crossposted from my own journal
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.
Pope Benedict's letter to Catholics in Ireland, 19 March 2010
"...He performed a sexual act on me. At that very moment he murdered my soul."
German victim of sexual abuse by a priest
I've been wanting to write about the paedophilia scandal which has once again reared its head in the press, but I have not been sure how to do it. I do not have anything to say that has not already been said about the terrible crimes that were committed against children by men who were trusted by those children and by those communities. There is little more monstrous than the abuse of children. How do I articulate the disappointment I feel in knowing that my Church covered up crimes against the vulnerable? Such things can make it harder to hold up one's head and pronounce oneself still proud to be a Catholic, even in the face of such evils. And yet I still have such faith in my Church. How can I reconcile this disappointment with my love?
Today it is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, that sad, solemn approach to the great heartbreak of Good Friday and the joyous celebration of Easter Sunday. Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill the words of scripture. The Gemara, the rabbinical commentaries of the Talmud, says that the Messiah will come on a donkey, rather than a horse, if Man is not worthy of salvation. Christian tradition says that Mankind is not worthy; salvation is a gift of grace, for none of us are perfect enough to "deserve" salvation. This is not saying that Man is innately wicked, for we are not, but we are all imperfect vessels. Before we go to communion, Catholics say: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
I think about those words a lot. I have never felt worthy of taking communion, and as you all know I have a high opinion of myself! To be given the gift of Christ's body and blood, to take God into myself, is an act of startling intimacy and of deep holiness. Why on earth would I deserve that? And yet, when I ask Christ before I take communion - may I come to You? the answer is always yes. It is a gift of grace.
This is something like the Church itself, I think. There are two Churches - one is the Bride of Christ, shown to us through the perfection of the sacraments that give us access to God, and the other is the Church made up of men - of imperfect, loving, brilliant, failing Man. Man who can in one moment understand absolutely what it is that God wants, and for Him perform acts of great courage, and then before the cock crows thrice betray Him again and again in cowardice and in cruelty. On the day Christ entered Jerusalem, he was greeted by cheering crowds; but days later they called for his death on the cross. Were the individuals in the crowd wicked? No, I think not. I think they were you, and me, and us. If even Peter - the rock on which the Church was founded - floundered in his faith, turned his back on his Lord, then any of us can fall, can fail.
Christ died knowing this. We were still worth dying for, even so.
I suppose all of this is to say that I am disappointed with the Church hierarchy, but I still love my Church. I think she has begun to make restitution; for the past few years there has been concerted effort to protect children and a much stronger line taken. I have seen the evidence of this in my own parishes over the years. But it does not make up for what happened to so many children for so many years, and it does not excuse the Church - the second Church, the church made up of men like you and me - from its enormous failures in dealing with these reprehensible crimes. But while men can tarnish the reputation of the Church, they cannot tarnish the sacraments; they cannot poison scripture; they cannot ruin what has been taught to us through the Holy Spirit. They cannot take away from the moment at mass tonight where, as one body, the congregation - normal men and women in drab coats and smart coats and me there in my free National Geographic fleece and leopardprint tights - got heavily to its knees as we reached the part in the Passion where Christ dies. There was nothing graceful in that thump, in the creak of wood under knees. It was a very human moment as we marked how Christ, perfect Man and perfect God, gave up His life. We knelt, and doubtless many of us were thinking of other things than Christ's death - worrying about bills, or needing to pee, or hoping that we can get out of church quickly before the car park gets crowded with everyone leaving. And yet that moment was perfect.
Lord, we are not worthy. Please guide your Church - your beautiful, human, imperfect Church - to acknowledging when it is not worthy, when it is unChristlike, and help it - help us - to make amends.