August 31, 2018


Remember why we are Catholics

We are not Catholics because the Church is composed only of holy men and women. It’s not. Of course, there have been thousands of saints who have led very holy lives, and many converts have been attracted to the Church by people they admire. But that’s not why we are Catholics.

We are Catholics because we have been given the gift of faith and are, therefore, convinced that it will be through the Church that we will attain eternal happiness in heaven. That will be done with the help of the Church’s sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist.

That is why it is disheartening to hear people say that the current news about the clergy sex-abuse scandal makes them want to abandon the Catholic Church, or others who say that they would never join the Church because of that scandal.

Why would you punish yourself because of the human failings of others?

The Church has always been composed of sinners, from the time of the Apostles to the present. This editorialist has written a book titled How Could This Church Survive? that shows the many times in history when it should have disappeared.

To take only one example, imagine how the average Catholic in the 15th century felt knowing that Pope Alexander VI used the papacy to enrich his children Juan, Cesare, Lucrezia and Goffredo. The Renaissance popes ruled as secular kings and princes, interested mainly in enriching their families. Yet Catholics remained faithful to their beliefs.

The Church has survived because it is more than a human institution. It has always been, and it is today, guided by the Holy Spirit.

However, we need to say a few things about the report of the Pennsylvania grand jury that found credible allegations against 301 clergy and religious involving more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses (Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie), plus the fact that bishops in those dioceses tried to cover those allegations up.

It doesn’t seem to get across that these clergy sex-abuse cases go back as far as 70 years, and only two of them happened recently enough to be indictable. Most of them are the same cases that came to light beginning in 2002 after the Boston Globe’s investigation in that archdiocese.

Since then, the U.S. bishops have set up all sorts of new procedures to try to ensure that they don’t happen again. It’s much harder for any man with tendencies to abuse boys or girls to enroll in a seminary because of psychological tests, background checks and other stringent measures. And any charges against clergy are now immediately reported to civil authorities, which often didn’t happen in the past.

In the past, too, bishops sent priests who had been charged of sexual misconduct to institutions that they thought could cure them. After a few months, the institutions returned the priests, saying that they were cured. We now know that they weren’t.

The grand jury report acknowledged that “much has changed over the last 15 years” in how the Church in Pennsylvania approaches claims of clergy sex abuse. Not just in Pennsylvania, but throughout the country.

One of the most disturbing things to come out of the grand jury’s report was the cover-up by bishops. It’s abhorrent to realize that such acts happened, no matter what the bishops intended.

As the Church tries to get through this mess, our message is simple: Remember why we are Catholics and keep the faith.

—John F. Fink

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