If bishops want a sense of where things stand these days, consider this:
Last weekend, a parishioner shared with me a story that offers a snapshot of what the world now thinks of the Catholic Church.
He works for a private, secular day camp on Long Island and was giving a tour to a family. The mother kept peppering him with questions about how the children were supervised. Where did they change? What sort of access did adults have? My friend politely answered the questions and concerns, and at the end of the tour the mother explained. “I’m sorry if I asked so many questions,” she said, “but with what’s happening with the Catholic Church now, you can’t be too careful…”
Mind you: she was not Catholic. The camp was not Catholic. But the festering boil that is the sex scandals of the Church has now broken wide open, and no bandage can contain it. This is how the public now perceives us.
Those are just non-Catholics.
What about the people in the pews?
Ask Catholic journalist Melinda Henneberger, who has now very publicly declared she is leaving the Church:
No one can accuse me of being hasty. But after a lifetime of stubborn adherence on my part and criminal behavior on yours, your excellencies, you seem to have finally succeeded in driving me away. I’m not even sure there’s such a thing as a former Catholic, but I’m about to find out.My hopes for this Baltimore confab weren’t ever high, because fool me 6,000 times, shame on you. But that 6,001st time, well, I’m just all out of willingness to be conned into believing you — who’ve so long seen the devastation of innocents principally as a PR problem — are ever going to change.
Like others who’ve had more than enough of your betrayals and arrogance and perpetual surprise about having coddled child rapists, I haven’t been back to Mass since June.
Elizabeth Scalia sums things up powerfully:
My email is a daily font of fury being expressed by friends and Catholic media colleagues who declare their faith shaken enough to impact their prayer lives, their attendance at Mass, and even their foundational belief in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Amid so many lies, cover-ups and assists to evil, they catch themselves wondering, is any of it true?
The behavior of our hierarchs and churchmen — our “shepherds” — and their sometimes wholly out-of-touch responses to our expressions of pain have driven more sheep than they realize to the point of questioning not just some of their faith, but all of it.
It leaves me praying for many, but wanting to say this: My friends, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we need not lose our faith over men who have proved more feckless than faithful.
If regard for our bishops has been deflated, that may not be a bad thing. We were always better off keeping our eyes on Jesus, who is ever steadfast, than in imbuing a character of holiness on human beings who, with a few exceptions, are destined to disappoint and fail and to shake our trust in our own abilities to discern who is worthy of admiration, and who is not — something that I suspect partially plays into Henneberger’s own despair.
There are many good bishops working earnestly to serve the Gospel and the Church with forthright conviction and servant’s hearts, and they are worth admiring. Others, admittedly seem less so. Before they are anything else (including “princes”) all of them are men in need of salvation, same as the rest of us.
We need to see them as such, and let them know that we do.
I pray that Melinda and the many Catholics who are staying away from Mass will be able to pray it out, and come to realize that, as the psalmist warns, we ought never place our trust in princes (Psalm 146:3).
We’re hearing this, again and again, and if the bishops aren’t, they aren’t paying attention. It remains to be seen just how far and deep this discontent and anger will spread — and how many will be left when it is done. (Don’t hold your breath for a jump in next year’s Catholic Appeal.) The pain has just begun.
And not just among the lay folk. I’m getting emails from priests and deacons who are shellshocked. We may lose vocations over this — both those who are ordained and those in formation.
Too many are losing faith, losing trust, losing hope — we are, in so many ways, losing our religion.
Pray for our Church. Pray for Her leaders.
As I mentioned in a homily a few weeks ago:
In a time of scandal and uncertainty, when you may not know who or what to believe, believe this:
The Catholic Church is beautifully, miraculously, courageously alive. And it lives through Christ who lives in us.
Yesterday, a Jesuit priest by the name of Edward Reese preached the homily at the funeral for Senator John McCain at the National Cathedral. He quoted the great Catholic poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins:
“What I do is me: for that I came.”
I say more–the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
That is who we are, that is the Church: Christ playing in ten thousand places, lovely to the Father through the features of men’s faces.
This is who we are.
There is a lot of uncertainty, anger, even despair right now. There are calls for reform, for resignations, for investigations. Nobody knows where it will end.
But with so much that is uncertain, this much is certain: the Jesus who lived for us, who died for us, who gave us himself in his Body and Blood—the Jesus we ourselves will draw closer to in just a few moments— is with us.
He not only lives in us when we receive the Eucharist. He lives through us—in every prayer we whisper, every act of mercy we share, every sacrifice we make in his name, fulfilling his command to “love one another.”
This is what makes us the Body of Christ.
What is the Catholic Church?
Look around you, in front of you, behind you.
There is your answer.
Hold on to hope, as elusive and slippery as it may seem.
But our bishops need to know this:
We do not have eternity.
We are running out of time.
Soon, we may be running out of Catholics.