My friend told me the conversation went something like this: “So I know you are a Catholic and go to Church, but how can you continue to do that with all that is going on in the Catholic Church?”
It is not the first time folks have spoken with me about trying to answer similar questions. Many Catholics feel they have to defend the practice of their faith in these turbulent times. Point is, the abuse of children by anyone and certainly by clergy is so utterly disgusting, who would not want to turn away from anything connected to that. In addition, when the abuse is compounded by cover-up and dishonesty on the part of religious authorities, it is even more outrageous. So walking away seems like an obvious, understandable human response.
The Church is a human institution with all of the reality that includes. Sinners and saints both find a home in the Church. In fact, it is one of the most purposely inclusive institutions I can think of. The welcome sign on the front of our Church is not atypical of other faith communities. So the people who form the Church, clerical, vowed religious, and lay men and women are a slice of humankind. And even with all that includes, this people seek to find and build a community around their shared faith.
It is precisely that faith that brings us in the door in the first place: a belief in God – a Creator, a Redeemer and a Sanctifier; a belief in the infinite mercy and love of God, the omnipotence and kindness, the faithfulness, goodness, and understanding of God; a belief in Jesus Christ, the God/Man born of Mary in Bethlehem who came to manifest the love and truth about God and make real and possible the immortal destiny of us all.
My faith in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit is not conditional upon the sinful nature of some priests and bishops. For 2000 years, this Church has held onto and offered the truth of this faith to countless billions of persons. This gift of faith is now, has been, and will always be a source of consolation, guidance, and joy to all who receive and practice the faith even in the midst of its sinfulness.
I do not have a simple answer as to the why of the present crisis. I do know that in the Catholic Church, the responses that are being hammered out are calling for vigorous transparency, close alliances with law enforcement officials, better screening and educational models for seminaries, and highlevel involvement of lay men and women with oversight authority in key areas.
The Catholic Church is universal, and seeking a plan that cuts across all cultures and peoples will not be simple, although from our point of view in North America, it may seem like it
ought to be. Nevertheless, because of all that has been done in our country, I am confident that in every institution, including the Church, children are safer than ever before.
For anyone facing the question about why practice your faith in the Catholic Church in these times, perhaps your response is not to seek to defend the Church, for the mistakes that have
been made are indefensible and those who are suffering as a result of them are legion. Rather, validate their struggle, lend them a listening and compassionate ear and heart, and let them truthfully know that what is going on is difficult for you as well.
Then give witness to the importance of your belief in God, your relationship with Christ, the significance of the centrality of the Eucharist in your life, and the rightness of living this faith in a community of believers. And most assuredly, make it clear, that you stand in solidarity with the victims who have been abused and their families and friends.