lives governed by Christian virtues and values and not by those of a secularized world. Each of us by truly loving the Lord has a unique role to play in that restoration. We can either avoid this responsibility or willingly accept that role. We can also expect to be judged by the choice we make.

 

The author gratefully acknowledges the thought of his former professor, Gerhart Niemeyer, on the ideological eschaton replacing Christianity as reflected in three essays contained in “The Loss and Recovery of Truth,” at pages 66, 80, and 132 (St. Augustine’s Press, 2013).

Richard P. Maggi, Esq. About Richard P. Maggi, Esq.

Richard P. Maggi, Esq., has been a litigation attorney for the past 40 years. He is also a commentator on religion and politics having been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, First Things (web edition), Crisis Magazine, the Washington Examiner, Human Life Review, and Notre Dame Magazine. He recently retired from the board of the Legal Center for the Defense of Life, is a Past Grand Knight of Summit Council 783, and an active member of Our Lady of Peace Parish in New Providence, New Jersey.

Comments

  1. Interesing , Mr. Maggi. Thank you. I wrote a similar blog last year after an incident that forced my family to move parishes. Loved the Gospel references you used.

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