Father Rutler is Pastor of the Church of Saint Michael in New York City. He is the author of twenty-five books and many essays, and has lectured widely at home and abroad.
The nineteenth-century churchman John Henry Newman has shaped many of my views and how to apply them. With the credit of a second miracle to his intercession, it is likely that he will be canonized in short order.
Our culture as a whole is conflicted about the course of events and moral failing in dealing with them, and this is glaringly so in the Church, which is made by God to be a beacon and ballast for all people. Newman reminds us in one of his letters (Vol. XXV, p. 204) not to be surprised by this, as it fits the predictable strategy of the Anti-Christ: “Where you have power, you will have the abuse of power—and the more absolute, the stronger, the more sacred the power, the greater and more certain will be its abuse.”
For Catholics, present problems are weightier than at any time since the sixteenth century, with its political and theological upheavals. Even the assurance of a stable and centrifugal reference in Rome itself is being tested. It is helpful to recall what Newman said in another of his letters (Vol. XXVII, p. 256): “In the times of Arianism the great men of the Church thought things too bad to last. So did Pope Gregory at the end of the 7th century, St. Romuald in the 11th, afterwards St. Vincent Ferrer, and I think Savonarola—and so on to our time.”
It would be falsely pious to sweep the scandals of our day under the rug. And it is stunningly evident that, in cases of moral abuse, bureaucratic attempts to buy silence have been a very bad investment.
In the Historical Sketches, Newman refers to “the endemic perennial fidget which possesses us about giving scandal; facts are omitted in great histories, or glosses are put upon memorable acts, because they are thought not edifying, whereas of all scandals such omissions, such glosses, are the greatest.”
Present experience attests to what Newman wrote in his book Via Media: “The whole course of Christianity from the first ... is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing ... Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of truth dim, its adherents scattered. The cause of Christ is ever in its last agony.”
Scandal is “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” and it “takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2284-2285). Our Lord, who faulted the scribes and Pharisees for giving scandal, is the author and head of the Church, and the good news is that, despite the vicissitudes and dissembling of the Church’s mortal members, His Good News is not “fake news.”