Scandals in the Church

Looking back at nearly 2000 years of Church history, we consistently see sinful behavior among those who call themselves Christians – and this includes Church leaders. It also includes ourselves, which is why the sacrament of Reconciliation is such a gift. 

At times, though, the sinful acts of Christians are so heinous that we can feel shaken to our very core, as happens when we learn of the abuse of children by clergy and members of religious orders. Strong feelings of anger, confusion, betrayal and grief can rise up within us – and these feelings are valid. 

In these moments, some people feel tempted to simply walk away from the Church in view of grave scandal given by members of the Church, especially her leaders. For such people, the line in the Creed that speaks of the Church as being "holy" can ring very hollow, to say the least.

It is certainly difficult to know how to respond to scandals in the Church. Getting the balance right is not easy. On the one hand, we can go to an extreme and try to simply "spiritualize" things, ignoring the reality of the devastation the scandalous behavior has caused, and the feelings of outrage we often experience. Yes, the Lord said that there would be both weeds and wheat in the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 13:24-43). But it is rarely helpful to throw bible quotes at someone who is hurting as a result of the scandalous behavior of another Christian.

On the other hand, while it is right to acknowledge the feelings that we experience in the face of scandal, we also need to grasp a key concept about the Church, using the gift of reason God has given us. From the beginning, the Church has always contained a divine element and a human element…just as Christ has both a divine nature and a human nature. And in the Church, a lot can go wrong on the human side. At times, very wrong. But Christ is the Head of the Church, and being God, he will never let us down (even if the human beings who make up his Church sometimes do). So the challenge – and it's an important one – is to cling more and more to the person of Christ during times of scandal, to keep up with our life of prayer, to draw on the Lord's strength through the sacraments, and to process our feelings with a trusted person (including with a counselor, if this is helpful). 

You may find it helpful to read these words on "the unholy holiness of the Church" written by a young Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict XVI). He reflects on how, even though the Lord knew of the mess we human beings would make of the Church through our sinfulness and stupidities, he still "jumped in the mud with us" and founded the Church. And he did this out of love:

The holiness of the Church consists in that power of sanctification which God exerts in it in spite of human sinfulness. We come up here against the real mark of the "New Covenant": in Christ, God has bound himself to men, has let himself be bound by them. …Is the Church not simply the continuation of God's deliberate plunge into human wretchedness; is it not simply the continuation of Jesus' habit of sitting at table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight? Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man's expectation of purity, God's true holiness, which is love, love which does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the dirt of the world, in order thus to overcome it? Can therefore the holiness of the Church be anything else but the mutual support which comes, of course, from the fact that all of us are supported by Christ?

(Introduction to Christianity)

Bishop Robert Barron's Comments on the Prophet Ezekiel and the Sex Abuse Crisis

A Quote from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

“…The sexual abuse of children and young people by some deacons, priests, and bishops, and the ways in which these crimes and sins were addressed, have caused enormous pain, anger, and confusion. As bishops, we have acknowledged our mistakes and our roles in that suffering, and we apologize and take responsibility again for too often failing victims and the Catholic people in the past. From the depths of our hearts, we bishops express great sorrow and profound regret for what the Catholic people have endured. The 2011 revision of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, re-affirmed our deep commitment to creating a safe environment within the Church for children and youth. We have listened to the profound pain and suffering of those victimized by sexual abuse and will continue to respond to their cries.”

 – United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

For information about the Catholic Church’s commitment to protect children and youth in the United States, click here: 

For information about the protection of children and youth in the Diocese of Saginaw, click here: