I’ve been struck in the past week or so at how many committed, active lay Catholics I know who have been deeply troubled — “scandalized” in the true sense of the word — by the abrupt resignation this month of a Los Angeles auxiliary bishop with a national profile. It turned out the 60-year-old is the father of “two minor teenage children,” who live out of state with their mother, and who apparently were conceived after he was ordained a bishop in March 1994.
“How can we be expected to keep defending the Church when this kind of stuff keeps happening?” “How can we credibly tell Church critics that Church leadership gets it on abuse when at least some members of the hierarchy clearly don’t care much about the rules?” “After all that has happened, how could a bishop possibly think he could get away with living a double life? And how many more bishops and priests are still out there like him?”
The people asking these questions are no theological or religious slouches, regularly darken the church door more than once a week, and know that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church through history despite the sinfulness and weakness of its members and yes, even of its leaders.
I know the pain. I very nearly lost my faith while working in Rome as a correspondent covering the Vatican when the scandal exploded a decade ago this month. After about a year of being mired in the filth — interviewing victims about their awful experiences, both at the hands of abusers and higher-ups; immersing myself in the details of how narcissistic priests abused the trust of innocents, sometimes serially; encountering hierarchs who appeared to have zero empathy for the suffering of victims and only seemed concerned about the Church’s reputation and some true but abstract concept of the sacredness of Holy Orders — I jumped at an opportunity to take a break from it.
I think the important thing is to focus on the fact that the errant bishops and clerics — even if numerous — are no match for the vast family of believers we are baptized into — in Pope Benedict XVI’s words, the “gathering of friends who never abandon [us] in life or in death because these companions are God’s family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity.
“This group of friends, this family of God,” he noted during a baptism he performed a few years back, “will always accompany [us] even on days of suffering and in life’s dark nights; it will give [us] consolation, comfort and light. ...
“We can be sure of one thing: God’s family will always be present and those who belong to this family will never be alone. They will always be able to fall back on the steadfast friendship of the One who is life,” the pope said.
I find that reflection encouraging. Where do you draw your strength? Feedback@osv.com.