May 21, 2010


Sins within the Church

On the plane on his way to Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI told reporters that the present clerical sex abuse scandal is not the fault of the media but of people within the Church. He said, “The greatest persecution of the Church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside, but is born from the sins within the Church.”

It certainly is true that the scandal was caused by the priests who abused children, and by those bishops who didn’t do enough to stop them. It is also true that the pope was talking to members of the news media, and he didn’t want to accuse them of something.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to ignore the fact that some people or organizations, including secular news media, have jumped on this situation in order to further their own agendas.

The New York Times seems to have its own campaign against the leaders of the Church. Its position is that the Catholic Church is way behind the times, and must be dragged into the modern world.

Newsweek devoted a cover story to the scandal, arguing that the ordination of women would have prevented it. Newsweek also reported, “Certain prominent Catholic laypersons have begun calling for a Vatican III, an ecumenical conference to re-examine Catholic doctrine and practice. Sex abuse is just the starting point. Celibacy, clerical marriage and the role of women need to be revisited. So does the role of the laity.”

So it was generous of Pope Benedict to ignore the fact that there is bias against the Church from those with their own agendas, including pro-abortion rights groups and those advocating for same-sex marriage.

However, he is absolutely right that the problem originated in the Church. Furthermore, he has taken strong measures to try to rectify the situation as The Criterion has been reporting nearly every week.

Pope Benedict is calling for reform and the spiritual renewal of the Church, and he has said that this renewal must include the bishops. He has accepted resignations from some bishops, especially in Ireland, and he issued an extremely strong pastoral letter to the people of Ireland. He has met with victims of the child sexual abuse, and was emotionally affected while listening to their stories.

Even before he was elected pope, while he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he pushed for harsher measures against abusers and made it easier for the Church to permanently remove them from active ministry. Those who claim that he has done little or nothing are simply wrong.

Yes, there are sins within the Church. But that really shouldn’t be surprising. The Church is composed of sinners. It always has been and always will be. That is why we have the sacrament of reconciliation, and why every Mass begins with the Penitential Rite. The doctrine of Original Sin is one of the dogmas of the Western Church, although not accepted by some Eastern Christians.

We Catholics, if properly instructed, know about sin. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile” (#386).

But the beauty of the Catholic Church is that it helps each of us sinners to overcome the concupiscence we experience in order to live in accordance with Christ’s teachings in his Sermon on the Mount.

We Catholics are, therefore, profoundly disappointed when we learn that some priests, even if only about 4 percent of them, abused children. That figure, which represents U.S. priests ministering from 1950 to 2002, comes from a study done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

We are even more disillusioned to learn that some bishops were apparently more concerned with the reputation of the Church than with the victims of the abuse.

On the other hand, we can take some pride in the fact that even the Church’s severest critics acknowledge, if only implicitly, that Catholics are expected to hold themselves up to higher standards.

The sins within the Church are human failings, but we love the Church because we know that the same Church is dedicated to the service of the poor through its charitable organizations, and to the defense of human life from the moment of conception until natural death.

We must join with Pope Benedict in praying for God’s forgiveness and a firm purpose of amendment.

—John F. Fink

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