According to some pundits, sexual abuse by clerics and other Church workers and sexual harassment and misconduct by clerics and other Church workers of adults, is a uniquely American problem. This is patently false. Anyone can read of these sins and crimes affecting Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. It is truly horrific and, although it must be admitted that the Church in the United States has made great strides since 2002, she must continue to do so, with humble hearts.
As we profess Sunday after Sunday in the Nicene Creed at Holy Mass, as we pray the Apostles’ Creed when we pray the Holy Rosary, we state: “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” For the sake of this article, let’s focus on the declaration that the Church is Holy.
How can we state that, in the midst of these horrible sins, that the Church is holy and indeed is sinless? We must make some distinction. The Church is the People of God, as Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium uses as the primary image. And, the Church is also the Mystical Body of Christ, as Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Mystici Corporis, helps us to recall. The Church is the spotless Bride of Christ. And as such, the Church (and note that it is tradition and custom to never refer to the Church as “it,” but as “She,” because the Church is Bride and Mother.)
Yes, the Church is sinless, as the Mystical Body of Christ, as the Bride of Christ, is sinless and impeccable. However, we who make up the Church, all of us from the Pope on down, we are all sinners. Listen to the words of the Servant of God, Catherine De Hueck Doherty from her book, “Grace in Every Season:”
“As I grew up I began to understand the Christian idea of the Church. I began to realize who and what the Church was. I saw that the Church was the spotless bride of Christ. “I saw her clad in the King’s robes, beautiful and glorious. This vision stayed in my heart like a warm, consoling thought, and I applied to the Church that beautiful passage from the Psalms, The king’s daughter is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes: in many-colored robes she is led to the king (Psalm 45:13–14).
“The Church was something holy, precious, something you should even give your life for… Then in Canada, I discovered that the Church was the People of God. It took me a long time to understand that the People of God was the Mystical Body of Christ, and that Christ was the head of this Body… I was torn by a contradiction: This sinless bride of Christ was also the sinful bride of Christ! How could that be? It took me a long time to understand a very simple thing – that Jesus came to reconcile us sinners with his Father. As Dostoevsky wrote, ‘He loved man in his sin.’
“God had rescued us from our sin. The whole picture of the Church was now completed for me. I understood something else: the sin of one member of the church was the sin of all; that is, if I sin, I affect the whole Church.”