Because the First Shall Be Last

Those who attack the Pope and the Vatican, thinking that this might bring down the Catholic Church, will never succeed. They are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. They are beating the donkey on his rear end instead of on his head; a donkey only moves faster when you beat its tail. The Catholic Church is not the Pope and cardinals. The Catholic Church is us.

For the Church to die, my faith will have to die, and yours. Our hope, grounded in faith, will have to be destroyed. Our charitable works, moved by faith, will have to end. And critics will have to chastise and ultimately destroy not Benedict XVI, who (horrible to think) might have had knowledge of abuse in Germany while he was a prelate there. They will have to destroy you and me.

They will have to silence people like my friend Z, who ministers to dying people as a physician in the OR of a leading Boston hospital. Or J, who selflessly tends our rectory garden, utterly pro bono, all summer long, even while Finbar, the zany rectory dog, uproots anything planted. Or F and C, who take communion to the old and enfeebled of our parish, though they are quite old themselves. They stop to say a rosary at each rest home.

Critics will have to bring down famous Catholics, too—not famous like BXVI or JPII, but famous like Mother Teresa, like Francis of Assisi, or like Jesus of Nazareth, who still lives in each of these beautiful human beings.

This line of thinking occurred to me this morning after I did two things. (1) Read a New York Times op-ed piece about the history of abuse in Germany, called “Benedict’s Fragile Church.” (2) Read my daily gospel chapter, in this case, Matthew 3, the story of Jesus’s baptism by John.

It struck me as remarkable that Jesus’s public life began by submitting to baptism at the hands of a wild-eyed prophet in the wilderness, wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. The wild-eyed one asks, whatever for? You should be baptizing me! Jesus answers, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And bows down and is submerged in the waters of the Jordan.

On Maundy Thursday, one of the most beautiful days in the Christian calendar, our priest, Father Barnes, will wash the feet of twelve parishioners, recalling Jesus and the apostles on the evening of the Last Supper. Jesus bowing down again, and again water. Two thousand years later, His Church rolls on like the Jordan.

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  • Anonymous

    Good thinking so early in the morning. What do you know? The Pope is a sinner too. He's a man like the rest of us; even like Peter. So much for the death of the Church or the Faith. "The Church rolls on…" and Jesus lives.

  • Anonymous

    Nice post Webster. But how DO we bring down that aspect of Church hierarchy that continues to allow abuse, neglect or corruption? I watch friends persist in following policies that are hurting our local school. Their 'faith' is misdirected. We must find a balance between blindly following and justly demanding changes.

  • Moses

    This kind of scandalous news is very upsetting and confusing.For me, my world view of the church as an institution is less rosy and remains a struggle to reconcile with its ideal. Amidst this, my faith in Jesus as source of life in and for the Church has been opened up.All this that is happening within the Church and the larger world whispered to me the need to turn to God, to listen to the gentle voice of God as in the case of Elijah while on the mountain of God. That is the comforting thought.And after this to continue to pray for the Church establish by Christ so that she withstand the assault on her faith in her Lord and Master. For this and reflecting on the dream of Don Bosco, my hope is that through whatever effort that I managed to make to participate in daily mass in the early morning regularly and praying the rosary, that God may protect the Church and grant her solace soon.Regards,Moses

