Arts and Culture

Mystery of the Church

Faith & Thought

I just finished reading what I think is an important, recently published book by Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.

The title of this 112-page gem is “Letter to a Suffering Church.” The book presents Bishop Barron’s view of the sex abuse scandal within the church and his argument why Catholics should not leave the church even though the temptation to do so may be strong.

Catholics have been bombarded by the media in recent years with one horror story after another. Bishop Barron’s small volume is an antidote. Honest, provocative and even disturbing, “Letter to a Suffering Church” is very insightful and inspiring. Candidly presenting the church as a community of sinners, he plumbs deeply into the mystery of the church to help readers to face the horror stories and yet not leave the church.

The titles of the five chapters of Bishop Barron’s book suggest what the author is trying to do: “The Devil’s Masterpiece,” “Light from Scripture,” “We Have Been Here Before,” “Why Should We Stay?” and ”The Way Forward.” I am amazed at how much information and theology Bishop Barron has incorporated into this small volume.

In trying to impress on the reader the terrible results of the sex abuse crisis, Bishop Barron pulls no punches. Noting that $4 billion is a conservative estimate of the money that the Catholic Church in the United States has paid out in sex abuse settlements, money that could have been used to do countless good such as building universities, seminaries and hospitals, educating children, healing the sick, caring for the homeless and propagating the Gospel, Bishop Barron writes:

“But that is an aspect of the devastation relatively easy to measure. The hurt and the alienation felt by Catholics goes so far and deep that it is scarcely possible to gauge. Consider this: every particular act of sexual abuse by a priest establishes an extraordinary ripple effect through families, parishes and communities. A single child might have been directly mistreated, but the anger, fear and shame radiate out to mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends and classmates. Now think of the thousands of cases of sexual abuse by clergy and the sickening influence that has gone out from each one of them. The rot has reached to virtually every cell of the Mystical Body of Christ.”(pp.6-7).

My two favorite chapters are three and four: “We Have Been Here Before” and “Why Should We Stay?” In the third chapter, he refers to the countless sins that have been committed in the history of the church by church leaders, including popes and bishops.

I studied church history for four years as a student in the major seminary, but I found Bishop Barron’s account of the “history of sin” in the church a disturbing, informative eye-opener. I do believe with Bishop Barron that knowledge of the past can help us face the present and the future.

Readers may find chapter three upsetting, but facing the sinfulness of church leaders in the past can indirectly lead us more deeply into the mystery of the church.

I find Bishop Barron’s entire book an excellent example of evangelization, especially chapter four. I agree with him that in spite of all the problems facing us today, there is never a good reason to leave the church. I believed that before I read “Letter to a Suffering Church,” and I find persuasive his argument that there is never a good reason to leave. What the church offers us can be found nowhere else. The following is a good summary statement from Bishop Barron:

“In the end, we are not Catholics because our leaders are flawless, but because we find the claims of Catholicism both compelling and beautiful. We are Catholics because the Church speaks of the Trinitarian God whose very nature is love; of Jesus the Lord, crucified and risen from the dead; of the Holy Spirit, who inspires the followers of Christ up and down the ages; of the sacraments, which convey the Christ-life to us; and of the saints, who are our friends in the spiritual order. This is the treasure, this is why we stay.”(p.78)


Father Lauder presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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