“I am angry at the Catholic Church, for ……the sexual abuse of minors…..the financial corruption of priests and bishops…..its sinful intolerance of gays and gay marriage….its misogynistic views regarding women and a female priesthood…..its ridiculous teachings on abortion and contraception……its total hypocrisy!”
Imagine our really big Family. Keeping the numbers round, we have about sixty brothers and sixty sisters in this Family, and while most of our siblings “go out into the world” — to serve others, practice a trade, teach, work in professions, raise families — perhaps four or five brothers “stay behind” to run the “Family Business”.
Our Family Business is old. It’s been in operation for generations. There are a lot of stories — both good and bad — from the past; some of our history is so old and musty that it’s almost mythical, but the lion’s share of it is verifiable and true.
We have a Reputation, just as any massive conglomerate does. Part (most?) of that Reputation is worth upholding, while the rest is like a penance to suffer, in the hope that it delivers some humility to us (at the very least).
Our Family’s Leaders
Our Family has Personality. On the good side you have leaders like Uncle Cuthbert, who suspended nearly all Business operations for a time and heroically led the Family in delivering supplies to allied troops, and sheltering women and children, during World War II.
On the bad side are guys like Uncle Arnold, who wasted a good part of the family fortune on opium, women, and gambling in China when he was supposed to be there to source tea leaves for the Family’s hot beverage subsidiary.
At the present time, four of the five brothers in charge of the Business are doing a pretty good job. Maybe one brother in particular is really excellent at his work, and for as long as he’s in charge, the business will certainly never go bankrupt, even if there are so many different parts of the enterprise.
But, at least one of the brothers — we’ll call him Lars (simply because that sounds a nefarious name) — is corrupt, and everyone knows it now. For the last thirty years, Lars had his hand in the till. Then, Lars was the source of another scandal because he lied to authorities about his activities (and the activities of his agents) and tried to cover it all up. Lars went to great efforts to hide his misdeeds and he misused the goodwill of the Family to avoid responsibility.
Blood and Water
Every person in the Family, including Lars and Arnold, knows right from wrong, because Father taught us. Lars and Arnold chose to do bad things anyway. They did not deserve the trust that was placed in them. They disobeyed Father.
The rest of the Family is damaged by the actions of Lars and Arnold; certain people insist that they will never buy or do business with the Family. Those Missed Opportunities are serious failures in the Family mission.
Worse, there will be no way to spin this next “Public Relations” nightmare: Lars came back and apologized and asked forgiveness from the Family, which Mother insisted he receive. So, we forgave him. Lars promised he’d be really good from now on, but………….
And then Mother said we should forgive Lars yet again, because this time Lars is really sorry. We look foolish and stupid no matter what, even if this time we do what would have been prudent from the first: forgiving but also ensuring that the Family will never furnish Lars another opportunity.
But how does any of that help us save ourselves from the next Lars? History shows there will be another Lars, since there is always at least one, including among the very first Twelve.
The Blame Game
Exactly who does one blame for the fact that there have been bad brothers? Who does one blame for Arnold and Lars?
Well, if the family in question is the Catholic Church, then many people — both within and without the family — say that the one to blame is the Mother.
Essentially, our Mother is the Church. Mother Church nurses us from childhood; she is a mother who always defends her children, says Pope Francis. Above all, the Pope says, the Church is a mother, who gives us the Word of God which “…transforms us, so our humanity does not yearn for the worldliness of the flesh, but for the Spirit.”
Are you envious because I am Generous? (Matt. 20:15)
Harsh criticism of “The Church” abounds. Sometimes it’s qualified as the “Institutional” Church, yet no matter how many adjectives append it, “The Church” remains a term widely and yet euphemistically employed, to describe a specter without lifting any clouds whatever.
But to make “The Church” worthy recipient of our blame and anger is to bely a lack of understanding of what the Church truly is, and who truly constitutes it.
Pope Francis says that we must not forget that the Church is not just priests, or bishops, no, we are all Church! He says that all the baptized, together we are the Church. He encourages us to give witness to the “…..Churches’ motherhood, the Churches’ maternal courage!” He reminds us then to “…..entrust ourselves to Mary, so that as the mother of our first brother, the first-born Jesus, she may teach us to have her same maternal spirit towards our brothers and sisters, with the capacity to sincerely welcome them, to forgive, to give strength and to instill confidence and hope. That’s what a mother does.”
As a family that truly loves, we are not free to ignore the wrongdoing of our brothers simply because they are “one of the family.” We must be prudent, and arguably, not all with authority have acted prudently. Still, we are called to do justice — at all times, in all places — and justice requires that everyone protect the innocent and vulnerable from harm. Mechanisms that fail to respect this central obligation must be deconstructed, owing to prudence.
But likewise, no matter how many brothers (or sisters) fall seriously short of the glory of the Kingdom, we are not free to impute their personal guilt to the rest of the family, nor are we free to condemn them, consign them to Hell, or banish them from our love.
And we don’t blame Mother for loving her children or abandon Her over our anger at them.
At the very least, we keep coming to Sunday Dinners and we keep calling Her to ask for her prayers and guidance. But it would be best to remain close to Her at all times, so that She can give us the capacity to sincerely welcome them, just as we are called to do the same for all of humanity: to forgive, to give strength, and to instill confidence and hope.
In other words, we join Her in the Mission of Reconciliation and Love of the Word.