With all the recent Church scandals, why even bother staying in the Church?
Many well-intentioned Catholics are asking themselves this. The recent sexual abuse scandal is definitely shaking the faith of many. Hoping to help anyone who might be struggling with that question, I would like to share some of my thoughts and personal experience.
I came back to the Church 11 years ago as a 20-year-old young adult in search of truth. I had been away from God for many years and the last thing I wanted to do was to come back to the Catholic Church. I had developed a special hatred toward the Church. During my time away I had read anti-Catholic literature and developed the mistaken but firm belief that everything was “screwed up” in the Church, beginning with the pope and all the way down to the clergy and ordinary Catholics.
Then one day, during the time when I had hit rock bottom and was completely lost in my own destructive and addictive lifestyle, my mother convinced me to go to a charismatic retreat. The keynote speaker was a deacon from New York known to have many spiritual charisms. Among them were the gifts of healing and prophesy. At one point and almost against my will, he laid his hands on me and prayed to the Holy Spirit for my “spiritual healing.”
At first I wanted to take off and run away. But then I let my guard down. It was then that I felt an overwhelming sensation descend upon me. Now I know it was the presence of the Holy Spirit working in me, but when this was happening, I was extremely confused. For the first time in many years, I believed God was real; I was convinced that Jesus loved me and that He wanted to save me from my own damaging lifestyle. (I will save the details of this powerful experience for another time.)
My family was so grateful to this deacon that he became a part of our family. We invited him back to our parish and to other parishes nearby on a number of occasions. We would take him out to eat and spend all evening conversing with him about the joys of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. We simply couldn’t express our gratitude sufficiently. God had worked miracles in our family through this man and we felt eternally indebted to God and to him. He was my role model and someone I truly looked up to. He was our hero. But one day, everything changed.
We had convinced my sister to talk to him since she had some doubts about the faith and wasn’t quite ready to come back to the Church. My parents were so excited about it. They were convinced that if anyone could bring her back to the Church it would be him.
But then things went terribly wrong. After they had several conversations at retreats and over the phone, my sister revealed to us a very dark secret: he had called her in the middle of the night and had tried to convince her to go to his hotel room. He was intoxicated and acting belligerent. That wasn’t the worse part. He made some terrifying threats to her; he warned her that bad things would come her way if she told anyone about his harassment. Naturally, she told us but thought we wouldn’t believe her because of his excellent reputation. He was sort of a “Catholic superstar,” if you will, the “man of the moment.” Every Catholic ministry leader wanted him to visit their parish for a mission or a retreat. In the end, we believed her.
Later in the week, he called her again and she put him on speaker. Now we had also heard the evidence. We reported him to the diocese and after some investigation, they discovered that he was involved in inappropriate and criminal behavior in other dioceses. He was eventually removed from ministry.
Naturally, we were in shock, infuriated, and utterly disappointed. I personally didn’t know what to think. Suddenly my world came crumbling down. I had a couple of Protestant friends who would tell me that the Catholic Church could not be the true church of Christ because of all the corruption. They insisted that all Catholics were either drunks, or perverts, or self-righteous, or thieves, or liars, or hypocrites. After this disappointing experience, I almost started to believe that. After all, I wasn’t very mature in my faith at that point.So what made me stay in the Catholic Church? I remember coming home one night and falling down on my knees before a crucifix in my room and praying: “Dear God, I don’t know many faithful and committed Catholics, and I’m not sure if they’re living a double life. I don’t even know if there’s any. But even if there aren’t any, I want to please you and I want to remain faithful to your Church. But I can’t do this on my own. Please help me remain faithful and help me resist the temptation of the double life and hypocrisy. Help me to be true and passionate about you and your Church.”
Many years later, I am nowhere close to being perfect or holy. I am still a sinner. But I am still trying to be faithful and true to my calling. I am trying to be the missionary disciple Jesus wants me to be. Sometimes I burn out and need renewal. Often I need to visit the Sacrament of Reconciliation. My daily prayers, the Holy Rosary, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and daily Mass have kept me going. Also, my wife sanctifies me and helps me to stay focused. We help each other by being accountable to each other. Throughout the years I have also had the blessing of meeting and befriending faithful and holy priests, bishops, religious sisters, monks, and lay Catholics. Their radical witness and prayerful lives are holding the Church together. But all of this goodness is because the Holy Spirit continues to guide and sanctify His Church.
I am still in the Church because no matter how bad things get, Jesus will always be truly and sacramentally present in the Holy Eucharist, and God’s grace will continue to infuse our souls through the sacraments Christ Himself instituted. Humans stumble and fall but God never fails and never breaks His promises.
Here are some uplifting Scripture verses that might help us find solace during these times of trouble:
- “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)
- “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20)
- “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” (Lk 22:31-32)
- “But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Tim 3:15)
- “Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Mt 13:30)
Photo by Thuong Do on Unsplash