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The Other Victims

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In my Sunday, theologically based, ramblings on the crisis that confronts the Roman Catholic Church, I said, “Grace towards the victims MUST be the church’s first priority….”  Today I ran across Salena Zito’s column from last Friday on the matter and realized there are several classes of victims in this mess.  Said Zito:

Now I cannot erase from my mind the knowledge that some child was deeply hurting on that playground. Some child was holding in a secret so dark and so humiliating that their soul burned with the shame and the fear they felt every day.

And I cannot forgive.

In the past I have stood by my Church in past crisis, because surely they will get it right somehow. This time, that feels impossible.

In addition to the direct victims of abuse, these revelations are creating a crisis of faith for thousands upon thousands of Catholics.  They too are victims – as E.J. Dionne points out.  That which they earnestly believed embodied Christ on earth has proven not to be simply all-too-human, but evil.  Just by reading some articles and letters they have gone from being lovers of God and lovers of their church to being at best anachronisms, but more likely among the “Christian homeless.”  By that term “Christian homeless” I mean people who believe earnestly but have found only disappointment in the institutions that operate in God’s name and therefore wander aimlessly from church-to-church, group-to-group, in search of the promised “body of Christ.”

Of course, there is also a class of victim that has, by these revelations, abandoned faith altogether.  So shaken are they by this evil hiding in God’s apron that they have come to wonder about the essential goodness of God, if not in very His reality.

Someday those that seek to lead God’s people will realize that their actions reverberate far, far beyond the immediate.  The suffering – physical, cultural, emotional and spiritual – evident in these revelations is staggering.  As Steven Hayward said, “The Catholic Church is the most important conservative institution in the world, which makes its current scandal all the more significant.”  How do we help these people, this nation, and the world move on from here?  There is so much ministry necessary.

I cannot possibly answer that question on all levels, no one could.  But for those suffering a crisis of faith I have much empathy.  Though not Catholic I have been so deeply disappointed in the Christian institutions in which I was invested that my faith was called into complete question.

Twice in my life I have had what I consider direct experiences with the Holy Spirit.  I have written about one here.  Now is the time to write about the other.  You do not need to know the specifics, but so betrayed was I by the Christian institutions that I was invested in that I decided the whole thing was a sham. I vowed to walk away from all of it.  Every Saturday night I stayed up very late so that I could not get up in the morning, swearing I would not attend church – yet every Sunday I found myself in the pew.  It can only be attributed to miracle for I truly resolved not to go.  Over months and months the Presbyterian litany of corporate Confession and Assurance of Pardon worked on my heart.  I can still, four decades later, recite that litany from heart.  I was trying to let go of God, but He would not let go of me.  Eventually I simply knew that I could not give it all up, that it was true, that God was most real and that I had to find some way to come to terms with the flawed, errant, and occasionally evil institutions that bear His name.  Like Elijah at Horeb, this encounter with God’s Spirit was far from spectacular, but it was deeply and profoundly real.

For those tempted by these latest revelations to abandon God, know that He will not abandon you.  Your miracle may be very different from mine, but it is there for you and it will come to you.  I pray simply that your eyes are open to see it and your ears to hear it.

But how then to come to terms with these institutions? This is a question I struggle with to this day, and I am sure many Catholics will in the wake of these latest horrors.  The same miracle that would not allow me to abandon faith has also never allowed me to join the “Christian homeless.”  I have instead lived as a Christian itinerant – serially committing to some institution, in several cases for decades, until something came up and my conscience, I pray prompted by the Holy Spirit, would no longer permit affiliation.

God plainly states He came to save the world, not just souls.  He plainly states we are to be united as His body.  Therefore institutional affiliation is mandatory – the logic seems inescapable.  I think my itinerant way is less than ideal, but it is the only way I have found to reconcile my supernaturally reinforced faith and the realities.  That said, I do have a few pieces of advice.

  1. Find and form relationships with other Christians that will last regardless of your institutional affiliations.  Be faithful and diligent in those relationships.  Allow yourself to be held accountable by someone.
  2. Give your tithe somewhere, even if you cannot stand to give it to your church.  If you have no personal attachment to some para-church organization, may I suggest Food for the Poor or Young Life.
  3. Likewise, volunteer somewhere.  God expects your service, not just your church.
  4. Find someplace to routinely participate in the sacraments.  Catholics and Protestants have radically different views of the sacraments.  Even among Protestants there is a pretty big variety.  But we all think there are some.  Don’t give them up.  If you are Protestant and do not think of Confession as a sacrament, add confession as something that should happen in the context of item 1 above.

My devotional reading this morning said:

Yet God’s claim to be the Alpha and the Omega implies more than simply that God was around at the beginning of time and will be around when history is completed. By identifying himself with the first and last letters of the alphabet, God is claiming sovereignty over all things. He is not merely a transcendent observer of history. God is the Lord of history, its initiator and primary actor, its director and its ultimate end. Thus, by claiming to be the Alpha and the Omega, God is saying, in effect, “I’ve got all of history in my hands.”

That is hard to believe in these troubled times, but it is true.  The host tweeted a blog post this morning that said:

I have no fear for the future.

The purgation will be painful, but the resurgence will be breath taking in its purity and power.

History is long and God is sovereign.


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