  • Anonymous

    Brushing the hideous evil that is the sex abuse scandal under the rug with trite phrases such as "oh, well, the Pope is just a sinner like the rest of us" makes a mockery of the pain and suffering of the children and youth who suffered at the hands of the priests, bishops, cardinals and several popes. It spits on the victims of these sick, twisted and prideful men. Sexually abusing children and/or aiding and abetting sexual abusers are not garden variety sins you can shrug off with some mindless platitude. The children and young people abused by those sick men — sick men who were given free rein time and time again by prideful, evil men whose personal comfort was more important than the innocence, health and safety of children — are real. They are real human beings, every bit as much children of the same God you purport to have faith in. That God cries for justice for those children, and those who claim to hold the most complete understanding of His Truth continue to fail, utterly and completely, to answer that call, and they fail because of the same selfishness and pride that caused the bishops and cardinals and popes to fail. Pride is of Satan — pride belongs to Satan exclusively — pride IS Satan. When you pridefully and selfishly blow off the suffering of little children in order to make being Catholic a little easier and more comfortable for you, you are answering Satan' call, not God's. Also, bringing to light the scope of the sex abuse scandal is not assaulting the Catholic Church or anyone's personal faith. That the hierarchy of the Church is being embarrassed by having their deeply evil transgtressions revealed to the world is not an assault from some outside entity. It is the direct result and consequence of their own evil actions. Had the hierarchy of the Church done the right thing the first time around, none of this would have happened. Had they responded appropriately each time the opportunity to do so arose the degree of the scandal might have been lessened and the hierarchy might have maintained some level of credibility. But the hierarchy of the Catholic Church failed time after time and they continue to fail to this day in their response to the ongoing revelations of their sins. Any bad press they're getting, any criticism, is THEIR fault, not the fault of those who report or comment on the story. The priests and hierarchy (right on up to the Pope) committed these sins and they refused to come completely clean, they refused to do the right thing, they refused to own their behavior. Worse, they continue to repeat the same sins — knowingly, willfully, by choice — that caused the scandal. Don't whine about how everyone's attacking and assaulting the Church, or how reporters who reveal the truth of the situation are trying to bring down the Church and the Pope and your faith, blahblahblah. What a pewling, cowardly, ball-less tack to take…not a big surprise, but still some pretty unmanly behavior nonetheless. When every priest from your, er, "special friend", Father Barnes, right on up to Pope Benedict mans up, grows a pair, and takes it on the chin, then maybe there will be hope for the Church. Until then, it's over — it's the Church y'all want — it's the Church of the mindless, blind followers who will accept anything — and I mean anything the hierarchy shoves down their throats…

  • Webster Bull

    @ Anonymous, I think you misread my post. But I will leave it to other readers to respond. Thanks for reading.

  • Anonymous

    No, I didn't. What you seem to have confused in your mind is the Church that consists of those who follow Christ and the institution of the Catholic Church, which is a self-serving, exclusive country club created by a particularly nasty breed of men. The Catholic Church, as it stands today, is not the Church Christ founded. The Church Christ founded consists of faithful people who follow Christ's last commandment to us all. Also, the Catholic Church and the Church Christ founded have pretty much become mutually exclusive. You can't serve two masters — you can't serve the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and serve Christ.

  • Webster Bull

    And my faithful Catholic friends who serve the Lord and their fellow men? And Mother Teresa? Francis of Assisi? Francis de Sales? Padre Pio? St. Jean Marie Vianney? St. Augustine? St. Thomas More? St. Joan of Arc? St. Therese of Lisieux? St. Thomas Aquinas? St. Benedict of Nursia? St. Paul? St. Peter? On what tier of hell, in what country club do you place them? That is my point. The Church is not the hierarchy, it is the rank and file, it is the dirty beggar asking for alms, not the rich prelate in finery. You mistake my point, talking about the Church, the Church, the Church.

  • @Anonymous: I am a lifelong Catholic and my faith in Christ is very deep. We are an apostolic church – the Church Christ founded through his apostles.I don't "serve" the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, but I do live my Christian life through the Sacramental and Liturgical life of the Church.I am appalled and disgusted by scandals and cover-ups. And I also understand that while the Church here on earth is comprised of human beings, who sometimes sin horribly, the Church itself transcends all of us; is the mystical body of Christ Himself, existing here on earth and in a place where time does not exist.God bless you.

  • wow thank you and God Bless you! I really needed that right now.

