By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
“The tree is made manifest by its fruit; so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognized by their conduct.”
—Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians 14
There are so many reasons to weep over the new revelations of sex abuse and other grave moral failings by some priests and bishops within the Catholic Church: the unimaginable suffering of the victims, the lost faith of the millions of Catholics scandalized by these latest revelations, and the missed vocations by the many good men who were turned away or left the seminary after witnessing scandalous behaviour among their peers and superiors.
For me, in my role as president of Human Life International, there is one additional cause for sorrow: the irreparable damage that this crisis has done to the pro-life and pro-family cause. In truth, these latest revelations have made my job, and the job of so many pro-life leaders, so much more difficult than it already was.
Throughout the past century, as our culture has abandoned the truths about Life and Family, the Catholic Church has remained conspicuously unmoved and unmoveable. Even non-Catholic pro-life activists often admit that they look to the Catholic Church for leadership, clear teaching and inspiration. In the face of the onslaught of secularism and the triumph of the sexual revolution, including within the vast majority of Christian denominations, the Catholic Church has not only strongly reaffirmed its teachings on Life and Family, but developed new and more sophisticated arguments and evangelical tools to proclaim what St. Pope John Paul II called the “Gospel of Life.”
And yet, all the while, it seems, the devil has been hard at work. Knowing that a frontal assault on the Church could not work, he has silently fomented corruption, weakness and treachery within Her very walls. Even as the Church has presented a strong public front, the corrosive force of evil has been eating away at Her inner structures. We know that the Church will never fall. Christ has promised that the gates of Hell shall not prevail. Her supporting pillars are no less than Christ, the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition: and against these all attacks come in vain. The Church, too, is the mother of the saints, and among our clergy and bishops there remain many who are faithful, sacrificing their lives for Christ and His Church.
And yet, it would be foolish to avert our eyes from the truth of our situation: for it is only in the knowledge of the truth that we may discover and apply the cure.
Church Historian: This Crisis is Way Worse Than You Think
There are two primary ways in which the sex abuse crisis feeds directly into the Culture of Death: 1) This crisis, involving as it does gross violations of morality, above all sexual morality, gravely undermines the credibility of the Church to speak on the most urgent moral issues of our age. If so many, even at the highest levels of the Catholic Church, are either guilty of sexual crimes, or have actively covered up the predatory sexual behavior of others, how can we expect members of an increasingly secular culture to listen when we urge them to embrace a high moral standard that demands the practice of continuous self-denial? 2) The complicity of far too many of our clergy and bishops, even those who are “conservative” or outwardly “faithful,” ensures that their voices are silenced or weakened precisely on those issues where they are most needed: such clerics inevitably lack the moral backbone to take risks for the sake of the truth, knowing how they themselves have failed and are even open to exposure and charges of hypocrisy should they speak in defense of truths they have violated. Thus, the spiritual strength of the Church is imperceptibly eviscerated by the hidden immorality and weakness of some of her ministers.
In (rightly) much-maligned remarks recently given during a TV interview, one leading cardinal claimed that revelations that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused seminarians as well as at least one young boy is not “some massive, massive crisis.” In one of the best articles I have seen in response, a professor of political science at Franciscan University argues that – au contraire – this is one of the greatest crises the Church has ever faced.
Placing the sex abuse scandals in an historical context, Benjamin Wiker observes that in pagan cultures, prior to the arrival of Christianity, the practice of grown men pursuing and having sex with adolescent boys was widespread. The same was also true in the case of sexual slavery, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia – all of which were common, and actively defended. With the spread of Christianity, however, came the first sexual revolution, establishing sex within a lifelong marriage as the ideal and cultural norm, while pedophilia, ephebophilia and sexual slavery came to be viewed with revulsion, and made illegal. “They became moral issues, rather than accepted pagan social practices,” writes Wiker, “only because of Christian evangelization.”
In the past two decades, however, we have learned details about a disturbingly widespread, and sometimes organized network of homosexual priests and bishops in dioceses and seminaries, many of whom focused their predations primarily on young adolescent boys and men. This network, observes Wiker, is actively bringing the “de-Christianization of the world” by “literally recreating Greco-Roman sexual culture in our seminaries and dioceses.” [Editor’s note: such pictures are too graphic to include here.]
