Watching the first interview Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently gave to a TV news outlet made me think of a lot of things — a shepherd standing before his flock, staff in hand, being brave, honest and bold, not among them. You see, in my day job, I work as a communications professional. Part of my job is crisis management. Everything about his demeanor and what he said — and what he didn’t say — tells me Cardinal Wuerl had been well-coached by other professionals of my ilk, and it made me sad.
It also made me wonder — what would St. Peter have sounded like if he had been interviewed on Holy Saturday morning if he had first consulted with communication professionals?
REPORTER: So, is it Simon or Peter?
PETER: Whatever you’re comfortable with.
REPORTER: Is it true you denied Jesus of Nazareth three times yesterday afternoon?
PETER: I’m so glad you asked that question. You see, this has been a very regrettable and painful time for me. To see how the Sanhedrin didn’t seem to have an open heart in a more fully defined process yesterday was particularly disappointing.
REPORTER: What would you say to the woman who accused you of being a disciple of Jesus yesterday?
PETER: I can only say I feel her pain and want only what is best for her as she continues her own journey of discovery.
REPORTER: So, you did not deny Jesus three times?
PETER: I’m not about “keeping score” with things like this, regardless of how much personal pain this whole situation has caused me. I think it’s important we stay focused on what we can do in the future to ensure we have the right protocols in place so that we can have a full and open discussion about all manner of things that may cause others pain or discomfort.
REPORTER: What would you say to the people who are now suggesting that out of Jesus’ 12 hand-picked apostles, one of them denied him, one of them betrayed him and all the others ran away from him?
PETER: That all depends on what the meaning of “betray” means. And currently my brother apostles are in seclusion in various parts of the city. I can assure you they are as distressed over this current situation as I am, and I have all the confidence in the world that we will gather together in an undisclosed location sometime soon, and we’ll be issuing a press release shortly on how we feel about the unfortunate exercise in Roman civics that took place up on Golgotha yesterday afternoon.
Any serious Catholic understands that scandal is not new to the Church, and that crisis is how the Church came into existence. But as much as we might try to mollify our distress by assessing historical context to it, this scandal — and I heartily believe this is not a new scandal, but a continuation of the same one that broke in the early 2000s — hurts like hell.
We are all adults here. The large number of people who identify as “Catholic” in polls does not represent the health of the Church in America. If there truly were more than 70 million practicing Catholics in the United States, the United States would look a lot different, culturally and politically.
I don’t know what number out of this 70 million figure represents “S and I” (serious but imperfect) Catholics, but I am convinced it is a small percentage. So the vast majority of “Catholics” are either ignoring or uninterested in what any individual or any conference of bishops has to say. And the ones who do care, the ones who really are on a “journey of discovery” in regard to their faith, feel uncoupled from the leadership in the light (or darkness as the case may be) of this grim and downright satanic scandal. At least I do.
We keep waiting for leadership. We keep hoping that a bishop will pick up his staff and start swinging.
So much of the New Testament has been sanitized and watered down over the past two generations that we have lost the “toughness” of Jesus and of his message. Shepherds were not symbols of passive guys leaning on their sticks, whistling happy tunes as happy sheep bleated in a perfect pasture. Shepherds were rough and scroungy men who stayed up all night long, up to their sandals in sheep dung, and on constant watch for wolves. When they saw wolves, they used the business end of their staffs to dispatch the predator.
This may not be the same kind of scandal as that of a Pope Sergius III or Pope Paul II, but those scandals were for the people of the 10th and 16th centuries to figure out. This current sex scandal is all ours, and stipulating past sins is little comfort dealing with current sins.
And sin is the operative word. It would do us all a world of good to keep that little three-letter word first and foremost in our minds. It is time for us all to recommit ourselves to the Church and to Christ. To look first and foremost within, at how our own personal sin has diminished us, and to seek reconciliation and penance. Then, just maybe then, the sheep can expect something more from their shepherds.