  • The Catholic Church is not the Pope and cardinals. The Catholic Church is usBeing a fellow convert, I know I don't have all the whys and wherefores all figured out. Another convert, Evelyn Waugh said,Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.I have glaring areas of ignorance about Mother Church. But I do not have what seems to be a bitterness toward those in office within the Church who are, admittedly, just as human and, thus, as liable to sin, as myself. Our outrage is understandable, because our expectations are understandably high. But it is just as big a mistake to think that the humans who hold office are sin-less as to believe we can "mess" with "reforming" Mother Church. Think post-Vatican II idiocy.When I receive Our Lord – body, blood, soul, divinity – as He commanded (Jn 6), I cannot conceive a higher honor nor a greater condescension on His part. And I realize His wisdom in commissioning those men who would continue to bring us this Eucharistic Mystery down through long ages in this massive, magnificent, entity called the Church (ekklesia). I, for one, don't feel like either second guessing Our Lord or purporting to call for "reform". The former is hubris, the latter is setting myself up as a mini-pope. I was a Protestant pastor for 20 years doing the latter in the pulpit. Thankfully, those days are over. Cheers

  • Mother Teresa is no angel, and there have been several exposes written on that subject. Of course, if the truth is too uncomfortable for you Catholics to deal with, you merely deny it, so…whatever. As for other saints, there'd have been hell to pay if the clergy and hierarchy had pulled the crap they're pulling now while they were still alive. God, Truth, Goodness, etc., all transcend the Church. The Church has been and continues to be revealed as a place utterly saturated with evil. We're not talking about just a few guys who were sinners — we're talking about the widespread, systematic, from the lowliest member of the clergy on up to the Pope himself, planned, deliberate cover up of the aiding and abetting of pure evil. That's not an "oops, my bad — but we're all sinners" moment. That's some seriously sick stuff. That you who CHOOSE to remain in and support an organization as evil as this and use God as an excuse only speaks to how deeply, deeply evil it all is.

  • James

    Anonymous @10:52. Posting your sanctimonious, hate filled diatribe in a nameless fashion is what I call gutless. I seriously doubt that you could "man up" under any circumstances. I know Fr. Barnes and he is special as is Webster though not in the manner you suggest. They're real men living in the real world. Save your ad hominem trolling for some other forum as it detracts from whatever merits your argument poses. Child abuse in all forms is a part of human history. It's a sad fact that children have always been treated as disposable. Child labor laws in America have only been in effect for well under a hundred years and the sickening child pornography trade apparently thrives. As regards our Church, no Catholic in good conscience diminishes the pain and damage inflicted on the innocent and vulnerable victims of sexual abuse nor is it condoned. Allison has it right – our Church and our religion transcends these circumstances as it has many times in the past. The hierarchy has failed grievously before yet we survive and thrive precisely because we are the Church which Christ founded on Peter his Rock. The same Peter who failed Christ three times yet who remained His rock. I can never know or appreciate what events caused the pain that brought you to your present state, Anonymous, but throwing stones won't bring you peace of mind. Try prayer.

  • James

    @ Island Time: Would that be Fantasy Island?

  • Yeah, okay, "James"…that was manly…/rolleyes.Real men living in the real world have jobs. Sorry, but being a priest is not a job. It's basically no different than being a welfare recipient. You don't live off other people's hard-earned money and then tell those people they have no say in what you do and how you do it. You want that kind of autonomy, get a job like everyone else. The Church has moved far, far beyond Peter's denials of Christ. What has happened is not merely a "sad fact" of our society. It's evil, and until you're willing to call it what it is and take an honest look at how this evil overcame anything good in the Church, then you're playing into that very same evil. When mere men, for entirely self-serving reasons, decided they knew better than God, the Catholic Church started on the path AWAY from God and became something that has nothing to do with Christ. God transcends all this. The Church transcends nothing.

