By now, it’s likely you’ve heard about one of the three major scandals that have been revealed within the Catholic Church:
1. Theodore McCarrick’s sex abuse
2. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report
3. Archbishop Viganò’s testimony
Maybe you’re deep into the Twitter threads and news articles, or maybe you’ve just heard bits and pieces from your parents. Maybe your pastor has boldly preached on these disturbing crimes, allegations, and revelations, or maybe you’ve yet to hear a priest address them publicly. Regardless of your exposure to all of these things, the fact of the matter is that our Church is sitting in a moment of great darkness revealed, which means we’re living on the hinge of unprecedented renewal in the Church.
Getting up to Speed
If you’re unfamiliar with all that’s going on, here’s a brief overview of the three scandals named above:
Theodore McCarrick, a prominent Cardinal in Washington DC, was credibly accused of sexually abusing young seminarians and priests, while in that role. Because the alleged abuse persisted for so long and involved so many accusers, it’s alleged that several priests and bishops were aware of his behavior and did nothing to prevent it and even covered it up. This all has led to his being removed from public ministry and his formal resignation.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report details what was found in a two year investigation, which covered over 70 years of abuse allegations — many of which took place prior to 2002 — in six major dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania. The report revealed that over 300 priests sexually abused over 1,000 victims and Church hierarchy systematically covered up abuse for decades.
And finally, Archbishop Viganò’s testimony was released, which suggests that Pope Francis was well aware of McCarrick’s predatory crimes and did nothing about them. Viganò, who formerly served as the Apostolic Nuncio (a clergy member who essentially serves as an ambassador for the Holy See) to the United States was involved in the appointments of American bishops and his position gave him unique insights into how Pope Francis perceived them, which is why his accusations are taken very seriously by many. Because he is accusing Pope Francis of covering crimes up, his letter ends by challenging him to set an example for other bishops who are guilty of covering things up, and resigning with them. Pope Francis has dismissively refused to comment on the allegations made against him.
Here’s why all of this is a big deal: the horrific actions (and inaction) of Church leaders are on display in a big way, which is unsettling, at the very least, for the faithful. Many bishops are making statements which contradict one another. Many media sources and even Church leaders are spinning all of this out into a political conflict between liberal and conservative Catholics, rather than an authentic desire for truth in the Kingdom of God. Many people want proper investigations to take place, but when Church authority is in question, the typical channels of that sort of thing become even murkier to navigate.
But ultimately, here’s why this is a big deal for you and for me: we want to follow Jesus by participating in the life of the Church that He established. Right now, that Church has proven to be quite sick and there is a great deal of healing that must take place within it.
I can’t say how that healing will take place and the questions of whether or not we have a faithful pope to follow, whether or not I can trust most bishops, and whether or not the Church is doing enough are certainly swirling around as I personally try to sift through it all.
What I can say in confidence though, is that this healing will require a boldness on the part of you and I, the lay faithful. We have to be bold in the face of this trial and continue to seek to worship Jesus through every question, doubt, anger, feeling of disgust, that we might be facing right now. It won’t be easy and it will require a true re-commitment to the truth, goodness, and beauty of our Catholic faith, but with Christ it is possible. Here are some real ways we can begin to put that into action right now:
1. Try to be patient. Take all allegations — even those made against Pope Francis — seriously, but pray, hope, and expect that proper investigations of them will bring forth the truth. The things that Archbishop Viganò details in his testimony seriously incriminate Pope Francis and others, but until they’re corroborated by evidence and/or the testimony of others, they’re still allegations, not confirmed truth. We don’t have answers right now and it’s unlikely we’ll get answers very quickly. So patience on humanity and trust in the divine is what we must rely on right now.
2. Pray and fast for healing. The Church exists, not as an institutional superpower, but as the bride of Christ, destined to be near Him. It’s clear that corruption has wounded the Church, badly. To be part of the healing that must take place, we must do the hard work of the faithful, relying on Christ and the power of His resurrection to drive out the darkness that has made its way into His Church. We seek Him now more than ever, in daily prayer and in small sacrifices made for the purification of His Church.
3. Call on the Blessed Mother. It’s been said numerous times that this great scandal is no doubt the work of Satan. Who better to call on to combat Him than the one human being who he is powerless against? Mary, in her perfect love and trust of the Lord, loves His Church so purely and she longs for its healing. Consider committing to praying a decade of the Rosary each day or, even better, a whole Rosary, for the intention of the purification of the Church — invite your friends and family to join you in this effort.
4. Remain close to Jesus. There are so many questions that have come up, causes for doubt, anxiety, and fear. But the Lord has instructed us to be not afraid. Jesus is still good. His Church is still good. Despite the darkness and evil that we’re seeing today, despite the questions we might be grappling with in our hearts, despite the multitude of feelings we may be facing in reacting to all of this, we cannot detach ourselves from the One who has already overcome it all. Seek His voice in Scripture, ask Him to be close to you as you suffer in this Church, and invite Him into every difficult feeling your heart is facing.
This task will be difficult, but the greatest saints are the ones who continue to have faith in His victory, even when the entire world around them says that faith is foolish. Now is not the time for lukewarm Catholicism. The hope of our faith rests in Christ’s resurrection, but we don’t arrive at that without participating in the cross with Him. We have hope and we have a sure reason to believe that good will come from this darkness, because we believe in the power of Christ’s victory over death. With confidence in that, we must rise up, Church. We’re journeying with Jesus to the cross.