The Blame and the Doubt

With the release of the bishops' report on the extent of the sex-abuse crisis, Catholics are asking: How could this have happened? Who's to blame? The bishops who looked the other way? The seminaries that taught “liberated” teachings about sexuality and ordained men capable of abusing minors? Is Rome to blame?

And there's a dark doubt hanging behind all of this: We know the Church is made up of sinners — but shouldn't it be better than this? Four priests out of every 100 are too many to be accused of abuse.

We painted the big picture last week, pointing out that child sexual abuse is at epidemic levels everywhere, not just in the Church. But that hardly satisfies. Shouldn't the presence of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit produce more than a Catholic Church caught in the same child-abuse scandal as the rest of society?

This horrifying scandal can make Catholics wonder — is the Lord really involved in the Church after all?

There's an apropos old story that addresses this doubt.

It's about the prayerful Christian man whose house gets caught in a flood. First a rescue-worker's truck wades through the waters to his door. But, “Don't you worry about me,” the man says. “The Lord will save me!” As the water rises higher still, another rescue-worker's boat rows over to his upstairs window. “The Lord will save me!” the man repeats. Last, the man is on his roof and a helicopter lets down a ladder. But he waves it away. “No! The Lord will save me!” he shouts.

Soon the waters wash the man away and he drowns. At the gates of heaven, he asks the Lord why he didn't saved him. “I tried!” the Lord says. “First I sent a car, then I sent a boat, and last I sent a helicopter.”

The truth is, the Lord has tried mightily to save the Church in America, too.

In the 1940s and '50s, he gave the immigrant Church here the wherewithal to climb out of the ghetto, build universities and send Catholics to the boardrooms, legislatures and broadcast booths of the nation.

Then, in the 1960s, he gave the world the Second Vatican Council, which strongly reaffirmed traditional Church teaching while encouraging Catholic lay people to take it out of the books and unleash it in the world.

Later in the '60s, as the world was swept up in the sexual revolution, Pope Paul VI gave Catholics the antidote with his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, reaffirming Church teaching on birth control and sexuality.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II was elected pope. His pontificate is like the culmination of these rescue attempts of the Lord's. He was a former Catholic university professor and one of the fathers of Vatican II. As Pope, he gave the Church the “theology of the body” to show how Church teaching honors and guards the dignity of human sexuality.

The Lord tried to rescue us, all right. But most Catholics responded like the man in the story.

Far too few bishops insisted that Catholic universities teach Catholic truth. Far too few insisted that Vatican II was about changing the world with our faith and not vice versa. Far too few proudly proclaimed all the teachings of the Church.

Far too few lay parents demanded that the money they pay Catholic universities should support their children's faith, not weaken it. Far too few lay people worked to transform the world with their faith. And far too few Catholics have followed the sexual teachings of the Church with joy.

Now is not the time to doubt the Lord's presence in the Church or his sure guidance. It's the time to proclaim it — not just to end our own scandals, but to heal a culture that desperately needs us.