Dear Friends in Christ,
During the Summer of Shame, Catholics around the world learned that for many decades too many bishops and priests had failed to live as faithful Christians and had abused those entrusted to their care. The despicable crimes of these wolves in shepherd’s clothing were also a violation of the solemn promises of their Baptism and Ordination, and so not only did these clerics harm the innocent in terrible ways, they also committed the sin of sacrilege and gave scandal to the entire Church, making it more difficult for many people to experience the joy of the Gospel and find in the Church the means of living in a life-giving friendship with the Lord Jesus. Moreover, we also learned that too many bishops were guilty of covering up these sins and crimes and of making it harder for the victims to find healing and peace. Put most simply, these last four months have been a catastrophe for the Catholic Church, and learning about these crimes and the failure of our most senior bishops to respond to them appropriately has shaken the confidence of many Catholics, myself included, in the capacity of the men who now govern the Church to lead us through reformation and purification to a renewal of the Church in our time. So what should we do?
First, we must not leave Jesus because of Judas. Treachery, sloth, cowardice, greed, mendacity, worldly ambition, and vainglory were present among the Apostles from the beginning, and the New Testament is astonishingly candid about the moral failures of the Twelve. But despite Judas having killed himself in despair, the Paschal Mystery was still accomplished in the passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and after Pentecost the frightened and confused disciples became bold witnesses to the truth of the Gospel. The scandalous crimes and personal immorality of bishops and priests should always disappoint us, but they should never surprise us. And even more, the human failures of bishops and priests must never cause us to doubt that Jesus Christ is Lord and that he founded his Church to be the communion of his disciples until the Last Day. To be with Jesus is to be in his Church, and there are no solitary Christians.
Second, we must pray and work for the reformation of the Church which begins with the reformation of our own lives. Let each of us make a new decision to follow the Lord Jesus in the Way of the Cross and a new commitment to let go of anything and everything in our lives that is contrary to the Gospel. How? By going to Mass every Sunday and every day when possible, by going to Confession whenever needed and at least once each year, by praying every day – especially with Holy Scripture and in the Liturgy of the Hours, by serving those in need, by seeking fellowship with other Christians, and by being wary of anything that tempts one to infidelity to the promises of Baptism and, as appropriate, of Marriage or Ordination. There are positive signs both in Rome and among the bishops of the United States that measures of real reform are coming, but we must look first to ourselves and not to others for a deeper conversion to Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.