I recently asked the Fatih Moves Mountains community to ask me anything. The first question I received relates to a topic that has come up in many of my conversations recently.
Was approached by a friend yesterday who is having a real crisis of heart with the Catholic Church. She is a convert and has been extremely involved in her faith. I listened, told her to reach out to a priest that she is close to, and said to keep praying. I told her she absolutely deserves to feel the way that she does. How can we best respond to these situations? I want to be a better cheerleader for the 98% and for all those in the Church who have been such faith filled shepherds.
This crisis in the Catholic Church is one that not only affects the clergy, the men who dedicate their lives to serving others in the model of Jesus, but also the sisters, nuns, consecrated and the laity who sit in the pews. The crisis affects Catholics and non-Catholics alike, so it is important that we are all aware of the gravity of the situation. At the same time, we need not give in to despair. We need to find a way to plant the seeds of hope that will allow the Church to grow stronger and heal from this division.
First, I would say that your response was a good one. It is difficult to find the words in the moment, especially when we are caught off guard in the frozen food section or a cocktail party. Really hearing what is on someone’s heart is difficult and takes a special level of attention, so it is important for us to slow down and give our full attention to what the other person is sharing.
Because this is a multi-faceted crisis, each person is going to focus on a different aspect of what is happening and so we need to respond to each person’s particular concern and not have a memorized answer that we parrot back. With that in mind you can always respond in this way:
Love first and let the Holy Spirit do the heavy lifting.
After a friend shares her concerns, say a short, internal, “Come Holy Spirit”. Answer, if you can, what is on her mind. If you do not have enough data or information to answer her directly, you can share how you are responding to the latest news. This will require that you take some time to Pray, Ponder, and Act.
A crisis in the Church does not require that you have a crisis of faith.
Remember, in the end, Jesus wins.
Often, when we hold the priests and bishops in high esteem, we can confuse our faith in Christ for faith in the holiness of other people. If they fall, we fall too. While we should respect the leaders of our Church, it is a mistake to confuse our trust in the Church as an institution for our faith in Jesus Christ. Christ is our Redeemer and, while He gave Peter the responsibility to lead the Church, the Church itself is a human institution. Remember also, that we believe that Jesus remains present in the Eucharist regardless of the state of the man who consecrated the host.
It is extremely important that we look first to Christ as the source of our salvation and not mistakenly believe that the individuals who consecrate the hosts each day are the ones who mediate our salvation. Praying the Our Father and focusing on the words of that beautiful prayer reminds us of our position in relation to God and others.
We should not be surprised to find sinners in the Church. It is heartbreaking the degree of depravity that existed (and hopefully no longer exists) and even more tragic indeed that these crimes took place under the cloak of holiness. Heartbreaking is not a strong enough word to hold the ocean of tears that have been shed over this evil. The Church should never condone or cover up criminal and predatory behavior that puts anyone in danger, especially the most vulnerable. Each person that is brave enough to come forward to talk about their experience should be taken seriously.
As sickening and saddening as this news is, we cannot put our head in the sand and hope that this all just goes away. If we were to leave the Church to avoid the pain and embarrassment, who would protect the vulnerable who stay? Remaining in the Church allows us to have a voice in the necessary changes. We have responsibilities as members of the Body of Christ.
First, we Pray. When we pray, we join our voices to those around the world asking the Holy Spirit for help which will surely come. The rosary and Eucharistic Adoration are the first place I would send anyone. If you are short on time, there are many good resources here, here, and here. If you feel called, you can fast as part of your prayer. Find a prayer that is most comfortable for you to unite your voice with others.
Next, we Ponder. We need to discern how God is calling each of us to respond to this news. Again, this situation demands a response. Generally speaking, God is always calling us to enter into conversation with Him (a.k.a. prayer). Maybe that is the only action He is calling you to do. But, in this case, He might be calling you to do more. Listen to the still, small voice in your soul and see if God is calling you to respond in a general or specific way. Generally, He is calling you to prayer. But, do you have life experience that could assist the Church or other people in navigating these rough waters?
Finally, we Act. After praying and looking at your life experience and life circumstances, discern whether God may be calling you to get more involved in your local parish to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. God might want for you to write a letter or email of encouragement to your parish priests and deacons. He might be asking you to dig deeper into your community to support others on the front line of the crisis. He could be calling you to write letters to your local Bishops and the Pope. To learn more about the “how to’s” on this you can go to the Siena Project.
Encouraging your friend to discuss her concerns with a priest she trusts is a good idea. There are so very many faith filled men that we can trust.
It is difficult to know an exact percentage of priests who have been accused or found guilty to have committed acts which victimized a minor because these crimes exist in the shadows and margins of life. Some claim the number is as low as 2% while others report the number being as high as 6%. All that being said, we should not look at our priests today and assume that they are among the group being accused.
Another good idea would be to schedule a time where your and your friend can visit for a longer period of time and process all that is happening in our beloved Church. This is a tragedy and the injuries are not limited to the individuals who were victimized directly. We all take a little hit when we are members of a Church that has covered up such sinful behavior. But, we cannot allow these incidences to divide us from the Catholic Church or each other.
It is time to shine a bright light into the corners and crevices and trust that the Holy Spirit will strengthen the Church if, together, we face the truth of what has happened.
Watch the clip below for encouragement in your prayer. United in prayer with all in heaven and on earth we can face anything.