by Stefanie Gutierrez
In the New York Times last weekend, Frank Bruni reopened a wound for me in his column, “Catholicism’s Curse,” where he writes about the most recent revelations of the events of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The wound I speak of is not so much that men of God would do something so sinister and evil, but that the Church I love would so misjudge the reality of the evil and fail to recognize the crime. The priest sex abuse scandal was among the most disheartening, dispiriting revelations in my faith life. It is not so much the grotesque evil of an individual priest that bothers me but the seeming willfully inadequate institutional response to these terrible crimes.
As someone who is sometimes asked to comment on allegations of inappropriate conduct by clergy, I cannot help but think how it affects my own faith, as a mother and as a Catholic convert.
St. Paul says, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.” That has been my experience of the Church and the priests with whom I have interacted. My faith is not dependent on any priest or bishop, or any collective of priests or bishops, but rather on the personhood of Jesus Christ.
I cannot help but think that the reason that Jesus chose such inadequate men as His Apostles was to serve as a reminder that the work of our redemption is not any man, or any institution, but God alone. The Church is not built on Peter or Paul but rather on the confession of faith that Jesus is the Son of God.
Neither Bruni, nor Gary Wills, the author of “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition,” have contributed to an understanding of what has happened in the Church that would further the cause of justice, nor have they contributed to any healing.
The Holy Father and our own bishops have expressed their profound sorrow and contrition for the crimes that some priests have committed against children. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI and most bishops readily make themselves available to meet with survivors of such abuse. That Wills would indicate that the Church would not admit to error, or accept any challenge to its prerogatives, is simply untrue.
Bruni and Wills can carp all they want in the pages of the New York Times about cover ups and misdeeds, but where is their critique of the civil authorities? The reality is, if crimes were committed, people should go to jail. But ultimately, it seems, Wills and Bruni are not interested in serving the interest of justice or healing but rather are interested in tearing down the Church and undermining people’s faith.
Bruni contends that the Church has wrapped its priests in mysticism. I asked myself, are priests mysterious? Are they shrouded in mystery? I suppose it is difficult for many, myself included, to understand why one would choose to forego a family or companionship. But as a Catholic, I see that they are caught up in the most profound mystery, the Eucharist.
Bruni also states he has a problem with “the Church’s arrogance.” Is the Church arrogant? I can see how someone who is an out-of-the-closet homosexual and opposed to the Church’s teaching on marriage would think it is. In my view, I sometimes can find Church teaching difficult, and perhaps I even disagree. But I do not think that the Church teaches from a place of seeking power and dominion over me but instead from a place of love. Sometimes the ambassadors of our Church may be inarticulate and arrogant, but the Church is the people of God and the priests are its servants.
I love the Church, and I am grateful to the many good priests that I know have made sacrifices. It is difficult for me to conceive of what my life would be like without my Catholic faith. Attending Mass on Sunday mornings to receive the Eucharist and listening to the Gospel gives me strength for the rest of my week. I do not know how often I tell the priests in my life “Thank You,” but I am grateful for them.
In the Old Testament, the priest Melchizedek seems to have no beginning and no end. He appears out of nowhere, and we do not know where he is going. It seems like this is what priests are for us today too. They come into our lives when a child is born, when we are getting married, when we are burying someone we love, sometimes in a moment at the hospital or at a moment of crisis in the confessional. But then, most times, they are gone. Are priests men of mystery? I think they are. What they share is in the mystery of our lives.Stefanie Gutierrez is the press secretary for the Diocese of Brooklyn.