Indeed, says Wiker, those priests, bishops and cardinals complicit in sex abuse and active homosexuality are not merely one cause among many of the “devangelization, de-Christianization, repaganization” of culture, they are the “chief agents” of the aforesaid. For, as he rightly notes, “there is nothing, nothing, that undermines the moral and theological authority of the magisterium more quickly and thoroughly than the devilish marriage of scandal and hypocrisy. It destroys the ability to evangelize.”
“That’s a rather horrible irony, isn’t it?” queries Wiker. “The very men most authoritatively charged with the evangelization of all the nations are full-steam ahead bringing about the devangelization of the nations. In doing so, these priests, bishops and cardinals at the very heart of the Catholic Church are acting as willing agents of repaganization, undoing 2,000 years of Church History.”
Even this is putting it mildly. It is hard to imagine a worse and more cruel irony than watching shepherds tasked with the sacred duty of caring for their flock using their God-given authority to abuse and abandon the innocent and vulnerable in the most grotesque ways. Even furiously pro-abortion media, politicians and celebrities cannot do as much damage to the Church’s evangelical mission, then one highly placed prelate who abuses or abandons those under his authority.
Is it any wonder that so many have simply written off the Catholic Church, walking away in disgust, and dismissing every word from the mouths of its representatives as rank hypocrisy? How are we, who still believe the truths taught by Christ and His Church, despite the sins of her ministers, to tell those in the world that they must resist the sexual libertinism of our age, when our rectories, chanceries and seminaries have been infected with the same?
The Way Forward: Purgation and Conversion
What the McCarrick scandal in particular has exposed is that, even after the so-called “Long Lent” of 2002, when the secular press exposed many of the horrors of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, we have not yet fully understood or expunged the “filth” (as Pope Benedict called it) that has entered our Holy Mother Church. And yet, sunlight is a disinfectant. I mourn that we have learned the things we have learned these past few weeks. But I rejoice that they are no longer hidden.
What is needed now is a purgation and purification. Our first purgation began in 2002. Much has changed since then, and many efforts have been taken to protect the innocent and vulnerable. Thankfully, the numbers of abuse claims have fallen dramatically. I have heard from many priests and seminarians that many of the worst seminaries have been cleaned up. But still, more is needed.
In 2002 and afterwards many, including many of our bishops, were content to treat the scandal as involving illegal pedophilia by a small number of priests. Many of the policies that were adopted were aimed at curbing such predatory pedophilia. Unfortunately, however, the bishops put in place no measures to hold themselves accountable, nor did they broaden the scope of their concern to include not only obviously illegal abuse, but also other forms of sexual immorality that threaten the credibility and spiritual witness of the Church. In the short term, investigations, including those by secular authorities, should be launched and welcomed. In the long term, what is needed is the conversion and sanctification of the Church, above all her ministers and shepherds.
This quote from St. Paul to Titus strikes at the heart of the matter:
“For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it. For there are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers . . .; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for base gain what they have no right to teach.” (Titus 1:7-11)
The teacher should be an example to those whom he teaches. St. Paul often exhorted his audience to imitate him and to follow the example that he set (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Eph 5:1; Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:9) and urged both Timothy and Titus to be examples to the churches in which they ministered (1 Tim 4:12; Titus 2:7). We do not need priests and bishops who are administrators. We need shepherds who are holy, living righteous lives. Seminary rectors and vocation directors must actively recruit only young men who love Holy Mother Church and must ensure that their training challenges them to live by the highest possible moral standards, seeking holiness. Priests and bishops are primarily responsible to Christ and those entrusted to their pastoral care. They must hold each other accountable, must approach and cooperate with secular authorities when warranted, and must eschew any false notion of “fraternalism” that is infected with clericalism or groupthink.
The faithful have a right to demand higher standards from their shepherds. However, and in conclusion, we all have a responsibility to pursue holiness; the Mystical Body of Christ is one, and every member is valuable to is functioning. If ever there was a time for prayer and fasting, this is it. Our Church and our world need saints. Let us restore the purity and integrity of Holy Mother Church by becoming those saints and acting as examples to the world. Then, as in the early Church, the world may pause and pay attention to the Christians, inspired by their integrity, generosity and holiness, so different from the grasping selfishness of the Culture of Death.