Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science, Director of Human Life Studies, and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is In Defense of Nature: the Catholic Unity of Environmental, Economic, and Moral Ecology. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com.
My dear wife and I converted to Catholicism a bit over 30 years ago. All converts have some angle in to the Church, some very personal hook by which the Great Angler reels them in the door. For my wife, it was the very real feeling of Christ’s presence in the tabernacle of the church. Mine was an intellectual conversion. Winding my way through the history of philosophy, science, ethics and political philosophy, I kept finding myself at the door of the Church, which had long before I came along already separated the truth from the multitude of errors. We entered the Church while I was working on my Ph.D. at Vanderbilt.
I have spent the three decades since then evangelizing as a college professor, speaker and writer. “Spent” is a very exact word. Like money, the time and effort of one’s life is not a bottomless reservoir. Once you spend your life doing something, you don’t have that time any longer. It’s gone.
We also spent those 30 years—my wife and I—trying to live a life faithful to the teachings of the Church. Not just the easy stuff. The hard stuff. The stuff that wears you down. But as converts, we chose to enter the one Church that makes real demands, the one that holds the moral line when it would be easier to move it into the comfortable zone. Living up to the demands of the Church was our familial way of evangelizing, of living what we claimed to believe. We thought the clergy, and above all, the bishops and cardinals were doing the same.
But what now in the midst of the revelations of ever-more sordid scandals? Revelations of who knows how many priests, bishops, and cardinals who had been regularly and willingly violating, not just their vows, but nature itself? Of who knows how many seminaries turned into hotbeds of homosexuality? Of who knows how many millions upon millions upon millions of dollars in hush money paid out by dioceses all over the world to silence victims of sexual predation—money that we and others like us gave to the Church when we really didn’t have much money?
The most difficult revelation is that it had all been occurring for well over 30-plus years. This was the actual Church we had entered as converts. We didn’t know it then. Who did—other than the perpetrators and those covering their tracks?
And now the terrible question must be asked. Would we have converted 30 years ago if we knew everything that was actually going on then? The honest and even more terrible answer is, “no.” We would have turned away, in revulsion.
Let us ask that terrible question again in the present tense. Who will convert to the Catholic Church now, given all that’s being revealed? What will happen to the New Evangelization?
And keep this in mind when trying to answer that question: we are nowhere near the bottom of the cesspool. Wait until the attorneys general of Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, New Mexico, Illinois, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Lord knows how many more states do their own investigations.
When I ask that question I feel as if I’ve misspent the last 30 years as an apologist. I think over the hundred different arguments that led me to the Church’s door and demonstrated the truth of the theological and moral doctrines of the Catholic faith. I think about the muscular apologetics of the saints and doctors I’ve poured over and taught enthusiastically for so many years. I think about the millions of words I’ve written. And then I think, “Who would listen to any of this now?”
Who can listen when the only thing that can be heard—that needs to be heard—is the actual state of the Catholic Church, the Church in ruins?
Can there be evangelization among such ruins?
If you suspect me of being overly-dramatic, note the response to the upcoming Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. Archbishop Chaput has wisely counseled the Pope to cancel. The timing couldn’t be worse, given the heinous reports of priests and bishops sexually preying upon Young People, using the Faith to have predatory access to them, and permitting Vocations to be destroyed by allowing seminaries to become homosexual grooming grounds.
Does that mean we give up on evangelization?
No. Christ does not allow it. But it does mean that no further evangelization can take place until the Church undergoes the most thorough and public cleansing of its 2000 year existence.
That is how serious the Church’s situation is right now, and the bishops, cardinals, and the pope himself need to realize just how dire it is.