The Catholic Church has faced significant challenges over the past several years. Some parishioners have asked whether we can do something specific about this. So, this past weekend, the parish of St. Monica offered complimentary copies of Bishop Robert Barron’s new book, Letter To A Suffering Church. Please take a copy of the book for yourself – and a copy for others as well. You know people who are angry at – and might have left – the Church on account of these issues. Colleagues at work, friends and family members might find the book interesting reading.
Last week, I mentioned that Barron’s book has garnered a significant amount of praise. It discusses the current situation in light of church history and biblical insights. The bishop also offers a challenge to Catholics. He claims that this is not the time to cut and run. There is too much at stake. Followers of Christ understand “The Cross.” Redemption and healing and grace and resurrection only come to those who “take up their cross and follow Christ.” Now is the time to stay and fight.
There have been voices that have expressed some disappointment with the book. Barron seems to avoid the “hard issues.” Critics claim that the bishop glosses over serious work that still needs to be done. There are still unanswered questions such as, “Who knew about all this?” “Who still has information that they are not sharing?” “Why have more people in authority, who were responsible, not been exposed and held accountable?” “Some must still be on the job – but why?”
Joe Heschmeyer is a former litigator in Washington D.C. He attended seminary for the Archdiocese of Kansas City. Joe currently works as a Catholic apologist. He is a contributor to Catholic Answers and Word of Fire. Joe recently commented on Letter To A Suffering Church on his blog, Shameless Popery. He writes that “It’s easy to say “sexually abusing children is horrible”. So is covering it up. So is saying that “everyone who did either of those things acted badly.” That doesn’t say much beyond the obvious.
What’s hard, AND what’s potentially going to alienate people, is to boldly ask (and examine, and answer) questions about the underlying causes.” As Barron writes, “Instances of clergy sex abuse peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. They are declining steadily thereafter, and precipitously after 2002. The reporting of new cases is down to a trickle “ (Barron, page 85). Besides Bishop Barron, Pope Benedict and other studies have shown this. Why did things get so bad in the 1960s and 70s? Heschmeyer writes that he, like many readers,
..was interested in hearing Barron’s take on all of the underlying factors: people have blamed clericalism, homosexuality, the sexual revolution, celibacy, a culture of secrecy, and an over-reliance of psychiatrists. Barron briefly wonders aloud about the role of moral relativism and clericalism in the post-Vatican II era (88-89). Barron doesn’t really answer his own questions, let alone ours.
Barron’s book cannot address everything related to the crisis. Still, there have been recent voices that have asked what is going on now. Archbishop Vigano has been forthright about problems at the highest level in the Church. Pope-Emeritus Benedict recently wrote a unexpected letter expressing his opinion on the situation. The manuscript is entitled, “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse.” Pope Francis’ released a “Motu proprio” “On the protection of minors and vulnerable persons.” The Holy Father also penned “Directives on the protection of minors and vulnerable persons for the Vicariate of Vatican City.” Heschmeyer points to the case involving Barron’s diocese of Los Angeles. The history involving Cardinal Mahony particularly troubling. Heschmeyer asks, “Why has there been so little official no commentary on these documents?”
Many people are disgusted with the Catholic Church. Many have told me that they have left the practice of their faith. In spite of this, Heschmeyer echoes Bishop Barron’s cry that now is the worst time to leave the church:
Barron says that “those who have put on Jesus Christ, who have been divinized through the sacraments, who have the Holy Spirit in them, who have become conformed radically to the Trinitarian love are called saints” (74). You can find filth inside the Church as well as without. But only the Church has the prerogative of being a sort of factory and testing ground for Saints. Turning away from the Sacraments because of corruption within the Church would be like pulling out your IV because of the disgusting personal lives of your doctors. The person such a protest primarily hurts is you. Sanctity, then, is both the best reason to stay and the heart of Barron’s solution – what are needed, badly need, right now are great Saints to respond to the great corruption of our age and the great corruption within the Church.