Fifteen years ago, a bishop met with his parish priests to ask for input on the clergy scandals. He wanted to bring this input to the famous Bishops’ meeting in Dallas, which had the task of addressing the exploding revelations of clergy sex abuse. One of the priests bravely spoke up: “I think the bishops have to face the very real issue of active homosexuality among our clergy. If they do not address that, they will have little credibility.” The bishop simply pursed his lips a bit and said nothing. Several other priests in their turn said the same thing. The bishop said nothing, and to this day the issue of an actively gay clergy has not been effectively addressed in today’s Catholic Church. Some would assume the reason for this silence is enough bishops themselves are or were actively homosexual, or at least favorable to the gay lifestyle among their clergy. I do not want to demean, demonize, disrespect, or cast aspersion on our brother priests and bishops who struggle with same-sex attraction. All of us who are ordained to be “other Christs” have a humanly-impossible task. We all struggle to be pure and holy but our brothers who struggle to bear this particular cross need fraternal support, not enablement. To ignore those struggling against powerful same-sex attractions, as Cardinal McCarrick was ignored, is to fail in fraternal charity toward these priests. Worse, it weakens faith in a Church that teaches that homosexual acts are gravely sinful while at the same time tacitly sanctioning those acts for its leadership.
The lurid testimonies of priests and seminarians who were allegedly pressured to submit to Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual appetites is finally being revealed. These men are telling their stories much like the actresses who were forced to submit to Harvey Weinstein. We expect sexual license in Hollywood, which after all promotes behavior contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To learn that the same sexual license is protected in the highest levels of the Catholic Church gravely tests our faith. “Can our Church really be that corrupt?” I asked myself the other day.
I found an answer in the curious story of Uzzah, in yesterday’s Office of Readings. King David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem on an ox cart, and the cart began to tip over. Uzzah put out his hand to steady the ark, and Yahweh struck him dead. I could never understand why God killed the man for trying to keep his Ark from falling over. Until yesterday.
The Church is the Ark of the New Covenant. It bears within itself the means of our salvation, Word and Sacrament. God tells us in the peculiar story of Uzzah that, when the Ark (the Church) seems about to tip over, we should not take matters into our own hands. God himself, in fact, is quite able to keep His Ark from falling over. We must not put our hand to His Ark without His express permission. The penalty, at least for Uzzah, for trying to “fix” the Church without God’s authorization is death. We destroy, rather than rebuild, the Church when we try to fix it without God’s specific direction.
Some of us have tried to straighten out the Church when we see it falling over, and we have been chastised. Some have even been struck dead (a priest friend died two years ago of a psychotic depression caused by his frantic attempts to reform the Church on his own). We dare not imagine we can save the Church, nor allow ourselves to become angry or depressed over even terrible corruptions. I must remember that the Church is Christ’s Body, not mine, and it is for him to prescribe the remedy for even seemingly fatal illnesses in the Church.
And what are the remedies Christ has most often prescribed? “This kind [of demon] only prayer and fasting will drive out” Jesus instructed his first bishops. While most of us are called to work quietly, and some are called to “oversee,” the Church, only God sustains the Ark of Salvation. To stretch out our hands toward this Ark without being told will bring on a swift chastisement. So let’s not rush into programs of reform, nor become despondent or angry, nor lose our faith in Christ’s Church. He permits these very scandals to strengthen our faith in the longest-surviving human organization in history. The Church has survived for two thousand years, not because she is human, but because she is divine. No sinful cleric can undo Christ’s promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. Friday was the Feast of St. Maria Goretti, one of the Church’s most splendid examples of purity. Long after Cardinal McCarrick’s impurity is forgotten, her shining purity will guide men and women to heaven. The only real solution to the Church’s and all of the world’s corruptions is to be a saint: to pray and to fast, and to witness the grace of real love. So be a saint in all that you think, do and say; pray the rosary every day, fast on Fridays, go to Mass and adoration as often as you can; and God will do the rest.