Missteps

On the Friday before Palm Sunday, the reading at Mass was from the book of the prophet Jeremiah:

‘‘I hear whisperings of many, ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’”

I could not help but think of the Holy Father and his faithful bishops. Many years ago, I had the privilege of meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, and I was impressed by his humility, the breadth of his knowledge, and his desire to defend the orthodox Catholic teaching against those who would undermine it.

Church leadership made serious missteps in dealing with problems of sexual abuse. They listened to so-called experts who told them that abusers could be cured, and now we know that was a false hope. Some were afraid that revelations of abuse would undermine people’s faith. Of course when they finally came out, they did, but the cover up only made the problem worse. Some, following the so-called experts like Alfred Kinsey, gravely underestimated the negative impact of abuse on the victims.

The media regularly rolls out new charges although most of the cases now being uncovered are decades old. New procedures have been put in place to prevent a reoccurrence. Millions have been paid out in compensation, but the media treats each new claim as though it happened yesterday. No apologies, no amends are enough to satisfy the Church’s critics. Similar problem have occurred in other institutions. Revelations of how the Boy Scouts covered up abuse barely made a ripple in the media.

In part, this is because the Church has real enemies and in part because we are – and should be – held to a higher standard, simply because we are the “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.” Abuse by a priest is worse because he stands in persona Christi.

The Church has always been like a ship tossed about on stormy seas, with enemies constantly trying to torpedo it, and members of the crew plotting mutiny. Yet, in spite of all this, the Church stays on course.

When I was in college, long before I became a Catholic, I studied European history, which in many ways is the history of the Catholic Church. I saw how the Church survived the Roman persecution, the invading Huns, Goths, Vikings, and Moors. I studied how the Church answered every heresy and remained firm against schismatics. Sexual scandals are, sad to say, nothing new. The Reformation didn’t destroy it. Voltaire couldn’t ridicule it away. The French Revolution failed to eradicate it. In each century, the Church’s demise was predicted and yet it survived. And I learned all this from professors who were not particularly sympathetic to the Church’s teaching. Even as a wandering agnostic, I was impressed.

When I became a Catholic, I heard the rest of the story and I was even more convinced that in spite of all the attacks from within and without, in spite of all the mistakes and sins, God was with the Church.

I have friends who think of this as the worst of times, but I tell them not to worry; it has been worse, much worse. We may be misrepresented by the New York Times, but we aren’t being thrown to the lions. We may have been betrayed by those who call themselves Catholic while putting their political agenda above the lives of the unborn, but we haven’t been turned over to the Gestapo. We can speak out in defense of our faith without fearing we will be put in front of a firing squad, as were Catholics in Mexico in the 1920s.

As Church, we are the guardians of the truth, when we are wrong we must promptly admit it, but we must be careful not to surrender our principles. I would like to make a simple suggestion to those in leadership; don’t trust secular experts. If you need advice, find someone with knowledge in the field whose piety and faith exceed his expertise and remember your enemies are always looking for you to make a misstep.

Dale O’Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of “The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality.”?

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