Bishop Paprocki tells a lapsed Catholic: “Why you should return to the Church…”

The bishop of Springfield responds to a newspaper columnist with a column of his own: 

In her Jan. 25 guest column, Elaine Boardman asked, “Why should I return to the Catholic Church?” Since she asked publicly, I would like to answer her question publicly.

Elaine, let me say first that I am grateful you took the time to express your views openly and frankly. They are upsetting to read precisely because they are, in large part, accurate (one correction: Father Kevin Sullivan is still a priest, though he is now retired and is no longer engaged in public ministry).

You concluded by saying, “I am your new reality. Deal with me and tell me how to come back to church. Don’t just tell me the past is the past, and that you are sorry.”

I won’t offer any excuses, and I have always thought that apologizing for someone else’s wrongs is rather hollow and meaningless. Instead, I will offer three reasons why you should return to the Catholic Church. Two of these reasons rely on the words of Jesus and remind us that Jesus founded both the church and the priesthood. The third reminds us that you are correct: The church cannot take anyone for granted.

First: Christ gave us the church to forgive sins. When Jesus was challenged for associating with sinners, he responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). This includes popes and presidents, clergy and laity. When the Risen Lord appeared to the apostles, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, saying, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23).

Second: The church holds the keys to salvation. In founding the church, Jesus said to Peter, the first pope, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

Now it might seem that we have a contradiction: Christ entrusted the church to sinners and at the same time gave them the power of forgiving sins and administering the sacraments. The sinfulness of the church’s ministers is a source of scandal and can be a difficult obstacle to continued participation in the life of the church. But Christ has chosen to act through the ministers of the church, sinful as we are. This does not mean that we become complacent in the face of sin and scandal. We cannot eliminate sin, but we can deal with it appropriately, take steps to prevent its recurrence and use the spiritual gifts entrusted to the church to grow in virtue and holiness.

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