I am in a state of mourning. My soul has been shaken by the incessant revelations of malfeasance, and despair seems a natural culmination of the anger and sorrow. Non-Catholics likely do not see our depth of sorrow for the victims and anger towards our effete leadership. I fear that observers primarily see finger-pointing, primarily at homosexual clergy, and political infighting among bishops. There is more at the heart of this crisis.
We know we must change, as hard as that is for an ancient institution. Progress, though, is not change without destination (contrary to what modern progressivism would declare). True progress demands an objective. I have hope for a church that is more truly itself because of this crisis.
As Pope Benedict (then Father Ratzinger) said: “The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods.”
So how, concretely, do we respond to this crisis? We could give up and remake ourselves in the image of the world, but I think we are called to more.
The War on Human Nature
Robert Tracinski last week was right: the church is at war with human nature. I disagree with his assumption that we should not be at war. Christianity has fought against the inherently broken human nature that causes passions to rise before intellect, vice to be preferred to virtue, work to be undesirable, and death to be our end. A quick glimpse of human history reveals that we are flawed. Honest examination of our daily lives reveals the same: We have a tendency away from good.
But the fact that we think ourselves flawed necessarily admits that there is something greater to which we are called, or else “flaw” would be convertible with “existence,” and we would admit nothing else. We recognize deficit because perfection is a thing the human mind can apprehend.
Hence why we recognize the flaws of these priests to be so grievous. What we see in these disgusting actions is not human nature repressed; rather, it’s human nature set loose. If we weren’t at war with human nature — if our nature were nothing to be fought against — we could never say that these men’s actions were wrong. We would say they acted according to their nature and the invincible chain of chemical causation that fettered the human race. We could be no more angry at them than we are at a lion for killing a zebra.
So yes, Christianity is at war with human nature, and it is perhaps the only war worth fighting. Concession and abandonment have even graver consequences than our catastrophes being laid bare in the media.
Our Failure Towards Homosexual Men and Women
So much of the commentary on this crisis has focused on homosexuality in the priesthood, and the nefarious influence of the Lavender Mafia within the college of cardinals. Indeed, there seems to be a very real correlation between actively homosexual men entering the priesthood and abuse.
The explosive letter from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò alleged an added dimension to the malfeasance. It seems nefarious people are using the church for worldly power, unified by tacit approval of homosexuality.
This is an extraneous feature. They all could be disregarding church teaching on any of a hundred issues, but for some reason, homosexuality has emerged as a common thread. To the faithful who live in the world, fighting the culture war in the trenches rather than from cathedrals with armed public relations sentries, the abdication of the duty to be faithful to the church is infuriating.
I fear our anger at these men will destroy our ability to be Christ in the world. We have failed to preach the gospel to homosexual people. This is a problem we can not ignore. Before the Pennsylvania report came out, a friend relayed to me a story about a gay nurse who had a job working as at a retirement home. When someone would die, he would say with a laugh, “Say hi to Satan for me!”
All Christians should recoil at how callously this or any man takes eternal damnation. As a Catholic, I truly want everyone — adulterers, murderers, rapists, thieves, prostitutes, homeless, immigrants, homosexual people, tax collectors, lepers, even Bruno Mars — with me at Mass every Sunday (and hopefully at confession with me on Saturday, too). Jesus didn’t say, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature, unless he’s gay. You should yell at gay men and fear what they will do to my church.”
With such grave damage to the innocent, and the church being assailed for its faults, I think it crucial for us to reach out to homosexual people and welcome them. There should be hundreds more signs at gay pride rallies saying, “Jesus is merciful, loves you, and wants you in heaven,” than signs saying, “God hates gays.” We must change with an objective, and the objective must be fidelity to our commission from Jesus.
Our Failure Towards Ourselves
Make no mistake, I am not recommending changing teachings on homosexual acts, which I’m convinced are immutable. Changing my mind would take nothing less than Jesus in person telling me that sodomy is positively good (then answering about a thousand other questions on scripture and sexuality and marriage and the magisterium and objective truth and human reason along the way). Chastity is liberating and beautiful for everyone, gay and straight alike. The audience changes, but the message is the same.
We have failed to preach both mercy and repentance within the angry vacuum of the world. This problem endured for a generation because we did not adhere to what we knew is true. Many priests thought it more merciful to tell gay men their actions were good, rather than calling them to live chastely. Our bishops were afraid to preach truth to their priests, and many priests, in turn, became lazy in preaching to their parishes.
Is it any surprise that churches are dying where these wounds festered for decades? Why should we expect weak men, who chose to disdain their sacred vows, to be efficacious preachers and ministers? This is how we get homilies like, “Jesus is nice, so let’s be nice.” Or laxity with the order of Mass. Or penances like, “Spend a minute thinking about Jesus.” Or bongos during communion.
A generation of men and women had priests who refused to uphold standards. As they grew, these parishioners were still being fed milk, despite craving a full meal. They have since gone to other sources that don’t require them to wake up at 8 a.m. on Sundays.
Thus, at the same time that we discover how to minister to homosexual people, we need men with chests to be our leaders. They must not back down from church teachings, both on chastity and on mercy. The church needs priests who hike up their cassocks to run faster into the fray, not to scurry behind consultants.
We, as laity, can no longer abide modernity infiltrating responses from bishops. Meticulously crafted, Politburo-styled statements about “policies” and “guidelines” and “committees” must be traded for prayer, fasting, and intellectual rigor. Our goal in changing should to be more like the first generation of disciples, willing to die for truth, rather than to imitate corrupt bureaucracies.
Why I Have Hope
This is an arduous time for the church, but I am supremely grateful for it. We are praying for God to heal the church, but I think the process of healing started with the investigations . We are becoming a simpler, poorer church, whose riches are counted in hearts and not dollars. The terrific upheavals Ratzinger predicted in 1969 have begun:
… but when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
The Christian church is not meant to be of this world. The change is painful, but good to make us more who we truly are. I know that when this trial ends, the church will emerge closer to Christ than before. The defeat will be transformed into victory, just as Jesus’s death was transformed. I hope, with every ounce of sincerity my little soul possesses, and that our gay brothers and sisters will be with us when it happens.