Recently I was on Facebook engaging in several discussions about the clergy sexual abuse scandal. I tend to avoid writing about that kind of controversial topic here. In my mind I’ve always relegated that kind of discussion to Dom’s blog. Though he doesn’t currently write about such things, when we first met he did and I would often jump in to the conversation but it was the kind of thing I didn’t want to bleed over into this space.
Then when I was recounting one of my Facebook discussions to Dom, I had an insight that I did want to record here. I’m hoping not to open too much of a can of worms but I did want to put this idea out there to see what other people might think.
To contextualize, I’d been discussing this Newsweek article that argues that priests seem to abuse at the same rate as everyone else. A friend argued that the outrage wasn’t so much over the fact that priests committed abuse as over the attempts to hide the abuse. And yet it also seems to me that cover ups also happen in the Church no more than they do in any other institution. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t still a scandal and an outrage and that the Church shouldn’t be held to a higher standard.
But to take it a step further, it occurred to me that one can view the exposure of both the abuse and the cover-ups as a result of the grace of God working in his Church. Give me a second and follow my reasoning.
It is human nature both that sexual sin happens and that those in power will attempt to hide those sins because they are in denial, or from a sense of shame or in an attempt to protect themselves or in a misguided attempt to protect the institution. No organization in which adults have authority over children will be free from the plague of sexual abuse. It happens in churches of all denominations, in secular schools, in families. And yet I can think of no institution in which the extent of the abuse and the cover up has been so completely exposed to so much outcry and media attention and which has as a result undertaken self-examination and reform. The same Newsweek story points out that hard numbers of the rates of abuse are only available for the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church is the only institution which has undertaken such a study.
The Church is the Body of Christ and it is a wounded body. And yet the recent attention to the extent of the sexual abuse is to my mind nothing but a blessing. For the only way we can begin to heal is if we first acknowledge that there is indeed a problem. Only then can we beg Christ the physician to heal His Church. Surely the recent outcry is a sign that his Spirit is already at work pouring the healing balm of his grace on those exposed wounds.
As if to confirm that I am on the right track here’s what Pope Benedict said on April 15 in a homily during a Mass with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission:
“I must say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word ‘penance,’ which seemed too harsh to us. Now, under the attacks of the world that speaks to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is a grace.”
[. . .]
“We see how it is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is mistaken in our life,”
[. . .]
The pope said Christians know that “to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare oneself for forgiveness, to allow oneself to be transformed, the pain of penance—that is to say of purification and of transformation—this pain is grace, because it is renewal, and it is the work of divine mercy.”
[. . .]
The promise of eternal life is also the reason why it is a grace to be able to recognize one’s sins, perform penance, ask pardon and know that God will bring forgiveness and healing, Pope Benedict said.
What do you think?