Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
It’s clear that the dust from the Church sexual abuse scandals will not clear any time soon. What is not entirely clear is how Catholics should respond.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains why it’s so damaging:
Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea’ (Matthew 18:6). Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing (CCC 2285).
Scandal and damage, we’ve got. But now what? How much can we express? Anything? Everything? Do we dare accuse and demand explanations and resignations against the people we had only recently looked up to? Who are the abusers, the betrayers, the complicit ones, the good ones?
Most of us thought we were a unified Team Catholic minus a few weak links. We trusted that housekeeping was complete in 2002 and that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had gotten the hierarchy into better shape. Instead, we now see that birds of a feather and institutional behaviors explain why some bishops lacked proper enthusiasm on definitive Catholic teachings. Behind-the-scene-betrayals of Catholic truths diverted many ministerial energies.
Those who love the Church will stay come hell or high water. Yet, we are left to sort out gossip and detraction from righteous indignation and a right—nay, a responsibility—to speak out. We were taught not to talk against our priests and bishops, and certainly not about the pope. Should we give them the benefit of the doubt? But wait, that didn’t work. So now what?
I gathered suggestions from several thoughtful Catholics, starting with Phil Lawler, author of the just-released book The Smoke of Satan: How Corrupt Church Bishops Betrayed Christ, His Church And The Faithful And What Can Be Done About It. His book details the corrupt actions of too many of our bishops and leaders and lays out a way forward. He has been a Catholic journalist for over 30 years, authored eight books, founded Catholic World News and is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org.
- Pray a lot. Pray for specific people, especially pastors and bishops. Pray for unity and for clarity. Pray for those whose faith has been shaken. Pray for the emergence of saints.
- Get the facts. If you don't have the facts, don't speak out. But always demand honesty. Don’t be satisfied with bland comments.
- Demand from priests, pastors, and bishops that they speak out honestly—with the whole truth.
- Support parishes, schools, and organizations that boldly and fully proclaim the faith, and DON'T support those that don't.
Marcy Klatt, vice-president of a television production company (she prefers not to name) and a voracious reader on the scandal, offered these suggestions.
- Pay attention to what is going on so that you’ll notice red flags.
- Be involved. Let the priest/bishop know of your concern. Stories abound for instance, about McCarrick doing strange things and people just letting it go. [Not that there weren’t reports that were ignored.] If they know they will be held accountable and people are watching they will be less likely try and get away with bad behavior.
- Stay close to your children. Especially be more involved when your kids are involved.
- Search out orthodoxy. Leave parishes with liberal nonsense and let the pastor know.
Dr. Edward Sri, Author, speaker, chancellor and professor at the Augustine Institute and co-founder and Vice President of Formation of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) explained that a Biblical response to Church scandal is to go “deeper, into the heart of the Gospel.”
He explained that the Bible and Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasize prayer, fasting and almsgiving (CCC 1434) as acts of love. “We can offer these acts of penance in union with the whole Church in reparation for the suffering our brothers have caused,” Sri said. “While no single act can possibly repair the harm done to the victims, their families and the larger community of Christians and non-Christians alike, we believe our small acts of love can reverberate throughout the Body of Christ and offer some consolation to those who are suffering.”
Sri pointed out that St. Paul said the Church is one body in Christ but made of many parts so that when one part suffers, we all do. Likewise, when love grows in one part of the body, it benefits the rest. Here are his suggestions.
- Offer prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to ask the Lord to comfort, heal and strengthen the parts of the body that need his mercy most.
- Support our faithful bishops and priests that need it now. Let them know you’re praying for them and are grateful for their faithfulness.
- Purify our own heart since no one is without sin.
- Work to remain strong in our own faith.
Sri acknowledged being personally shaken, but that his own faith remains strong. “For my faith is in Jesus Christ, not any individual leader in the Church,” he said. “And Jesus promised to be with his Church and work through his Church.”
In a Catholic World Report article, theologian George Weigel advised us to keep things in perspective since the scandal is often magnified into something bigger than it is. He condemns abusive clergy and malfeasant bishops but points out that most of what we are hearing about through grand jury investigations was in the past. “Effective anger today will focus on the present,” he wrote. “And it will not be limited to local situations but will include the obtuseness (and worse) of officials in Rome.”
He blamed “spiritual narcissism” for some of the pent-up anger at the clergy who have tailored Catholic teaching to suit their own preferences. “At the same time, it must be remembered that most priests and bishops in the United States are not narcissists,” Weigel said. “Rather, they’re men with a deep sense of vocation who know they’re earthen vessels through whom flows unmerited but superabundant divine grace. Those men deserve our support, affection, and gratitude as they, like the rest of us, deal with the fallout of this season of humiliation and purification. As for the narcissists, they need help — and disciplining.”