Violation of boundaries, exploitation, betrayal, abuse of power – there have been any number of labels attached to the sex abuse scandal in Roman Catholic Church. And there have been an equal number of apologies offered up, alongside messages of sympathy for the victims.
But now Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich has declared that the church won’t go “down the rabbit hole” of addressing the conduct of church leaders because, the Pope has “a bigger agenda,” the church isn’t the only institution that needs to examine its behavior, and – besides – the attacks on the Pope are all about racism. You can hear the whole thing here: https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/cardinal-cupich-pope-bigger-agenda_Chicago-491855581.html
But the church does need to go down “this rabbit hole,” as Cupich describes it — because theologically and spiritually, there really aren’t any larger issues that take precedence over this one. The church is not one institution among many. And if the church is going to play the race card as a means of evading its responsibility, it can expect the reaction of Catholics and other Christians to be harsh and justly critical.That the church fails God and that we often fail God is no surprise. But the New Testament also teaches that the Christian’s spiritual journey includes in-corporation, embodiment, as members of the body of Christ. So, when the church fails its member-ship, it isn’t failing its members in the same way that an institution fails its clients or a company fails its customers. It is betraying those who look to the church as a foretaste of God’s kingdom, the beginning of a journey into Christ. It is foreclosing on God’s saving work in the lives of the victims. And it obscures the goodness of God. The hundreds of priests who have exploited children for their own sexual gratification have handed their victims over to darkness in a place where the same children had every reason to expect the love and grace of God.
In that light, the scandal is anything but a “rabbit hole” or (as the Cardinal’s language seems to imply) an operational distraction. Nothing short of confession and repentance – as well as disciplinary action on a massive scale – will suffice. Nothing less will create the basis for moving forward, and — without it — the church cannot expect to be heard on issues of climate change, immigration, or anything else. The well being of the victims and very nature of the church is hangs in the balance.