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Why Do You Stay?

October 22, 2018 (779 words)

This is the question now being asked of Catholics, as the accusations and indictments in the ongoing clerical sex abuse scandal seem to pile up, one after the other.

It is being asked of those who still observe the Holy Days of obligation, make the sign of the cross in public, say their morning and evening prayers, attend Mass, go to Confession, and receive Holy Eucharist.

The inquisitors imply that anyone still performing such childish rituals in the wake of these scandals – rituals which, by the way, were rendered meaningless some time ago by our brilliant secular humanists, who call the tune for the cognoscenti – represents a special breed of emotionally and intellectually stunted sheep.

… my allegiance is to a transcendent idea, not an institution

My allegiance, if you must know, has always been to a transcendent idea, rather than to an institution. Though I do recognize the institution in question has been divinely inspired, if charged with a next-to-impossible task: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Considering the raw material it has been given to work with.

And I am grateful to that institution for training the clergy responsible for administering the sacraments to me throughout my life. I have always embraced the pomp and circumstance that attend those sacraments as an appropriate sign of reverence due the three persons of our Triune God.

That some members of the clergy have forsaken their vows regarding chastity is a tragedy for all concerned. Their transgressions against innocent youth or compromised young adults cry out to heaven for justice.

But these crimes of passion did not happen in a vacuum. Certain priests have succumbed to the spirit of the age, yielding to the temptations offered by the sexual revolution that has gone mainstream. Their sins, like those of the laity in this same area of activity, are not a game-changer for me.

…succumbing to the spirit of the age

That some of our bishops have failed in their duty, either by completely misreading the severity of the sexual crimes being committed, or by assuming a tone-deaf determination to protect the reputation of their respective dioceses, is no less a tragedy that also demands justice.

They, too, have succumbed to the spirit of the age, by letting their guard down on the scourge of homosexuality within their ranks. And by being too inclined to paper over an inconvenient truth in order to maintain good public relations and keep the physical plant humming along.

The story of the street-level perpetrators would seem to be fairly cut and dried: they gave in to temptation and fell short of holiness. The culpability of the overseer bishops, however, is more nuanced. They became too far removed from their rank-and-file constituents, whose sons were the primary victims of all this abuse. Losing touch with what is happening on the ground is a recurring theme in any large institution.

Big organizations require big-time executives who can manage and properly administer the portfolio of assets, the huge pile of working capital, and the sprawling org chart. Along these lines, the Catholic Church is possibly the largest organization known to man.

…lacking intestinal fortitude, and the powerful allure of privilege

Some of its ordained execs are better at their demanding jobs than others. Not all prove to have the intestinal fortitude required to effectively lead. Some eventually fall short by acquiescing to the powerful allure of privilege.

When it comes to trying to understand and emulate Christ’s message, my money has always been on individual practitioners, the sole proprietors of the faith, if you will. Like John the Baptist, the four Evangelists, the Desert Fathers, and the roll call of stalwart men and women who have been designated as doctors of the Church.

People who distinguished themselves by dint of their example, rather than the prestige bestowed by a high ecclesiastical office that duty or ambition may have thrust upon them.

What is it that Chesterton says about Francis of Assisi? His whole life was a poem. And where does Dante tells us in Canto XIX corrupt bishops will end up? Why, in the Eighth Circle of Hell.

So as any objective observer can clearly see, some things never change. Solving the riddle of why this pilgrim is staying the course despite the abhorrent behavior of certain priests and bishops – each one merely another in a long line of weak and fallible human beings – is really not that hard to decipher. Where else on earth would I want to go?

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
October 22, 2018

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