The Church went through a lot in 2018. But the healthiest way to face any challenge is to establish intentional goals that allow us to do what needs to be done. So I respectfully offer the following resolutions for the Church in 2019.
1. Embrace real mercy
Despite having heard so much about mercy in recent years, most Catholics seem hard-pressed to define the term. Especially with regard to abusive clerics, it doesn’t mean, “Let’s give the poor schlub another chance.” That is not mercy. It is codependency.
As my wife and I discuss in “The Corporal Works of Mommy (and Daddy Too)” (Our Sunday Visitor, $7.95), practicing mercy means treating another person in a manner that reminds them of their worth in God’s eyes. When someone who is genuinely working hard to live a faithful life experiences a moral failing, it makes sense to “forgive willingly“ and “bear wrongs patiently” (two of the spiritual works of mercy). Such people are probably rushing to correct their mistakes, and their sincere efforts to reform their lives aren’t helped by everyone piling on them.
But when someone has forgotten that they are a son or daughter of God and instead is literally hellbent on consistently hurting themselves and others, it is more merciful to admonish the sinner (another spiritual work of mercy) and hold them accountable. The point isn’t to rub people’s sins in their faces, but to remind them that they are worth so much more than their behavior suggests and to point them toward true healing.
To effectively deal with the mess the Church is facing, our leaders — from the Holy Father down — need to embrace the side of mercy that recognizes that being made to experience legitimate consequences for one’s harmful actions is redemptive. Moreover, they need to see that facilitating this process is essential to their mission to teach, govern and sanctify.
2. Centrality of sexuality
The Catechism states, “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul.”
The way we express our sexuality isn’t just something we do. Well-formed persons see other people as human beings — not mere objects to be used.
Unfortunately, many tend to view serious sexual sin not as reflections of a person’s character, but as a tendency to occasionally overindulge. This is nonsense. In 2019, we should stop thinking of sexual sin in general — and violations of the vow of celibacy in particular — in the same light as eating too many Christmas cookies. Inappropriate expressions of our sexuality hurts people in ways that can’t be taken back by a few days of eating salad. The Church’s teachings on sexual morality isn’t “just about sex.” It’s a recognition that how we express ourselves sexually is a window into the overall health of our personhood.
A pastor who is incapable of maintaining his vows of celibacy is a person who is simply unfit for ministry. This doesn’t mean he can’t be forgiven and shouldn’t be helped to find other ways he can use his gifts. But it does mean that he shouldn’t be a priest. The answer isn’t lowering the bar for ordination. It is improving the ability of Catholic families and seminaries to form godlier, healthier, better-integrated persons.
3. Theology of the body
The Church ignores the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II’s theology of the body at its peril. One of its primary themes is that the opposite of love is not hate, but use. When we love someone, we build them up. They become more human. But when we use someone, we tear them down. We treat them like a thing. In this crisis, men who were ordained to bear radical witness to God’s love regarded the people they served as objects that could be used however they wished. The Church needs to get serious about proclaiming that all Christians must choose love over use in every interaction and identify what that means in practice.
I’m sure there are many other things that the Church will need to consider as it responds to this crisis. But I hope the Church keeps these issues in mind. Anything less will be the equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
The Barque of Peter deserves better.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books, including “The Corporal Works of Mommy (and Daddy Too).” Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com