The amazing visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the U.S. in April 2008 served as a kind of bookend to the protracted saga of the sexual scandals in the U.S. Catholic Church. There will still be accusations, there will still be priests and bishops who fail, but the bulk of the denial in responding properly to the victims is behind us.
As much as it is possible to respond to the failings of grown men who have failed in the duties that were assigned to them, and that severely contradict Church teaching, this has largely been done. The victims will often not be able to move on, and their pain will always serve as a reminder just as it does in the cases of sexual abuse that occur in some schools, sports teams and among the members of other religions.
The question is what happens now? Clearly it will not be business as usual. The fact that some young people entrusted to the Church have been abused, the fact that the Church has lost serious moral authority at a time just when it desperately needs to confront the culture, the fact that some of the clergy have lost confidence in the bishops' leadership, these all mean that the ecclesial culture has been sorely tested.
Then, finally, the Church has expended billions of dollars and thousands of man hours to respond in some Christian fashion to events that are so very difficult to respond to. So the dimension of the ''time and treasure'' of the Church looks very different as well.
The core of the Church is unchanged. Jesus Christ is still fully present and active, whatever some people's perceptions of the Church might be. The mission of the Church has not changed. Perhaps being thrown back onto its spiritual resources, becoming in some small sense like the anawim of old, will remind those who need reminding that clergy and laity still live from the Providence of God and not by their own machinations.
There is definitely no longer the social cachet to being a cleric that there once was. Perhaps the social stigma in the aftermath of the scandals will winnow the candidates for the clergy. So many clergy do just serve God but there are careerists too. Perhaps knowing the scandalous behavior of some of their fellow clergy will help temper ambition since it is painfully apparent just how grueling the life of a bishop can become in a diocese with scandals.
Some bishops and clergy have been on the receiving end of the force of the judiciary, a circumstance somewhat like Luther's turn to the power of the princes when the peasants rose in revolt. Although, in our case it was because various parts of the Church did not follow long established moral principles. The Church experienced the punitive pressure of the state at a time when it was only supposed to happen to the Church behind the Iron Curtain or under South American dictatorships.
Putting the Genie Back
One has to say that the pressure of the state was needed to shake the Church out of its complacency. However, putting the genie back in the bottle will be impossible. We will have to face the fact that the Church will be confronted more and more by the state now on many different issues, and Catholics will be back in court again.
The theologian Henri de Lubac, S.J., wrote a perennially relevant chapter entitled ''Our Temptations Concerning the Church'' in his famous book The Splendor of the Church (Ignatius Press, 1999). He noted that for some ''it does not occur to them that if they are to be truly faithful servants they may have to mortify much in themselves'' (Page 279). De Lubac knew that the situation of the Church is not merely out there somewhere but that it reaches into the very soul of every single member.
This is a spiritual truth that was frequently lost sight of in the period of the great scandals. The secular attitude of: ''Thank God it does not involve me!'' prevailed more often than not. But in fact the Church is a spiritual communion, so it is very much a spiritual unity.
The Second Vatican Council explained that: ''On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, tracing in trial and in oppression the paths He trod, we are made one with His sufferings like the body is one with the Head, suffering with Him, that with Him we may be glorified'' (Lumen Gentium, No. 7).
We are part of the one Body, with the victims and the perpetrators alike. So de Lubac's choice of the word mortify was not accidental. The word means taking on the attitude of Jesus Christ, who indeed was mortified, that he suffered not, of course, for His own sins but for ours. So what de Lubac is saying is that we have to return to being like Christ rather than turning the Church into some kind of thing that follows the dynamics of the world with its emphasis on every man for himself, on power and on revenge. Penitence has a definite place here.
Restoring Spiritual Unity
The spiritual unity that the Council described operates so that ''if one member endures anything, all the members co-endure it'' needs to be recovered (Lumen Gentium, No. 8). So there is still much penance to be done before the scandals genuinely pass into memory. If not, the deep spiritual ills that the scandals brought to light will remain unaddressed and unhealed. They have been addressed juridically and sometimes pastorally, but has everyone made their full measure of response? Once the court cases are over, has everything been done? Perhaps, from a secular point of view, but what about within the Body of Christ?
Adding courses in seminary programs and vetting clergy are all technical responses and are good in their way, but what about the spiritual response? From a positive point of view any action that a parish or a diocese can do to encourage penance and mortification will have a multitude of spiritual effects including a growth in a real sense of Catholic solidarity.
The word communion, referring to what we belong to when we belong to the Church, rests on the meaning of the word munus which is the Latin for ''gift.'' This community has been gifted by God with His Spirit. As St. Paul told the Corinthians: ''by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit'' (1 Cor 12:13).
It is because of God's work to make the communion happen that the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar could write:
Those who are in ''communion,'' therefore, do not enter into such a social relationship solely on their own initiative, each of his own private accord, determining its scope by the stipulations they make when they establish it. They are already in it from the start, already mutually dependent a priori, as a matter of course, not only to live together and contrive to get on with one another in the same domain, but also to carry out a common activity (Communio -- A Program).
By the presence of the Holy Spirit everyone in the Church is joined together in a spiritual solidarity. So here is another possibility for a renaissance. The Church in the United States can rediscover its existence as a single spiritual communion -- one communion not several independent ones -- in concrete terms. Catholic solidarity is not just a pious idea. It is not something that is invoked only at certain times. It applies in good times (Christmas or Easter) and in bad (when Catholic priests are being put on trial and victims are being treated).
This is a solidarity of mind and heart -- this would perhaps be news to many Catholics in the U.S. given their majority rejection of many of the basic teachings of the Church. Boy, would a uniform full-hearted acceptance of the teaching of the Church be a glorious renaissance for the U.S., but also for the world since so much theological flummery is exported by the U.S. to nations who misguidedly sometimes look to the United States for teaching and texts!
The Council did teach that ''the bishops speak in the name of Christ, and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent'' (Lumen Gentium, No. 7). This teaching goes back to Christ himself! Such a solidarity of mind and heart would cause a renaissance of the mind. More people would hold to the truth, and when people have the truth they can do more good.
My point about Church solidarity is not a trivial one; it actually goes to the very meaning of Catholicism itself. The word Catholic means universal, and Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., once reminded us that ''the catholicity of the Church is its capacity to unite and reconcile all human beings in Christ, who is confessed as the way to the fullness of truth and life.'' So where there is Catholicism there is an actual united community, and there is also an actual message of universal reconciliation in Christ.
Our Catholic Identity
When this reality does not exist, we are putting into practice a more divisive protestant message. In the words of Hans Urs von Balthasar again: ''The consciousness of being 'catholic,' that is, universal, was a continual stimulus to . . . progressively . . . overcome the contradiction between 'catholicity' and particular denomination ('Roman' or otherwise)'' (Communio -- A Program). So hunkering down and letting the events in a neighboring parish or diocese or one on the other side of the country simply pass us by was not a great way to demonstrate our Catholic identity.
Let us keep in mind the words of Dominus Iesus issued by the Congre- gation of the Doctrine of the Faith, under the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who said that ''in connection with the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus Christ, the unicity of the Church founded by him must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith. Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: 'a single Catholic and apostolic Church' (Lumen Gentium, No. 8)'' (Dominus Iesus, No. 16).
The events of the scandals could and should lead us to a recovery and deepening of our Catholic identity. In this case it involves the actual learning again of what it means to be Catholic. What a renaissance would result from deepening the identity of our community! It would profoundly witness to the presence of the one Christ in the world. TP
FATHER BRAMWELL, O.M.I., is dean of Undergraduate Affairs for Catholic Distance University.