One would be hard pressed to be Catholic in America and not be at least slightly aware of the enormous scandal that is being uncovered regarding recently degraded Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. There are as many articles and opinions and letters from Bishops that have made their way to Catholic and secular media as there are nuances to the emerging sordid picture of a Cardinal who abused his ministry, his vocation, and his power.
So, after all the articles, opinions, and letters in the wake of all the reporting, uncovering, and outrage, the question is: what are, we, the laity, to do now? How do we, the lay faithful, move forward when we feel so betrayed and vulnerable?
To answer these difficult, but important questions, we can look to a few sources: the deposit of Faith as it is guarded and proclaimed by the Catholic Church and the lives of the saints.
Pray boldly, love boldly
When crises rock the Church it can be tempting to think of ourselves as the next “Catherine of Siena,” demanding justice and declaring, “Up, father, like a man! For I tell you that you have no need to fear!” But emulating St. Catherine is more than wagging our fingers at wayward prelates, but rather, knowing how to pray boldly and live in humility. Boldness in prayer and humility in spirit are a powerful combination, and they go right to the heart of God. How can a Father resist a child who turns to Him in complete trust, and total humility, and boldly prays for his mercy and justice upon his Church? The answer is, He can’t. As Jesus said to St. Faustina,
“My daughter, speak to priests about this inconceivable mercy of Mine. The flames of mercy are burning Me-clamoring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out upon souls; souls just don’t want to believe in My goodness.”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was another saint who knew how to love boldly, and she had a very simple, but profound prescription for times such as these:
“If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family. The way you help heal the world is that you start with your own family.”
Most of us will never be asked to go to Rome, Washington, New Jersey, or any of the other places that seem to be the hotbeds of this latest crisis, much less give one of our hierarchy a piece of our minds, but each and every person is asked to be holy, to love their families, and to trust in Our Lord. When we are tempted to throw our hands up and cry, “but what can I do?!” we can be confident that these saints have already told us: we must boldly pray, and boldly love, and that love first and foremost must be shown and grown in our families. That is how we begin to change what we see as wrong in the Church and in the world.
Another Saint who understood the power of bold prayer was also at one time a cardinal. St. Pope John Paul II is perhaps best becoming known for his mystical and deep prayer life. He was no stranger to crises within the Church and the evil influences of the modern age, and he had a very simple message about how we should confront such evils:
“The Rosary was prayed by the Dominicans at a difficult time for the Church due to the spread of heresy. Today we are facing new challenges. Why should we not once more have recourse to the Rosary…”
The rosary was Pope St. John Paul the Great’s favorite prayer and we would all do well to follow his example in boldly and faithfully saying it as a remedy against the evil of our time.
Let us follow the example of these saints of prayer and love as we face the uncertain and sad days in which the Church finds herself in America.
Humility will win
St. Thomas of Villanova tells us,
“Humility is the mother of many virtues because from it obedience, fear, reverence, patience, modesty, meekness and peace are born. He who is humble easily obeys everyone, fears to offend anyone, is at peace with everyone, is kind with all.”
This is a powerful statement, and one that should not be taken lightly. It is tempting to offer myriad opinions and declarations, make demands and start drives, petitions and protests, but none of that will ever be as effective as striving for humility in the face of this current climate in the Church.
Humility gives birth to obedience, as St. Thomas says, and obedience is what the lay faithful owe to the Church, to the Magesterium, and yes, to our bishops and pastors. Obedience is hard, especially when we feel we have been wronged by those to whom our very souls have been entrusted for care! Yet, if we are looking for an answer to the question, “What do we do now?” Our answer lies in obedience. Disobedience and a lack of humility have already been the downfall of many, including the now-Archbishop and those who aided and abetted him. We will never conquer sin, the devil, or this present evil through more disobedience and pride. St. Thomas Aquinas adds that,
“Obedience unites us so closely to God that in a way transforms us into Him, so that we have no other will but His. If obedience is lacking, even prayer cannot be pleasing to God.”
St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, does not mince words when it comes to obedience either:
“Saint Paul commands us to obey all superiors, even those who are bad. Our Blessed Saviour, His Virgin Mother, and Saint Joseph have taught us this kind of obedience in the journey they took from Nazareth to Bethlehem, when Caesar published an edict that his subjects should repair to the place of their nativity to be enrolled. They complied with this order with the most affectionate obedience, though the Emperor was a pagan and an idolator, so desirous was Our Lord of showing us that we should never regard the persons of those who command, provided they be invested with sufficient authority.”