  • Maria

    Anonymous: In the Catholic Church we take take the long, broad view. We trust in the Mercy of God and always remember with St. Paul that where sin abounded grace abounded more. Has the Church failed in its treatment children against whom unspeakable atrocities have been committed? Yes. Does the media and Obama seek the ruin of Christendom? Yes. Are we aggrieved? Yes; however, God in His providential wisdom allows sin that we might repent, that Saints might be made. include an excerpt on penance and reparation as this is how we, as Catholic, practice our Faith in Christ crucified:Penance and Reparation: A Lenten Meditationby Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J."Penance and reparation are the consequence of sin. Or again, penance and reparation are the price we have to pay for our own and other people's sin. Penance and reparation, finally, are what God requires from sinners as a condition for showing them His mercy. In order to better understand the meaning of penance and reparation, we have to look for a moment at what happens whenever we sin. Two things happen: First: we incur guilt before God for the self-will that caused us to sin. We become more or less separated or estranged from God, depending on the gravity of our sin. Second: We deserve punishment for the disorder we cause by our sinful conduct. We become liable to suffering pain, again more or less pain, depending on how seriously we have done wrong. Against this background, we can more easily see the meaning of penance and reparation. Penance is the repentance we must make to remove the guilt, or to reinstate ourselves in God's friendship. Reparation is the pain we must endure to make up for the harm we brought about by our self-indulgence when we sinned.

  • Maria

    ANONYMOUS–PART II ContinuedWhat, then, do penance and reparation have in common? They have this in common, that they are absolutely necessary if the justice of God is to be satisfied after we have offended the divine Majesty. They also have this in common, that God now has a right to demand more of us than He would have required had we not committed sin. The word more is basic to any correct understanding of penance and reparation. But if penance and reparation have this in common, how do they differ? They differ, as we have seen, in the two different ways that we do wrong whenever we sin. Because we have failed in loving God, we now owe Him more love than He would have required had we not offended Him. We did wrong by our willful love of self. So now we have to make up by our selfless love of God. This is Penance. And because we have brought disorder into the world by our sins, we must undergo pain to undo this harm we have caused. This is reparation. Why Penance and Reparation?If we ask, why penance and reparation, the first answer is: Because God wants it. But if we press the question: Why does God want it? Then we must say, because in His mysterious wisdom, His justice requires it. We may legitimately say, without really understanding it, that He has no choice. Having given us a free will, if we abuse liberty, we must use our freedom to repay to God the love we have stolen from Him (which is penance) and repair the damage we have done (which is reparation). Notice, all along I have been using the first person plural, "WE", because penance and reparation are owed to God not only because I have individually sinned, but because WE human beings have sinned and are sinning, in our day, on a scale never before conceived in the annals of history. We know better than Cain after he killed his brother, Abel. We are our brother's keepers. WE ARE MYSTERIUOSLY CO-RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT OTHER PEOPLE DO WRONG. There is a profound sense in which ALL OF US ARE SOMEHOW TO DO PENANCE AND MAKE REPARATION, NOT ONLY FOR OUR SINFUL MISDEEDS, BUT FOR THE SINS OF OUR COUNTRY AND, INDEED, FOR THE SINS OF THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE.

