By Carol Powell
“A pope, a cardinal, a bishop, a priest may sin … but it does not change the fact that you and I are members of the Mystical Body of Christ.”
In the midst of all the conversations and the sexual abuse scandals in the Church, many people are asking themselves the question, “Why am I still a Catholic?”
A better question, I think, for us to ask ourselves is: “What is the Church?” or perhaps, “Who is the Church?”
For those who identify the Church with the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, and the priests mainly, well you have a problem here. I think the Second Vatican Council identified what the Church is most clearly. The Church is the people of God.
If the Church is the people of God, then you and I are one of those people. This does not depend upon whether the clergy live up to their vocations or not. A pope, a cardinal, a bishop, a priest may sin left and right, but it does not change the fact that you and I are members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
We are called in Baptism by God to be one with Christ. As such, the life of the Trinity flows within us and the same Trinity dwells in each of us.
Of course, we are shocked and appalled at the true stories we are hearing. Who wouldn’t be?
But the truth is, even though sin abounds, holiness also abounds. Our Church is wounded. Let’s face it, it has always been wounded. But it is not dead.
Days of Martin Luther
When I was in college, I wrote a term paper on Martin Luther and was appalled at the myriad of abuses he was fighting against. There was a lot of evil in the Church then as there is now.
In those times great saints came on the scene, among which were Saints Charles Borromeo, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola and many others. The same is true now.
Many of the clergymen I have known have been people of great holiness. Some were among the perpetrators and I grieve for their victims. But this does not interfere with my faith in God or in the spiritual means through which God reaches out to me in the Church.
Our faith and trust should be in God, not in the clergy. When I was a young girl, there was a priest whom my mother did not like. I often heard her say: “Even though I don’t respect him, I respect what he stands for – a good philosophy to live by.
Element of Evil
The human element in the Church and the possibility of grave evil will always be there, but it should not deter anyone of us from seeking the graces and the helps that the Church provides. Cardinal Newman, a convert, said about his conversion to Catholicism is that any Church that had as much evil in it as the Catholic Church – and still lasted all these years – must have the Holy Spirit within it.
When we hear about all these scandals, we can be shocked, but we should not be surprised. The Church is both a human and a divine organization. And any human organization, like every human person, needs to be purified and changed over and over again. That is the meaning of the word, “repent.”
Pray for Victims and Perpetrators
Each of us in the Church is called to holiness no matter what anyone else is doing and we have the means to get there in the Church.
We need to pray first for the victims, and then for the perpetrators, and we should refrain from judging anyone, remembering that anyone of us is capable of any evil.
Powell and her husband are directors of faith formation at Our Lady of Mercy Church, Forest Hills.