The Roman Catholic Church in America is under attack from many directions.
First, it is the target of everyone who opposes traditional Christian teaching and morality.
Second, it is the target of those who want to destroy Christianity’s influence in Western culture because they hate religion.
Third, it is the target of both extreme left Christians and extreme right Christians who have joined forces with those who want to destroy Christianity’s influence in Western culture. I am speaking specifically of those liberal Christians who have aligned themselves with atheists against other Christians and those conservative Christians who have gone the way of deifying militarism and corporatism.
Fourth, it is under both direct attack and attempts to co-opt it by corporatist influences who want to silence any voice that might criticize their actions on moral grounds.
If you will notice, all of these attackers combine on one point: They want to destroy the prophetic and moral voice of the Catholic Church in American society, and indeed in all of Western society. They do this because the Catholic Church’s teachings call them and all of society to something better than the exploited and degraded version of humanity that they want.
Sadly, there is a fifth and a sixth line of attack against the moral and prophetic voice of the Church. That line of attack comes from within the Church itself.
Fifth, the Church is under attack from within by Catholics who have aligned themselves with political and social forces outside the Church. They attack the Church in the areas where its teachings disagree with the teachings of those social and political forces. These people are aligned on both the secular political left and the secular political right.
Sixth, the Church is under attack from those of her own clergy who, for their own reasons, are ripping off their priesthood.
As always in any competitive circumstance, these attackers from within are far more damaging that all the attacks from without combined. However, the single most damaging attack against the Church’s prophetic and moral voice has come, not from without, not from the pews, not even from the priests behind the altar.
It has come from the Church’s own bishops. This damage has accrued because of the wide scale, deliberate, long-term and totally indefensible practice of allowing priests to molest children in the parishes entrusted to them and doing nothing to stop them.
The Vatican has not been as remiss in dealing with this as the press would have us believe. Pope Benedict XVI removed over 400 priests during one 2-year time span for sexually abusing children. He also removed a Cardinal for personal sexual misconduct. I think the reason this is largely ignored by his critics is that they didn’t like him for other reasons and were not fair enough to tell the truth.
Pope Francis has moved this up a notch. He has removed a Bishop in Paraguay, another bishop in Argentina, the Papal Envoy to the Dominican Republic, bishops in Ireland for either committing child sex abuse of sheltering abusing priests. He has also removed Bishop Peter Tebartz-van Elst for high living.
Now he has accepted Bishop Robert Finn’s resignation resignation Bishop Finn was convicted of failing to report a priest who had taken pornographic photos of little girls in his parish.
These are important steps for the Vatican. These bishops have done great damage to the moral and prophetic voice of the Catholic Church at a perilous time for Christianity. The laity is justified in demanding a change in this dynamic. In fact, the laity’s refusal to accept this behavior is a critical incentive for change.
At the same time, it is just as important for the laity to stand behind the bishops when they are trying to lead in the right way. We need the Vatican to pull those who go astray. We also need to support those who stay the course and follow Christ in the face of public criticism.
We live in times when the Church is under attack. Whenever one of our religious leaders takes a firm stand on Church teaching, he is immediately smeared and slandered. It is up to us, the people in the pews, to stand with him and support him.
It’s easy to get caught up in anger because of the betrayals of some bishops and forget how hard the others work and what good men they truly are. If you have a bishop who follows the faith and teaches the truth, take a moment to let him know that you appreciate him.
We are in a time when Christians who follow the Gospels are attacked constantly. Don’t peck your bishop apart over trivialities. Support him as best you can and follow his leadership.