  • Maria

    ANONYMOUS PART III Continued…We return to our question: Why penance and reparation? Because, in Christ's words, "Unless you do penance, you shall all likewise perish". Is it any wonder that on Pentecost Sunday, after Peter preached his sermon, and rebuked the people for their sins, and they asked him, "what must we do," his first word to the multitude was the imperative verb, "Repent!" Is it any wonder that Our Lady of Fatima's message to a sinful world in our day, may be summarized in the same imperative, "DO PENANCE." Indeed, the calamities that we have so far seen in this present century: two world wars with more casualties than in all the previous wars of history, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust that hangs over us like a tornado cloud. All of this is God's warning to do penance and reparation. Why? Because God is not mocked. YOU DO NOT OFFEND GOD WITH IMPUNITY. YOU DO NOT SIN WITHOUT RETRIBUTION. You do not ignore the will of the Almighty and expect the Almighty to ignore what you do. What bears emphasis, however, is that this retribution is either to be paid willingly, with our penance and reparation, or will be paid unwillingly within the divine punishment. The divine logic is simple, awfully simple, and all we have to do is learn what God is telling us. EITHER WE DO PENANCE AND REPARATION BECAUSE WE WANT TO, OR WE SHALL SUFFER (AGAINST OUR WILL) THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR SINS IN THIS LIFE, AND IN THE LIFE TO COME.But remember, THIS PENANCE AND REPARATION IS TO BE DONE NOT ONLY FOR WHAT WE HAVE PERSONALLY DONE WRONG. IT IS FOR *ALL* THE PRIDE AND LUST, FOR ALL THE CRUELTY AND GREED, FOR AL THE ENVY AND LAZINESS AND GLUTTONY OF A SIN LADEN HUMAN FAMILY. God is merciful and in fact as our Holy Father has told us, Jesus Christ is the Incarnation of divine mercy. But God's mercy is conditional. It is conditional on our practice of penance and reparation". Anomymous: Our Holy Father, the successor to St. Peter has called all priests to penance, for a reason. We are sinners in need of the Mercy of God.For the rest of the article, see link: › Archives Index › Lent Index

  • James

    Island Time still can't see the forest through the trees. The Church transcends its Institution because The Church is The Body of Christ. The Church is Spiritual and thrives in spite of its hierarchy and not because of them. Furthermore, the priests I've known in my lifetime are some of the most decent, hardworking people I know but they hardly need me to stick up for them in the face of such uninformed agenda driven drivel. As for your rolling…I bite my thumb at you, sir.

  • Jesus said it best this Sunday — everyone has stones to throw and a justifiable reason to throw it — but in love, He said, "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone."In the meantime, be grateful that the Holy Father knows the evil he confronts …and now that evil has burst forth out of his own homeland, his own brother accused, his own self accused. As anyone who has spent time reading B16 would clearly understand, we Catholics do not have a Pope who shirks from battling such evil.St. Michael, protect us!

  • Fan of Schall

    @WebsterA little levity for a very serious post. See what happens when you state that you are giving up reading The New York Times and then continue. I am stuck in the pattern as well but trying to read anything but….

  • Webster Bull

    @James,Finally, someone bites the thumb at someone here! I was wondering if it would ever happen. (Although I think we're dealing with a madam, not a sir.)@Fan of Schall, LOL. I no longer take the Times or Boston Globe paper edition, but I do get the Times on-line daily blast, mostly because I am addicted to the crossword puzzle and can't go without. Not even on principle.

  • james

    In the interest of chivarly and civility I respectfully withdraw and apologise for my churlish remark. My Irish was up.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to add comments from my perspective of a career in social work that spanned the era from the 50's through the 90's. My first job was with Catholic Charities of St. Paul. I belonged to the Child Welfare League of America, was enrolled in the MSW program at the U of Mn and read widely on all aspects of child welfare. Not once in this time did I even hear the issue os sexual molest mentioned. In fact, the issues brought before the Juvenile Court were neglect, abandonment and delinquency. It took a horrible case of abuse/murder to serve as the impetus for a group of social workers , Judge Archie Gingold, and lawyers to formulate policies and laws regarding physical abuse. (See: "A Death In White Bear Lake" by Barry Siegal.) This was late in the 60's. It wasn't until 1974 that a federal law regarding the reporting of sexual abuse was enacted. For years and years, sexual abuse was a hidden crime. In 1990, Alice Miller, a renowned psychologist and expert on child rearing practices and child abuse wrote a book called:"Breaking the Walls of Silence." She indicted all of society —media, academia clergy, law therapists—in this wall of silence.In the 80's and 90's I worked for a county Child Protective Services agency and I volunteered as a therapist in a group treatment program for boys and girls who had been molested. All of our cases were in-home and many involved stepfathers, boyfriends, fathers and other relatives as perpetrators. Some women were also perpetrators. None of these perps were celibate. The media seems to be ignorant or have forgotten that sexual crimes have a component of power and control over a vulnerable child. Sex is used as a means of control as well as for satisfaction.In San Diego County we are in an uproar over the rape/murder of a 17 yr old girl by a registered sex offender on parole. Truth be told we as a society do not know what to do with molesters, whoever they may be. Molest is a societal problem and is widespread in America and the world.

