When Evil Surrounds the Church

Parishes and Mass timesThe abuse crisis seems to never end . . . so how can Catholics keep the Faith without burying their heads in the sand?

There’s a new report out on clerical sexual abuse in France—another in what seems to be a never-ending onslaught of bad news in the Catholic Church. If you are exhausted by it all, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you. Our frustration and sadness are justified.

When I am confronted by my non-Catholic family and friends with the issue of clerical sexual abuse, I don’t downplay it. I acknowledge what has happened. Even if the numbers in the latest bad news report are exaggerated or other organizations are in worse shape than us, it’s still not acceptable. We should hold ourselves and our leaders to a higher standard.

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Sometimes it feels as if this is all too much. How can Catholics struggling to process all the bad news remain faithful to the Church that Jesus founded? I do it by trying to keep things in perspective.

There are over a billion Catholics in the world, and some of them are bad people. This should not come as a surprise; after all, Jesus warned us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). They are among us, and sometimes they are our leaders.

My faith does not rest on the sinlessness of the clergy, however. I rely on them for the sacraments, and occasionally for spiritual direction. There can be no Catholic faith without our priests. But we all know that the validity of the sacraments we receive does not depend on the holiness of the one administering them, and our faith should not rest on that, either.

I don’t mean by this to throw our good priests under the bus. Part of keeping things in perspective is remembering that there are a lot of them suffering the negative consequences of the actions of some in their ranks. But as brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be careful not to develop saint-like profiles of them in our minds. In fact, I would extend this also to Catholic celebrities. Resist the urge to put anyone on a pedestal, lest you become disappointed one day when you realize that they all have the same human failings as you and me.

Despite all the bad news, there are so many great things happening in the Church. I have had the great fortune to travel around the country in my fourteen-year career behind the scenes in apologetics and evangelization, and I’ve encountered many Catholic brothers and sisters who are unsung heroes for the Faith.

I’ve met Catholics who have started crisis pregnancy centers and who feed and clothe the homeless in their communities. I’ve met doctors, nurses, policemen, firefighters, and others who were driven to public service by their Catholic faith. I’m blessed to work at Catholic Answers with men and women who truly love the Lord, and I’ve met scores of priests and bishops who have been very supportive of our efforts to spread the gospel. I could write an entire book about all the awesome Catholics I’ve encountered in the last two decades. For whatever reason, good news rarely gets the credit it deserves. That’ll make perspective hard to attain.

But as great as all that is, good Catholics are also not the primary reason I am committed to sticking with the Church through thick and thin. This honorary distinction is reserved for the Lord himself, who says:

I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

St. Peter reminds us that Christ suffered as an example for us—not that we should never suffer ourselves, but so we can endure that suffering when the time comes (1 Pet. 2:21). St. Paul drives the concept home as he writes:

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).

I struggle to put into words the kind of peace and joy that the Catholic faith brings me and my family, but I can tell you with confidence that the peace Jesus talks about is real, and it’s what shields me from despair. That’s why I’m not going anywhere. Pray as much as you can for this same peace.

I’m not saying we should put on blinders when it comes to issues in the Church. In fact, I encourage all Catholics to hold our leaders accountable. We need to do this respectfully and in the proper way, of course. Now is not the time to bury your head in the sand, but don’t let these issues consume you, either. Maintain perspective.

And don’t lose focus on the Lord. He will save you a lot of heartache.

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