A commenter on my post about why I remain Catholic asked,
Have you considered the possibility that you can still believe what the Catholic Church teaches but leave the organization itself in protest against its history of protecting abusers?
The Church is the Body of Christ. Its members are all sinners, and sometimes they do horrible things. But I will not willingly cut myself off from it.
To amplify: I believe what the Church teaches about itself. It is not simply a human organization. Rather, it is the Church founded by Christ Himself to be His body in this world, through which His revelation is passed down and through which His sacraments are given to us. Those sacraments are the primary means of grace by which we grow closer to God and come in time to eternal life. Christ is the head of this Church; the Holy Spirit is its soul. Individual Catholics, from the popes on down to the lay-folk in the pews, are all members of this body, and all sinners.
Jesus Christ is my life. If I cut myself off from His body, I cut myself off from Him. If I were to continue to believe what the Church teaches but leave the Church, I would precisely and exactly be cutting myself off from Him. This I will not do.
My interlocutor (and isn’t that a lovely word?) responded,
And what if it was not just the members of the church but its leadership? What if, by remaining a member, you were condoning their criminal actions?
But seriously: to focus on the abuse scandal as the prime evil perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church is to be ignorant of history. Do a little studying, and you can find far bigger sticks to beat us with. There are have been sinners in the Church hierarchy from the earliest days down to the present. We’re all sinners; some of us are going to be great and egregious sinners, and some of those are going to be in places they shouldn’t be. Most of us (and not just Christians) abuse God’s patience most profligately (have you ever noticed how seldom bolts of lightning turn blasphemers into greasy spots on the pavement?). Some of the popes have been real pieces of work; papal infallibility by no means implies papal holiness. (One pope was involved in a plot to poison his predecessor, IIRC.) When we can, we honor those who hold office in the Church; when we can’t, we continue to honor the office.
But the Church isn’t about them; it’s about Christ. It isn’t about us, either; it’s about Christ who, in His mercy, works with the materials He has to hand.
All that said: while the members of the Church’s hierarchy are sinful men (like me), I don’t buy that the Church is a kind of criminal organization dedicated to preserving its members from prosecution. There are always bad apples, but I think the current basket of apples is in pretty good shape, on average. Constance Hull at “Swimming the Depths” has a related post about how bad—and good!—the Church is.