How to Be Catholic When Your Bishops Are Not

Now is not the time for simpering fecklessly. Now is the time to follow Jesus Christ and be more Catholic than ever.

Fernando Gallego, “Cristo Bendiciendo,” c. 1495
Fernando Gallego, “Cristo Bendiciendo,” c. 1495 (photo: Public Domain)

The McCarrick scandals are proving to be a breaking point for many Catholics. Here we have not a man engaged in a struggle against temptation – who of us isn’t? – but a man whose shamelessly predatory behavior was tacitly condoned by countless church leaders at the highest levels, and whose depraved behavior was normal in many clerical circles. How many loving Catholic parents have sent their sons off to seminary never imagining the ordeal of sexual harassment, molestation and lifelong moral compromise that awaited?

It is no wonder that many who were lately warming up to the Church are now disgusted at the thought of conversion. It is no wonder that many lifelong Catholics are considering whether their faith can withstand such hypocrisy and corruption. Trite admonishments that “no one’s perfect” or “there is no perfect church” ring hollow when you consider that the man laying hands on your teens at Confirmation would not scruple to let a brother bishop go to bed with those same teens.

How does an honest Catholic hold on to the faith in such putrid circumstances?


Catholicism Not Clericalism

In a conversation recently, several friends shared childhood stories of molestation and sexual harassment openly tolerated in their parishes. I remarked what a blessing it was to be raised in a home where groping someone was never for an instant considered acceptable behavior. 

When we set aside basic standards of moral decency out of so-called “respect for authority,” we are worshipping a false god. We are making the person in leadership higher than God’s law. We put God on a lower rung, and raise our parish priest, bishop, or cardinal to something higher than God. Is it any wonder in God’s providence the rotten fruits of that idolatry are being revealed as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae?

The first step in holding onto your Catholic faith is making the decision that you will worship God alone. Our readings over the past few weeks have made it clear what God thinks of bad pastors.


Why Stay Catholic?

There are many reasons people are attracted to the Catholic faith. It could be the family heritage; it could be the beauty of Catholic traditions; it could be the exact right convergence of time and place and spiritual experiences. People become Catholic a billion different ways for a billion different reasons.

We stay Catholic for a single reason: Because it is true.

If you have never tested the evidence for the truth of your Catholic faith, may I suggest now is the opportune moment? Your logical reasoning won’t be swayed by any sentimental attachments, you can be sure of that.

There are historical and rational proofs for the truth of Catholicism. If you make the effort, you can know that Catholicism consists of a reasonable, evidence-based set of beliefs. You deserve this gift. Don’t settle for anything less.


Evangelizing not Enabling

But here’s a challenge for you: Do you actually live as if the Catholic faith is true?

We now know that many of our bishops do not. We can look around the pews and see that many ordinary Catholics do not either. We go through the motions, but our lives are basically the same as everyone else’s. Jesus Christ is the one most important thing to every man, woman and child alive today, and yet we content ourselves with a vague hope that everyone will be fine, and that we ourselves have no particular responsibility in the grand scheme of things.

That’s not what Jesus Christ said. Jesus Christ gave every Christian a mission to go and make disciples. Are you doing that? Are you actively praying, sacrificing, and working to bring others into a deeper, fuller relationship with God? 

We have seen that our Church is infected with nasty, self-serving, slothful men who would rather protect their neat little lives than take the courageous steps needed to carry out the mission God has given them. Are you one of them?


God Gave You a Brain

When my dad was aggravated at us kids for some stupid foible, he’d mutter, “Use your head for something other than a decoration!”

It’s good advice. What are some ways you can use your head to confront the crisis in the Church today?

1. If you find yourself wanting to protect abusers, learn about boundary-setting and healthy relationships. Chances are if you grew up thinking “discretion” and “respect” meant covering up for Father Groper, then other relationships in your life aren’t that healthy either. Now’s a good time to start changing that.

2. Support good ministries. Not everyone in the Church is corrupt. Put your money and time into the good work being done by people you know. This might be official parish or diocesan programs, it might be formally-organized apostolates, or it might be just you and some friends carrying out the works of mercy on your own. 

3. Demand accountability. What is the state of the Church’s leadership today? It is like a group of teenagers caught in the act and then crying, “Why don’t you trust me?” Is your parish or diocese transparent with the management of your money? Great. Be involved in maintaining that transparency. If not, when Father or Bishop comes to you asking for funds to cover a genuinely-needed expense, let him know the contractor can send you a bill directly and you’ll pay it. Men who behave childishly get treated like children.

4. Be more Catholic than ever. Now is not the time for simpering fecklessly. Now is the time to put on your grown-up clothes. God is Truth, God is Love, God is Justice, God is Mercy. There is no love without truth. There is no mercy without justice. Give yourself completely to God and you will not be able to help but carry out your part in reforming the Church.