Those are difficult words to read, especially at this time when the laity are mistrustful of their shepherds, and not without good reason in far too many cases. Yet, that does not excuse us, the laity, from our duty to be obedient. Our Lord told St. Faustina, “My daughter, know that you give Me greater glory by a single act of obedience than by long prayers and mortifications.” Jesus desires of us obedience, perhaps especially when we don’t feel like it, when we don’t feel like those in authority over us deserve it, and when we feel hurt and angry at them, because He can work miracles with that act of obedience. We can merit so much grace for our Church through our humility and obedience!
Msgr. Charles Pope wrote a beautiful reflection that speaks to this idea of humility and obedience to the Church, and you can read it here.
Let the Pope be the Pope
It is no great secret that the Papacy of Pope Francis has had its ups, its downs, and its critics. There seems to be continuing debate on several fronts about different actions and words of the Holy Father. Yet, if we want to know how to move forward from this crisis, we must let Pope Francis be the pope. The Holy Spirit inspired his election for such a time as this, and perhaps, though it is doubtful he would have wished that this be his legacy, it is precisely for this current crisis that he is our Peter. Pope Francis has acted boldly in the face of allegations of abuse. He did so with the Chilean bishop’s conference, and now in an unprecedented move, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of then-Cardinal McCarrick. To quote CruxNow,
“It’s an unprecedented move in the United States, the first time an American cardinal has ever renounced his red hat, and it’s the first time anywhere in the world has exited the college altogether facing accusations of sexual abuse. It is, therefore, the most tangible confirmation to date from [Pope] Francis that when he says “zero tolerance,” he means everybody…By accepting [Archbishop] McCarrick’s resignation as a cardinal, a new layer of gravity was added, suggesting a new era in which even the most senior members of the clerical club can’t run and hide when a storm such as this one breaks.”
The Church is our mother
“We must put aside all judgment of our own, and keep the mind ever ready and prompt to obey in all things the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church.” — Ignatius of Loyola
St. Ignatius of Loyola understood not only the importance of obedience, as we discussed above, but also that the Church is our mother. As a Mother, the Church does not want to lose even one of her children to eternal death. Not even those who have committed the most heinous and disgusting of crimes. It can be difficult for us to keep that in mind when we are so hurt, disgusted, and scared in the face of decades of deceit and predation by even just one of our spiritual Ffathers. Yet, the Church is our mother, and she is Archbishop McCarrick’s mother too. Mothers know how to hate the sin and love the sinner.
They know how to discipline for the good of their children. They know how to not be too quick to judgement but to instead seek the truth, and then discipline in a way that “fits the offense.” We can trust that as our mother, the Church will act, and that when she does, we may not be privy to all the details, because ultimately the actions of Archbishop McCarrick and those who enabled him are sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance. But vengeance is not ours.
We can be confident in our Mother Church, as little children are, that it will act justly, compassionately, and that it ultimately desires repentance, not just punishment. It understands the heart of the Father, as it was explained to St. Faustina,
“My daughter, write that the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy; [urge] all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of my mercy, because I want to save them all.”
Punishment is public, penance is private
We must both forgive those who have wronged us, and hope for their eternal salvation, no matter the difficulty. For our part, acknowledging that we too are sinners, we can pray that we will one day meet all those who sin in Heaven, yes, even Cardinal McCarrick. We can desire justice, for God himself is just, but we must not let ourselves fall into the trap of hate, calumny, or despair. What Archbishop McCarrick, and others like him have done is wrong. It is sinful. The fact that it, by all accounts, includes sodomy means that his actions cry to Heaven. It is right to expect justice.
And we have a right to hope that punishment will be known publicly, as his many scandals are now public. But we cannot stop there. We must also pray for his soul, and that he accepts the mercy of God. We may hope that he does penance, and we may never know what this penance is, because penance is private. If we succumb to the temptation to gossip about him, to refuse forgiveness, or to hate, we become no better than that which we are decrying, and we simply shouldn’t want to ever give Satan that sort of satisfaction.
If there is something the laity can do, and must do, it is to boldly pray, love our families, seek humility, be obedient, trust our Holy Father, and remain faithful to our holy mother the Church. It is in doing these things that we will begin to make lasting changes in our homes and in the culture that will ensure that we never have to face this sort of scandal again.