In recent years, the Church has made great strides in improving its handling of sex abuse cases. This is a good sign.
But I’m afraid that many Catholics have adopted a rather narrow approach to this scandal. They’re are not seeing the big picture, namely that the sex abuse scandal is just one manifestation of a much broader problem of lax discipline, lack of orthodoxy and dissent. In a nutshell: lukewarm Catholicism.
Without minimizing the horror of sexual abuse, the reality is that the Church faces many other problems as well:
- Bishops, priests and religious that dissent from core Catholic teachings (even on such issues as abortion).
- Bishops and Cardinals accepting bribes to hide scandals.
- The decay of Catholic schools and universities.
- Rotten development agencies like Development and Peace.
- Almost universal acceptance of contraception among the laity.
- Many Catholic couples shacking up before marriage.
- Seminaries forming future priests into dissenters.
- The demise of confession in favour of general absolution.
- The abusive granting of annulments.
- Widespread liturgical abuses.
I’m not saying that these problems are on par with the sexual abuse scandal. I’m just saying that these are additional major problems that have the same root cause: lukewarm Catholicism.
Unfortunately, not enough is being done to address this broader problem in a systematic and comprehensive way. We only see piecemeal actions on the hottest issues, primarily the sex abuse scandals but also some efforts by a handful of good bishops regarding communion for pro-abort politicians.
Why have these two issues drawn the most attention? Undoubtedly because of the severity of these crimes. The sexual abuse of children is among the gravest of sins. Similarly, sacrilegious reception of communion by politicians is extremely serious because the Eucharist is the holiest and most sacred treasure of the Church. Another important reason why the sex abuse scandal has been prioritized is because it gets huge media attention. As shallow as that may sound, it’s true. How else can we explain that many bishops kept a lid on these crimes until they were exposed by the media? I think this problem has now been resolved for sex abuse scandals, but not for other problems plaguing the Church.
Consider this: if Development and Peace were doing something illegal by worldly standards and was being exposed by the mainstream media, how fast do you think the Canadian bishops would have reacted and taken corrective action? Faster than it takes a Ferrari to go from 0 to 60. But since they’re “only” violating the Church’s teaching and being ignored by both the secular and Catholic media, the issue is brushed aside and ignored. The Development and Peace scandal is going from 0 to 60 in about 10 years.
Make no mistake: there is a huge similarity in the modus operandi of the bishops that hid predator-priests from prosecution through denials and obfuscation and the M.O. of the Canadian bishops that are hiding and denying the truth about Development and Peace. The scandal is very different, but the underlying culture of hiding problems and being above reproach is the same. Very little has changed. Even the most faithful bishops in this country are gun-shy when it comes to openly denouncing the Development and Peace scandal. Have they not learned anything from the sex abuse scandal?
Lukewarm Catholicism is a systemic problem that requires a comprehensive big-picture strategy. I don’t have a miracle solution, but we should be thinking big.
If not, God will be forced to kick our butts to solve our problems despite us instead of with us. You don’t believe me? Think back to the early Church. At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, the Church in Jerusalem was growing rapidly and everyone was experiencing great joy. They went to the Temple to hear readings from the Old Testament. They gathered daily for the Eucharist and to hear the teaching of the Apostles. They shared their property so that nobody was lacking. Good times. So good, in fact, that they appeared to have forgotten Christ’s orders to go beyond Jerusalem and evangelize the rest of the world:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8).
Since the Church was too comfy in Jerusalem, God intervened. Acts 7 ends with the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr, which triggered persecutions:
That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1)
Is it just a coincidence that the disciples were scattered precisely to where Christ had ordered them to evangelize? I think not. And what fruits came of this scattering?
Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. (Acts 8:4)
The Church got her first missionaries. But it took a persecution to get them moving.
It’s our duty to try and fix the problem of lukewarm Catholicism. But if we don’t, God won’t hesitate to send us persecutions to clean house. The lukewarm will then bail out of the Church and be pruned away, leaving a more fervent Church for the future. That’s the last resort. It would be most uncharitable for us to sit back and wait for God to do this. After all, we want the lukewarm to convert, not to apostatize and be lost. So let’s get moving.