Nov. 6 came and went. Most American Catholics regarded the day as special because of…
Losing my religion: A faithful, lay response to ‘Uncle Ted’
It’s hard to know what’s worse. The recent revelations about ex-Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick’s decades-long career as a sexual predator or all the priests, bishops and fellow cardinals who knew about his behavior but did nothing. Of course, none of this is helped by the sense that this could be just the tip of the ecclesial iceberg.
This newest crisis has dealt a devastating blow to the Church. After being rightly subjected to a decade-long series of public beatings in the media due to the lurid revelations about clerical sexual abuse of minors, it seemed the Church was finally coming out from this dark period under Pope Francis. His presence seemed to convince the world that maybe Catholic clergy still had the capacity to inspire people, instead of just being the punchline to sick jokes. But alas, it is not to be. The institutional Church failed. I doubt there was a Catholic in the pews on July 22 who did not think of the McCarrick scandal during the first reading: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the flock of my pasture — oracle of the Lord. … You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds” (Jer 23:1, 2).
Of course it is not enough for us laypeople to point fingers and shake our heads. Instead of seeing this crisis as a reason to give up on our faith, I would like to suggest that we are being called to discover the rightful role of the baptized, lay priesthood to witness and challenge the institutional Church to get its house in order.
1. Step back: We need to ask ourselves, “What do we believe in?” If we have been going to church hoping to find inspiring leaders to comfort us while we napped in our pews, the Holy Spirit has disabused us of this notion. We should go to church because we believe in Christ. Because we are broken and in need of healing. And because that healing can only come through both transformational encounters with Christ in the Eucharist and a commitment to reform our lives in conformity to his truth.
2. Step up: We need to lead by example. Despite the fact that many good, faithful priests and bishops exist, it is clear that their voices are being drowned out or ignored. If the clergy can’t figure out how to effectively support each other in living their vocations to chastity, then we need to show them how.
We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. It’s long past time we, the laity, heeded its message. People like McCarrick are the product of a culture that doesn’t believe our sexuality requires an ongoing commitment to formation and healing in order to be expressed appropriately. The fact is, any Catholic person who does not welcome the ongoing process of “ascent, renunciation, purification and healing” (Deus Caritas Est, No. 5) to which Humanae Vitae calls them is actively contributing to the culture that makes future McCarricks possible. It’s time for the faithful laity to step up and proclaim to the world that human sexuality is good and beautiful, especially when it is united with God’s grace and our consistent effort to choose love over use.
3. Make noise: Having checked the credibility of our own witness, we have to activate our prophetic role. We must call Church leaders to live and proclaim the truth in their words and their lives. Enough with letting committees led by lawyers lead the Church. We need prophets.
Likewise, if a man has not done the work necessary to be a healthy, godly, Christian disciple when he presents himself to seminary, then we shouldn’t ordain him. Let’s stop being afraid there won’t be enough warm bodies to fill cassocks. God has promised that he can raise up sons of Abraham out of stones (Mt 3:9). Surely, he can find us a few faithful priests.
In short, if we want an end to the scandals, we have to reform the homes charged with raising future, godly, healthy pastors, and we have to demand that our clergy stop winking at Church teaching both in their own lives and in their sermons. And if they aren’t willing to live and proclaim Christ’s mission with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, they should be vigorously helped to seek a line of work better suited to their lack of ability.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the director of CatholicCounselors.com. His call-in radio program, More2Life, is heard daily on SiriusXM 130.