Archbishop Viganò’s recent testimony has caused an earthquake on an ecclesiastical Richter scale that few, if any, of us have ever witnessed. Almost every prominent Catholic voice in America has commented on it. That’s understandable. It cannot be ignored. Yet, in all the examination and commentary surrounding his testimony, one striking section has gone largely unnoticed; it appears at the very end of his letter and serves as the epilogue to his testimony.
But first, let’s back up a minute.
Whether someone believes Archbishop Viganò’s specific claims or not, it is unquestionable that serious abuses and cover-ups have taken place at high levels for decades. Nor is it questionable that there has existed a network of abusive priests abetted by unfaithful bishops who seem unable to muster the slightest hint of empathy toward innocent children who have undergone horrifying suffering.
How and why some of these men were appointed to high levels in the first place is mind-boggling. Perhaps they exhibited some degree of administrative know-how or executive technique; perhaps these skills were regarded as essential in the role of bishop. As French philosopher Etienne Gilson once observed, “Piety is no substitute for technique” – meaning that holiness cannot take the place of skill and effort. Maybe that was the prevailing logic of these appointments. Yet, this current crisis has brought an infinitely more important truth to light, namely that technique is no substitute for piety. Ironically, the fact that many of these men were talented at organization worked against the Church and her most innocent members.
Thus, the Church is in a terrible crisis.
In the midst of all this, Archbishop Viganò issues a letter that makes accusations that could not be more serious, identifying a conspiratorial cover-up that goes beyond anything novelist Robert Ludlum ever dreamed of. The accuracy of Viganò’s claims will be investigated in the coming weeks—one hopes, with the full cooperation of prelates at every level—but Viganò’s blunt assertion about the current condition of the Church’s health is dire.
Yet Archbishop Viganò unexpectedly concludes his letter with some powerfully hopeful words and reminders:
Even in dismay and sadness over the enormity of what is happening, let us not lose hope!
We well know that the great majority of our pastors live their priestly vocation with fidelity and dedication.
It is in moments of great trial that the Lord’s grace is revealed in abundance and makes His limitless mercy available to all; but it is granted only to those who are truly repentant and sincerely propose to amend their lives. This is a favorable time for the Church to confess her sins, to convert and to do penance.
Let us all pray for the Church and for the Pope, let us remember how many times he has asked us to pray for him!
Let us all renew faith in the Church our Mother: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church!”
Christ will never abandon His Church! He generated her in His Blood and continually revives her with His Spirit!
Archbishop Viganò makes three statements here worth pondering.
First, the mercy and grace of God are freely given without limit “only to those who are truly repentant and sincerely propose to amend their lives.” We must pray for the repentance of those who caused this crisis—not only for their sakes, but for the sake of the Church and her members.
Second, “the great majority of our pastors live their priestly vocation with fidelity and dedication.” Consider this: the same man who believes there is a heinous cover-up in the Church simultaneously believes the vast majority of priests are good and faithful men. That’s a crucial point to consider not only for ourselves, but also for our associates, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike. In fact, charity and justice dictate we boldly promote this truth.
Third, “Christ will never abandon His Church!” Pointing to sinful human shepherds, some Catholics decide they can no longer be sheep, and they go in search of greener pastures. But apart from Christ and the one and only church He founded, there are no pastures at all—only barren wasteland. This is why there are those of us who will never leave. Because sheep we are. And we have no prouder claim, because the Good Shepherd is Christ Himself.
That is our consolation, but it does not make things easy. While the demonic actions of guilty prelates are rightly being condemned, many innocent priests and bishops are being criticized based on a logical fallacy, guilt by association. Those who have heroically lived up to their calling will suffer much for the sins of those who have not. But it doesn’t stop there. Many of the lay faithful will be criticized for remaining in the Church, while those who renounce their baptismal vows will be congratulated.
When I think about the reality of days to come, I can’t help but return to the words of Thomas Paine. A few days before Christmas of 1776, in the freezing days of the American War for Independence, Paine—not exactly a proponent of organized religion— issued these words to inspire the troops:
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
Even now, there are those who boast of leaving the Catholic Church. But like those who sought to restore liberty and justice to America, the Church Militant benefits little from summer soldiers and sunshine Catholics; it benefits much from those who seek to conquer the forces of hell, even and especially when those forces appear in the Catholic Church.
We are about to see Paine’s axiom confirmed yet again: “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”