Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Scandal and Truth

The day after the explosive news of Archbishop Vigano's 11-page testimony alleging that Pope Francis had known of former-Cardinal McCarrick's sexual abuse of seminarians and priests under his control, and yet seen fit to make him a key adviser and follow his recommendations in filling US sees, I went to mass, as usual on a Sunday. I went, tired, short of sleep, and dispirited, but I went, because we go not for the institutional Church but for God. And if there's one time we need God, it is when the failures of his followers are so evident.

After mass, I was talking to some friends in the parking lot. One of them thanked me for my links on social media over the prior twenty-four hours covering the scandal.

I found myself wondering: What kind of favor was I doing people by making them aware of this stuff. Here were people active in the parish, devout, whom my online ruminations had ended up showing the full ugliness of the institutional church over the last day. A level of vileness which had kept me up at intervals during the prior night, and had distracted me all through mass. Was I making the world a worse place by sharing such things, by knowing such things? Wasn't the real church the parish we were in, the sacrament we had just received? Why did I feel it necessary to follow the doings far away in Rome, by people whom I will probably never meet?

There's some truth in this. I've said before on occasion: Catholicism is a great faith but a terrible hobby. Following too much of the gossip and faction side of the church can be damaging to one's faith, and if it damages your faith to follow such things you shouldn't do it. Christ is truly present on the altar, but rather obscured in comment boxes. If reading about the insider doings of the church is likely to drive you away, you should't read about them.

But of course, the problem here is not paying attention. In some places, there may be a certain illusory peace to be found in shutting one's eyes and ears to the news and retreating into the sacraments of one's own parish. But the real problem is that our shepherds have not been paying attention to their true mission.

This is part of what I've found so dispiriting about this whole thing, which I can't help thinking of as the falling action of the current papacy. In my naive initial reactions to Pope Francis, it seemed to me that although Francis might not have the focus on intellectual writing and liturgy which had appealed to me in John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that with him we were seeing a focus on the simple message of Christ's love and our need for Christ which might be just what we as the modern world and church needed to hear at this time. The modern world is self regarding. One of the standard attacks on belief we read these days is the question "Is God good enough to be worthy of our belief? Does he measure up to our enlightened standards?" It takes something startling to remind the modern world that we ourselves are in need of Christ's salvation, not the other way round.

Over the last five years I've slowly become less positive about the current papacy, mostly out of concern about its approach to marriage and the ability of us laity to actually pursue virtue. And yet it still seemed to me that lurking out there, waiting for it to become a focus again, was that early emphasis on our need for Christ.

That's the sense in which this round of scandal strikes to deeply to the heart of what the church and the papacy should be.

Our duty, first and foremost, is to lead to Christ, to a life of virtue, to holiness. Our first duty is not to fundraising. It is not to diplomatic missions. It is to heaven.

And so the idea, increasingly confirmed, that Francis from the beginning knew that McCarrick was worldly cleric who was (at the least) chronically unfaithful to his vows, and yet saw him as a useful tool for "his mission" in the world and his new papacy. A pope cannot take the view that "he may be an SOB, but he's our SOB" the way that a corrupt government or corporation might. And yet that seems to be exactly the devils bargain that was made.
"I guess the Lord isn't done with me yet," [McCarrick] told the pope.

"Or the devil doesn't have your accommodations ready!" Francis shot back with a laugh.

McCarrick loves to tell that story, because he loves to tell good stories and because he has a sense of humor as keen as the pope's. But the exchange also says a lot about the improbable renaissance McCarrick is enjoying as he prepares to celebrate his 84th birthday in July.
McCarrick travels regularly to the Middle East and was in the Holy Land for Francis' visit in May. "The bad ones, they never die!" the pope teased McCarrick again when he saw him. [source]
This failure by our shepherds is not some kind of distraction that we can turn away from in order to focus on our core mission. It is a betrayal of our core mission. We cannot teach virtue by shielding and perpetuating vice. That's what makes the betrayal here so deep. Contrary to the initial hope we would be shown a new emphasis on Christ, we have been shown instead a nest of vipers. Evil has been used to attempt to accomplish good, and thus even the good has been corrupted.


Agnes said...

I can't possibly believe that shielding ourselves from the truth could be a solution. I understand your concern about perhaps bringing the evil into too sharp a focus; scandalizing those who are perhaps not quite ready for dealing with the bitter truth... but when are we truly ready? The commitment to focus on Christ instead of the sins of the Church should be strengthened. I have recently often thought that our generation has been spoilt by the long reign of Pope John Paul II (and Benedict). I truly thought that the popes and bishops who openly sinned and scandalized the faithful were a thing from the past - Renaissance, Middle Ages (or say, the weak and compromising bishops in Communist times who punished the most active priests or gave information to the Secret Police who mostly lived before I became an adult) - and now I realize there has been no such guarantee given to us. Let us pray for strength of faith and hope and our priests and bishops, I have no other answer.

Agnes said...

I just saw that I almost repeated my comment on one of your earlier posts... I have already been praying for you in the US, directly affected by all this scandal, but as Pope Francis seems to be under its shadow as well (to put it mildly), we are all similarly affected.