When the problem is sin, the solution is repentance. Repentance, however, demands a humble search for the truth.
''Never again." These are words we say when we discover that something unimaginably horrid has occurred. They are what we said when we saw the photographs of concentration camp victims being liberated and the shadow of mushroom clouds over Japan. "Never again" is what we said as the body bags came back from Vietnam, when the pope was shot in St Peter's Square, when almost a million Rwandans were slaughtered by their neighbors. "Never again" is what we vowed on 9/11 when the second plane flew into the South Tower. And "never again" are the words we all uttered when the clergy sex abuse scandal broke. And we thought we all -- with no exceptions -- meant it. And yet, here we are, desperately trying to breathe as the waves of yet another sexual scandal -- this one at the Church's highest levels -- wash over us.
We are shocked to learn that a priest's known perverted and abusive behavior did not prevent him from being ordained a bishop. We are horrified to discover that a successor of the Apostles charged with protecting the flock had been devouring it for decades. So we ask ourselves and one another how this could be possible, and how we could have prevented it. We call for an investigation, for new committees and advisory boards, and better policies and procedures. We publicly debate who should serve on these boards and who should conduct the appropriate investigation. But do any of us honestly believe that the darkness of the human soul or corruption within the Bride of Christ can be solved bureaucratically? I do not.
The problem isn't policies and procedures any more than it is the discipline of a celibate priesthood. The problem is sin, plain and simple. The problem is our inability to warn against sexual sin of every kind because so many of us have fallen prey to it in our own lives. We have chosen to abandon the ideals we are called to rather than admit that we have fallen short of them. Few ever hear what the Church actually teaches about God's plan for human love and sexual intimacy. There are Sunday massgoers who do not know that every sexual act outside of marriage -- homosexual or heterosexual -- is a sin and compromises the dignity of the human person created in the image of God.
Perhaps we neglect to tell the truth because we are afraid to face the truth of our own failures. Those are the very same failures, however, that make us unlikely and ineffective witnesses to the Truth we claim to believe. If we really want to evangelize, we must first clean our own house.
When the problem is sin, the solution is repentance. Repentance, however, demands a humble search for the truth. Answers to the questions that are bound to be asked about Cardinal McCarrick won't help. There are other questions we have not asked for too long, questions about whether and to what extent our seminaries, rectories, and cathedrals have become havens for sexual immorality.
Some bishops have had the courage to say something. But there has been far too much silence from far too many chanceries in the past few weeks. As Jesus said, "My sheep know my voice." The flock cannot follow a shepherd who will not speak.
Please don't get me wrong: I love the bishops of the Church, and understand that they struggle against the same weak and sinful nature I know all too well myself. We ordain men, not angels. But here's the thing, dear shepherds: the Good Shepherd knows his sheep. You will not hear the truth from your people -- priests, religious, or laity -- unless you allow them access to you. You will not know your people unless you have the type of access to them that confirmation Masses and brief parish visits will never provide.
The Body of Christ is scourged and disfigured once again. Certainly, the Church will remain, but it will be diminished. We will lose so very many souls to this ongoing corruption. Sin destroys, and not only the one who sins. An enemy has done this, but we are the ones who have let him in. Must we insist on spending so much time loitering at the gates of hell?
Little trust remains. Sadly, it seems that the crisis of fatherhood we see in the world has also taken root in the Church. Yet whether we are willing to admit it or not, we need spiritual fathers. We need them to lead and feed, guard and protect us. We need them to act and speak like the martyrs every one of them was ordained to be. We need true and fearless shepherds whose words and deeds undisputedly separate them from both hirelings and wolves. Only then will "never again" become more than a sad refrain.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.
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