“The Catholic Church — and I am a life-long member — has disgraced itself beyond belief. If evidence should be revealed that a Cardinal was implicit in this cover-up, he should be indicted. I’m having trepidation as I prepare to attend Mass this morning. I’m afraid that if my pastor reads The Cardinal’s BS letter, I shall have to walk out and, maybe, forever!”
“As someone who has left the perverse Catholic Church I can only urge all to boycott this corrupt religion. The very fact they are ‘celibate’ attracts pedophiles and homosexuals to the order. Catholicism is inherently flawed and evil because of this. Look to other Christian faiths for true religion.”
-online comments to February 2011 Philadelphia Inquirer articles about the priestly abuse investigation.
As a Catholic evangelist, it is impossible for me to ignore the damage caused by the priestly abuse crisis. It is the type of story embraced by the mainstream media and a favorite “water cooler” conversation at the office. As evidenced by the above quotes, the fallout from this tragedy has shaken people’s faith, caused them to stop donating to the Church or, in some cases, to leave the Catholic Church entirely. As demonstrated by the recent news coming out of Philadelphia, it is a story that will not die. If we take Jesus at His word, we know that the Church will never disappear (Mt 16:18), but there is no doubt that she is being damaged. As Catholics, what can (and should) we do in defense of our Church?
As ludicrous as it sounds, I propose that we start by getting to know Satan! In understanding who he is and what his goals are, we’ll be able to better defend against his attacks on our Catholic Church. No matter what you may hear or read, the devil is very much involved in all of the evil that is taking place in the Church.
Scripture tells us clearly that Satan is a liar (Gen 3:4-5, Lk 4:6, Jn 8:44). While not able to force us to sin, he will use any means to convince us to do evil. He even had the audacity to use Scripture (Mt 4:6) when trying to tempt Jesus! The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes him as “the one who throws himself across God’s plan and His work of salvation accomplished in Christ (CCC 2851)”. As a lover of evil, what does Satan enjoy?
He loves when babies are murdered through abortion. He especially enjoys the fact that he fools people into thinking that killing the unborn is a “choice.” He rejoices when he convinces men and women to sin mortally by looking at pornography. It’s even more of a joy to him when the sin results in the breakup of a family. Speaking of families, Satan is overjoyed when he sees divorce and child abuse. All kinds of crime, especially murder, make him very happy. However, nothing thrills the devil more than when he convinces a member of the clergy to sin, especially publicly. Furthermore, if that sin involves the abuse of a child or homosexuality, that’s even sweeter to Satan. Perhaps the only thing that could add to his enjoyment is when that sin by an ordained minister leads others to criticize or leave the Church entirely. That’s exactly what the devil wants. As someone who wants to stop our salvation, he will do anything he can to ensure we separate ourselves from the vehicle of that salvation, the Church!
Unfortunately, we often play right into his hands and unintentionally help him to damage the Church. Instead of focusing on the fact that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church as a necessary vehicle for our salvation, we “bad mouth” and condemn the Church. We refer to the perpetrators (accused or convicted) as “monsters”, cry for their heads, condemn the bishops for making bad decisions and refuse to contribute to the Church. We speak and let others speak of the Church as a corrupt organization run by “power hungry” men. Fueled by our anger and outrage, we fail to realize that our words may cause others to leave the Church, putting their salvation in jeopardy. When we condemn “The Church”, we fail to recognize that there is a difference between “The Church” and her individual members. When one of her members (including members of the Church hierarchy) sins, it is not “The Church” who sins, but the individuals!
What then is the correct response to these horrible crimes committed by members of the clergy? Should it just be ignored? The first thing we need to remember is that we should not depend on the mainstream media to give us the true story of these Church scandals. While some of the information is undoubtedly true, often times the accusations are partially or completely false. What good does it do for us to focus on the alleged details and share them with others? If the topic arises at the workplace or in our social circles, we could redirect the conversation and state that the Church is a Heavenly institution and was founded by Christ. Scripture tells us that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tm 3:15). While this means that the Church cannot teach error, it does not mean that the individual members of the Church hierarchy cannot sin. Until Christ comes again in glory, the Church on earth (including the clergy) is made up of imperfect sinners. We could also remind others that the vast majority of priests and bishops are good, holy men. Although the media would like us to think otherwise, the percentage of individuals involved in these horrific acts is very small.
Additionally, we must pray daily for our Catholic clergy. St. Peter reminds us that “the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour” (1 Pt 5:8). If that “someone” is a priest or bishop, that is a special prize to Satan. If we criticize our clergy without praying for them, shame on us!
We must also keep in mind that when we criticize the Church (or her clergy), we criticize Christ. As evidence, I ask you to recall the words of Our Lord to Saul (a.k.a. St. Paul) of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Before he went on to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, Saul was a notorious persecutor of Christians. He didn’t even know Jesus, as evidenced by his question to the Lord, “Who are you, sir?” Christ’s response should send chills up and down the spine of anyone who speaks negatively about any member of the Church hierarchy, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9.5). Outside of the sheer ingratitude of criticizing the Savior of the world, anyone who speaks poorly about Jesus (or His Church) should become familiar with His words in Matthew 10:32-33!
I want to be absolutely clear that I am in no way recommending that we cover up any illegal acts committed by members of the Catholic clergy or ignore the horrible agony experienced by the victims. If you or someone you know is the victim of abuse by a member of the Catholic clergy, you should immediately report the issue to the police. However, I am asking you to remember how happy Satan is when the Church is damaged in any way. The devil hates Jesus, hates the Church and hates everything good. He despises it when, instead of spreading venomous stories about our Church and her Magisterium, we defend her Divine goodness. Pray for the clergy, pray for the victims, pray for the Church’s leaders, pray for the any members of the press who distort the truth for publicity. By doing so you will help to thwart Satan’s efforts to damage the Church…and that’s a GOOD thing!
(© 2011 Gary Zimak)