  • Anonymous

    This is Part ll of the above comment.While the wall of silence has been broken in the church, it is still in place in other institutions. When I read that the NY Times is going after the public schools and the trial lawyers are filing suits against the public schools, where studies have shown molest is rife and being covered up by school administrators, then I'll believe that they are really serious about combatting child molest. Until then, as far as I'm concerned, they and other media and academia are filled with hypocrisy. The church does not exist in a vacuum. It effects and is effected by the differing cultures that contribute to its clergy and laity. I don't think you can look at child molest in the church without looking at the issue in the various societies. We must pray for those in charge, especially our pope, that they will use compassion and wisdom in their decisions. Hard as it is, we have to remember that every soul, even the soul of a molester is worth saving. Having worked in the field, that is very hard for me to say as I want to be punishing and vengeful. The main task is to make sure children are protected and that those who have been molested are given the utmost of whatever they need to find healing. The American church's program and policies can be examples to be used in other countries. It is ironic, but now that the wall of silence has been broken in our church, we have the opportunity to be a model for other institutions if we have the will and the charity to do so.

  • Anonymous

    This is Part III of the above comment.I find an Augustinian understanding of the Church to be very helpful, especially in times such as this. St. Augustine perceived the Church as both the perfect Body of Christ, as she will be in the eschatological future, and as an imperfect body of imperfect human beings, a "corpus permixtum" to be sorted out only in the judgment of God. The Church is an institution both divine and human, both to be believed in with faith and to be loved and amended with clarity and compassion, as she is.Augustine, whose belief in the Church as one, as good, beautiful and ttue, never weakened, was familiar for decades with the failings of some other bishops some priests and some Christian laymen. He grieved over the many Christians who give Christianity a bad name. such people cause the name of "Christian" and 'Catholic" to be defamed. (From Lucy Beckett, "In the Light of Christ").Webster, I hope these thoughts are helpful. The bottom line for me is that the church, in its human weakness provides divine graces through the Liturgy and Sacraments sometimes at the hands of sinful priests. Think of Graham Greene's whiskey priest!! Christ will never abandon us or his church. That is our abiding faith. Janice Johnson, San Diego

  • Webster Bull

    @Janice, Thanks so much for these three generous contributions. I wholeheartedly agree with all of it. As someone who was abused by two non-religious males in my teens, and as a three-year student at a leading secular boarding school (talk about a hothouse for "man-boy love"!) I know how skewed public perception has become, as though the Catholic Church was the only place where this kind of thing happens. But never in the military, I'll bet! . . .Hey, it used to be "hallowed tradition" in English public schools (our prep schools) that a senior would have what amounted to a freshman sex slave. And yet all the media reports are about abuse in our Church, or the Irish Church, or the German Church, or the Brazilian Church. See a pattern there? And yet, "Christ will never abandon us or his Church." Thank you so much.

  • Thanks for your comments Janice. It's unfortunate when the alarm sounds General Quarters and some of the crew mistake it for Abandon Ship. Make a note of their deserted island on the chart, because we'll need to send a launch out after them eventually.

  • One last thing from my corner: my friend, mentor, and all round good fellow, Gil Bailie, has said that the Christian faith – besides being one-with the Catholic Church for 1500 years before the so-called "reformation" – needs a Body, just as each of us IS a body.A disembodied Gospel is gnostic; a mental pipe-dream. Our Lord saw to it that since we are these soul/body continuums, we wd always have what we need in the visible, unified Church – "one holy catholic and apostolic Church" – which will provide us with the Eucharistic grace that we incarnational beings must have.To deny the necessity of the CAtholic Church is to out-spiritualize Jesus (see John 6; Mtt 26). Cheers