When Bad Men Happen to Good People

Don’t be bitter about these evils. Instead, cultivate a righteous anger so that God’s anger can work through you to help renew His Church.

Giotto di Bondone, ‘The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas)’, ca. 1305
Giotto di Bondone, ‘The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas)’, ca. 1305 (photo: Register Files)

It’s been quite some time since the clergy abuse scandal broke. And re-broke. And re-broke. I haven’t said a whole lot – very little, in fact – because, quite frankly, I’ve been stopped in my tracks as a Catholic writer.

I just don’t know what direction to turn.

I want to write encouraging things, but I’m deeply discouraged. I want to write motivating, pointed essays, but I’m left unmotivated and pointless. I want to take a stand, but my legs keep buckling under me.

It’s not like I didn’t know there were problems in the Church. We are an institution of humans who too often succumb to our human frailty. But I just didn’t realize how deep and vast the problems were. That we have the integrity of the Church rattled all the way up to the Vicar of Christ gives me cause for trepidation. I’ve been asking myself, “How could we [as the Mystical Body of Christ] have let this happen? Why did God let this unimaginable crisis go this far?”

My mind wandered to a book I’d read many years ago, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner. Kushner wrote the book in response to his 3-year-old son’s diagnosis of a degenerative disease that would cause him to die in his early teens. The book became a classic for people of various faith traditions.

There’s a paragraph from the book that I think fits the present crisis in the Church:

We can be angry at what has happened to us, without feeling that we are angry at God. More than that, we can recognize our anger at life's unfairness, our instinctive compassion at seeing people suffer, as coming from God who teaches us to be angry at injustice and to feel compassion for the afflicted. Instead of feeling that we are opposed to God, we can feel that our indignation is God's anger at unfairness working through us, that when we cry out, we are still on God's side, and He is still on ours. (p. 108-109)

Our indignation is God’s anger at unfairness working though us. That is a proverbial mouthful.

In these weeks – months – of agonizing, angering and praying, I’ve also been reminded of the wise words of Servant of God Father Joseph Kentenich, Founder of the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt.

He cautioned his spiritual children to never be surprised when adversity came their way since, as Christians, we have united ourselves with the Suffering Christ. Why should we expect to be exempt from suffering when our Lord led the way by his example?

“Because God wants to make us unique images of his Son, he ‘prunes the vine’ (see John 15:2) often in extraordinarily painful ways. He leads us into the dark night of the senses and of the intellect and exposes us to the high wind of divine abandonment,” Fr. Kentenich said.

This certainly has been a dark night of the senses and intellect for me as I try to muddle through the myriad of emotions that have hit me like a freight train. But the wisdom of not being surprised by adversity is something I can hang on to.

The Church is the Body of Christ, the instrument of salvation and the provider of the sacraments. Why in the world would Satan not seek to destroy us? Why would I, as a faithful cradle Catholic, not expect to face tribulation in Holy Mother Church in my lifetime? Years ago, my spiritual director told me, “If you’re facing opposition, then you know you’re doing the right thing.” At her virtuous core, the authentic Church is doing the right thing. Why would she not face opposition to such a severe degree?

The vine is being pruned and the result will be something life-giving and magnificent. We’re just not done with the pruning part yet. There’s more pain ahead and that should not surprise us. We have the right to be angry at the injustice and at the same time an obligation to see that our indignation becomes God’s anger at unfairness working through us. God’s still on our side, and that gives us great hope.

That’s how it goes when bad men happen to good people.