On Friday Elizabeth Bruenig did some reporting and some commenting (it was listed as an op-ed) on the state of play regarding the Roman Catholic Church, scandal and cover-up. The last four paragraphs are very deep and very moving:
“I knew that the truth was locked up in the diocese’s secret archives and believed this toxic secrecy created an enormous injustice for survivors as well as for our diocese and our community,” O’Connor told me via email. Malone’s office released a statement shortly thereafter claiming that O’Connor’s comments about the bishop’s conduct were “plainly and embarrassingly contradictory,” based on remarks she had made before about how much she loved the church, her former boss and her Catholic community.
“It is precisely because I love my Catholic faith and our Church that I took the action I did,” O’Connor countered in an email to me. “The more you love a person or an entity, the more you desire to preserve them from corruption of any kind. How could I witness duplicity and complicity at the highest level of our diocese and not do something about it?”
How indeed? Faith and hope endure: This is why many Catholics are still rallying around transparency and truth, and still seem to believe that, in the end, goodness will prevail and the church will survive in a purified form. But there is suffering, too, and defection and despair. The victim of a sexually abusive priest scoffed when I told him over the phone that I go to Mass at a parish not far from the one where he was molested. “You’re still Catholic?” he asked. I had to pause. My answer — yes — felt almost like an insult. I wonder how many more ordinary Catholics now find it hard, when similarly pressed, to say the same. And the thought haunts me.
Still there is a path forward, but it branches only after the point of pain. One path — the path of confession, accountability, repentance and healing, the path of full disclosure, willing self-sacrifice on behalf of Catholic leaders — leads to a damaged ground from which the church can nonetheless rebuild. The other route — the path of continued omissions, lies, recalcitrance and cowardice, hiding behind nondisclosure agreements, and meting out reluctant, highly curated admissions — leads only further into a mire of mistrust and doubt. Only the truth can set them free.
That is just chock full of things to discuss – the nature of institutions, our role in and towards institutions, the nature of confession,…. But as I read it, over and over, I reflected on how it perfectly describes one of the chief differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, and in the circumstance makes Protestantism look far, far superior. Yet I cannot escape the fact that the circumstance is severely limited in both time and space.
The difference described is the difference between the Catholic and Protestant view of what the church is. The Catholic view is that the church is priestly, that it is in every sense, God on earth. The Protestant view is that the church is God’s representative on earth – a pastoral, not a priestly role. Given its view of itself, the Catholic penchant for secrecy and cover-up is not all that surprising. You see, God can’t screw-up, so if you are God on earth, then you better not screw-up either, for if you do it means God is less than perfect. Who is God going to confess to anyway? That’s why they could accuse the assistant of hypocrisy, in the Catholic view if she truly loved the church….
The lower view of the church common among Protestants, the pastoral view, makes room for the church to make mistakes. Problem is we Protestants have grown more than a little too good at making them. And in so doing we really have robbed the church of much of its power. We Protestants are babes compared to Catholicism which has survived many a scandal and theological diversion. We cannot seem to survive a drop in attendance. Jesus had some good advice for situations like this.
We are, this Sunday morning, a week away from the beginning of the season of Advent, but it is not too early to begin discussing the Incarnation – Jesus – when God really, actually walked among us. Jesus, despite His perfection, walked the sinners path. He confessed. He did penance. He died. All this for sins He did not commit. Should not His church, even with a priestly view of itself, follow His example?
In Narnia, when the White Witch held sway, it was always winter, but never Christmas. When I look around our society and culture, it is certainly winter. But Christmas is coming. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are already among us – they are the Church in all its flavors and brands. It is time for them to step up and rule in Aslan’s name. They do that by following Aslan’s sacrificial path.