Trusting the Church ‘in Crisis’

You are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. (Luke 24:48-49)

Last week we began talking about how we can understand ourselves in such a way as to help us give the world the New Evangelization. We began to meditate on the question, “In order to ‘have’ the Gospel, who do you have to trust?” And the first part of the answer is: We trust the great we, the great us, that is the Catholic Church, united and governed by the Pope.

–Great, Father. We, the Church. But how can I trust the Church as an institution when, according to MSNBC, it has so many deep-seated problems? “Crisis-plagued?”

Amanpour RomeThis is the honest question of an honest person seeking to find the path of righteousness and truth. We—the big we which we are talking about—we are nothing at all if we are not first and foremost an association of honest people humbly seeking the path of uprightness and truth.

Right? So we have to deal with this particular honest question: How do we trust the institutional Church after the sex-abuse crisis? Even if “the sex-abuse crisis” has been 85% manufactured by the media and only 15% real. That 15% still makes this question an honest one. How do I trust the Church after living through this?

Okay. On the one hand, any honest person has to acknowledge that the Catholic Church has survived; the Catholic Church has done good and continues to do good; the Catholic Church has brought people together and continues to bring people together, like no institution in the history of the world. But, on the other hand: Bad priests have done bad things, and sometimes bad bishops have let them get away with it.

Catholic 'crisis'So let’s try to get a grip on the truly trusting response to bad situations like this, in a loving family.

First, we have to separate Catholic bashing in the media from cold, hard truth. So I say to myself: On the one hand, who do I trust when I hear vague allegations, sketchy innuendoes, and unsympathetic demonization of a member or members of my family? That’s one question. Versus, on the other hand: Who do I trust when precise, verifiable facts are laid out before me, against a member of my family?

If someone who hates my brother insinuates to me that my brother is a bad man, I don’t believe it. In fact, I stop listening.

But if an honest person, who has nothing to gain and only a lot to lose, comes to tell me that my brother did wrong, that’s different. Under circumstances like that, I will trust by brother enough to believe that he will face up to the truth and pay the right penalty for whatever he did.

I still love my brother. Disappointed in him, maybe even ashamed; certainly angry. I accept the truth that he did something wrong, that he hurt someone else who I love–for whom I must pray, and who I must try to help.

If someone who hates my father suggests vaguely to me that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, I don’t believe it. In fact, I stop listening to the liar who is only trying to break down my family loyalty.

But if someone shows me clear evidence that my father has made a serious error in judgment, that’s different. I trust my father enough that he will face the truth. I believe that he will set things to rights as best he can, and will carry on, hopefully wiser from having corrected his mistake.

Garofalo Ascension of ChristMy point is: The trust that unites the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is not something blind. Being part of the Catholic family does not force me to look the other way when my brother sins, or to ignore it if my father makes a serious mistake.

No, the trust that unites the Church is something much deeper. The trust that unites the Church tells me who my brother is, and who my father is.

Some priests have committed serious sins. Some have committed crimes. We love and pray for the people who have suffered because of all this. We love and pray for everyone involved. We acknowledge; indeed we assert: No one is above the law. Priests and bishops are not above the law.

Have Catholic priests done evil in a higher proportion than high-school teachers have? Or pediatricians, dentists, shoe salesmen, or Protestant ministers? No. By no means. But that doesn’t change the fact that the priests who have done evil have hurt the innocent. Trusting my family, the Church, doesn’t mean denying this. To the contrary, being Catholic means that we always have to acknowledge the whole truth.

The Christian people of the New Evangelization do not trust in a Church that is immune from human weakness. The Christian people of the old evangelization didn’t, either. Rather, we trust in a Church that bears the message of forgiveness for sinners, and the grace of salvation for fallen man–in spite of the human weakness of the messengers.

In other words: We trust in each other, in our family, the Church, the great us. But we do not trust in our family the Church as the source of our own strength, as the source of our own life. No. Something—or Someone—else is the source of our life and our strength.

We really have only begun, then, to answer the original question: Who or what does the Church of Christ trust? We trust each other like we do–we trust each other like a family–because, together, we all trust in Someone else.

(Give me till the week after next to come up with Part Three of our New-Evangelization-Success recipe.)

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