If you’re concerned about Church unity, you cannot but help feel buffeted — and dismayed — by events of recent weeks.
New chasms are opening between Catholics in the United States, whether on the issue of abortion and health care reform, the root causes of clerical sex abuse that seems to be engulfing the globe, or, for that matter, liturgy or any other of a host of issues about which Catholic passions so easily ignite.
The final days before the House’s passing of the health care reform bill were particularly seismic for Catholic Americans. The U.S. bishops’ conference was increasingly isolated in its insistence that the bill do better to prevent funding for abortion.
Pro-choice Catholics were among the congressional leaders lobbying for the bill. Pro-life Catholic legislators were the last holdouts, and it was ultimately their votes that got the bill through. The compromise they worked out with President Barack Obama — an executive order prohibiting federal funds for abortion — was hailed by some pro-life Catholics as a victory, and lamented by others as legally worthless.
Throughout it all, we witnessed the depths to which our national political process has descended — backroom dealings, unabashed partisanship, gross incivility, duplicity, arrogance, fear-mongering and a spirit of service to self, not the country.
As involved as Catholics were in the process, some of that mud stuck to us, too. This has been a long time in the making, but Catholic polarization increasingly parallels political partisanship. In the health care debate, that just doesn’t work. No other voice in the political arena simultaneously advocates for universal access to health care, immigrants’ rights and respect for the sanctity of life from the womb to the grave.
That banner was courageously held by the U.S. bishops’ conference, even as the credibility of the Catholic moral voice in the public square was hammered by scores of new clerical sex abuse accusations, this time coming from Europe and Latin America. All indications are that this is just the first wave of a tsunami of accusations, and that the Church on other continents is likely next. In the past, the drumbeat of revelations has been used to put the Church on the defensive and mute its voice on larger moral and social issues.
The U.S. Church’s years of pain from the clerical sex abuse scandal are largely over, but we are likely to be tarred with the same brush again in the media and by those with an animus toward the Church.
What are we left with? For Catholics in the United States in early 2010, the temptation may be to see this as a nightmare revisited, the worst of times that will not end. But it is important to remind ourselves that this weekend’s celebration of Christ’s passion, death and — crucially — resurrection roughly 2,000 years ago point us to reflect on the Church that has weathered far worse: It has survived two millennia of persecution, heresies, scandals and the sinfulness of its members, including ordained leaders. Even the Acts of the Apostles records discord, deception and betrayal in the first Christian communities.
The resurrection that we celebrate today, and the Triduum of suffering that preceded it, remind us that God knows what we most need: redemption.
Christ conquered death, and is the lord of history. But his resurrection has no magical effect on his followers: They are still burdened with imperfections, and have to struggle to accept the workings of God’s grace, and to find in his Church the means of drawing closer in friendship to him.
That is the promise and hope of the resurrection. We Catholics are a sinful, imperfect bunch, but Christ and his Church offer us daily redemption.