June 28, 2002

Don't lose faith because of scandals

The recent sex scandals have made being a member of the Catholic Church more and more difficult. And yet I cannot help but be pulled closer to my Catholic faith as a result. To be sure, many of the allegations and investigations have indicated that sex abuse did occur and that many of those in positions of authority may have acted incorrectly when dealing with these criminals. However, the Catholic Church is an institution built by the people and is composed of the people. Without believers, the faith would be dead.

It now seems increasingly easier to turn away from the Church and to blame people such as Cardinal Law in Boston and others for being negligent in their roles as shepherds of the flock. This blame, in turn, makes leaving the Church seem like a viable option, but one that is impossible for true followers.

The Catholic Church is a living church, made of people who follow its creed and believe in its teachings. I, as a Catholic, firmly adhere to the teachings of my faith and believe them to be accurate and truthful. In this sense, my role as a Catholic is similar to my role as a citizen of the United States. There are sinners in my Church just as there are criminals in my country. Belonging to a certain faith does not automatically indicate that one is without sin or cannot commit a wrong. Indeed, those 250 or so priests that have resigned since the scandal first surfaced were members both of a church and a country. They are sick individuals who have committed both moral and legal wrongs and for this reason must be punished. Yet their wrongs do not reflect upon the remainder of the people. Just as I, as an American, am not judged to be a criminal because of the countless and increasing number criminals in my country, so, as a Catholic, I should not be penalized for believing in a faith to which sex offenders once belonged. Laws are broken in countries and morals are broken in religions. Yet, the offenders are individuals and do not reflect the whole.

My analogy between the roles of being Catholic and a US citizen extends further. An offender, be he a Church representative or ordinary citizen, should be punished both in the Church as well as in the country in which he resides. There are no loopholes for priests, nor should they receive special treatment. They are human and they can commit wrongs. When that happens, they should be punished. Those bishops who chose to relocate priests they knew were offenders should also be punished, just as any person who conspired with a known criminal is punished in our society. In both the Church and state, punishment should be equal.

Victims of abuse are greatly scarred by offenders and they must receive proper professional counseling to rebuild their self esteem and to give them the courage to rejoin the society in which they were hurt. The victims in the Catholic sex abuse case must also receive counseling, both civil and religious, in order to understand that their communities welcome them and will pray for their healing.

I am pulled closer to my faith than ever before. I cannot abandon it simply because a few members have done wrong. For example, it would be comparable to say that the US should abandon its fight for equality because the few ignorant people in the KKK wish equality to die. Indeed, that would be absurd. All the battles, protests, and lives lost, as well as the march for equality would become fruitless. Just like this analogy, Catholics cannot abandon their Church: the Church that has suffered, been persecuted, and yet has survived all the while.

My only understandable justification for leaving the Church would be if I were perfect. Then, I could be corrupted by these few sinners in my faith. Sadly, however, there is no one perfect in this world. Indeed, my faith is strengthened and I grow to be a better person with the help of fellow sinners and fellow believers. Together, the burdens of life seem lighter and the values and morals seem that much more clear. My Church accepts all its believers and encourages sinners to worship. I recognize that although I have committed wrongs, I am not alone and that God still walks with me in my life. What a horrible and bleak life mine would be had I no faith. I would walk through days feeling each pang of hatred and wrong and believe myself to be evil, to be all alone in this world. My faith tells me that I am never alone, for it is always by my side: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I am not afraid, for you are by my side."

After all the scandals have ceased and the offenses punished, my Church will remain steadfast. For Jesus once said, "This too shall pass." Indeed, His death on the cross at the hands of those quick to accuse Him of wrong did not eradicate the faith he began. It is still followed by millions around the world and will continue to be so.