Two sacred religious seasons come together this week — Passover and Easter. Both traditions compel believers to spend hours in prayer and reflection on the human condition, the possibility of the divine, the price of evil, the hope for resurrection, the timeless questions of faith and belief. The Seder’s Haggadah is the ancient story of oppression, suffering and liberation. The Christian Gospels of Passion and Resurrection proclaim the need for atonement, redemption and forgiveness on the pathway to salvation.
Catholics begin this Holy Week in a Church beset with contradictions. This is a Church that has become increasingly adamant in public about the conduct of its members in relation to the moral law articulated in the Magisterium, the official body of Church teachings. Most Catholics who consider themselves faithful accept the Magisterium, but many wonder about how far the Church can or should go to direct secular political choices when the civil law does not conform to Church teachings. This question is at the heart of the political actions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on issues ranging from abortion to immigration to nuclear arms control to economic policy and the response of Catholics and others to those actions.
Even as Church leaders take a more assertive public position on these issues, the news of even more scandals involving the abuse of children keeps spilling out like a faucet stuck on an overflowing sink. Some people believe that the New York Times and other news outlets that have published these stories are part of a conspiracy to weaken the Church at precisely the time when Church leaders are calling Catholics to more fidelity. I think that’s a claim too far. While the stories may not be entirely coincidence, and there are surely some people who enjoy Church-bashing, there are far more faithful Catholics who are deeply worried and profoundly scandalized by the news.
Harming children must surely be one of the most egregious forms of Original Sin. The Church is adamant about the sacred nature of life from the moment of conception. Surely, that overwhelming concern must carry through to the protection of children after birth and through their years in school. From all that has emerged in the last decade, thousands of children were harmed by priests in the most shameful ways possible.
Church leaders must do more than call their lawyers and pay out millions in settlements. Some of the most loyal and faithful Catholics I know happen to be mothers and grandmothers, and after the victims, themselves, these women of the Church may be those who are most profoundly outraged and saddened by this scandal. These are the women who scrubbed the altar cloths and decorated the sanctuaries and ironed the surplices and baked all those cupcakes for the bake sales and drove the kids to every practice, play and midnight Mass and frosty sunrise service. To listen to the women in their elder years sigh with worry that their sons might have been harmed by the Father whom they trusted is heartbreaking. They may never know the truth, since so many sons remain silent.
In this season when we think of the Passion, the acts of atonement and forgiveness that are essential for Resurrection, we can only hope that our Church leaders will think of their own responsibility to model the moral conduct they expect of their flock. Atonement is the essence of the crucifixion. What form of Atonement will achieve some measure of justice for the scandals that won’t go away?
See Vatican Defends Pope Benedict in the Washington Post
See John Allen’s Q&A on the Sex Abuse Crisis in the Washington Post
See Vatican Response to new allegations