Facing the Present Crisis
In recent years, the Church in the United States has been deeply troubled as a consequence of the "priest scandals" which have come to light. In response to these scandals many proposals have been offered to help avoid their continuation. Programs for the education of children, review boards, study committees, and other such measures have been put into place. No one will doubt that the problem was considerably exacerbated by poor administrative decisions, and there is certainly need for revised policies with regard to the handling of accusations and potential dangers. Holy prudence calls for some of the proposed programs in order to properly deal with these problems in the future.
Trusting in Christ
Nevertheless, our faith tells us that, taken by themselves, none of these measures are adequate to resolve the problem at its root. These proposals may be able to respond to the effects of the problem, but ten thousand of the best crafted programs will fail to address the crisis with which the priesthood is now faced if they are not coupled with the means of salvation and sanctification instituted by Jesus Christ in His Church. Jesus Christ is our Savior. He is our only Savior. Because the ultimate cause of the "scandals" is human frailty and malice, we can not expect human initiatives alone to solve the problem. All our efforts must be founded principally on the grace of Christ. The extent to which we rely more on human initiative and less on the divine assistance given us in Christ, is the extent that we abandon ourselves to a hopeless situation. As He Himself assured us: "Without Me you can do nothing." (Jn 15:5)
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote with regard to the reform of the Church: "The [reform of the Church], which is necessary in all epochs, does not consist in always being able to re-model "our" Church as we like, in our power to invent it, but in the fact that we keep clearing away what we have constructed to make way for the purest light which comes from above and which is an explosion of purest liberty at the same time." The Cardinal points out that while the Church is in need of certain "human support structures", these are useful only insofar as they serve to give the faithful easier access to the Gospel. When such programs are not flowing from the Gospel and leading to the Gospel, they are Pelagian in spirit. That is to say, they are an attempt at self-redemption. In short, responding to the "priest scandal," as with any other crisis in the Church, should lead us to a more fervent dedication to the Gospel message, the source from which we receive the "purest light" and "purest liberty."
The Forgiveness Found in Christ
Through the grace of Christ’s coming, we have access to an infallible and an unfailing source of strength and salvation. In Jesus is found the complete fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah, "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are crimson, they shall become like wool." (Isa 1:18) For as St. John assures us: "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 Jn 2:1-2) We must appreciate with the deepest of gratitude that no matter how bad things can possibly get, there is always hope, now that we have Jesus as our advocate. We must see the truth of what the prophet Isaiah once said: "Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!" (Isaiah 30:18)
The Grace Christ Offers Through His Church
Unfortunately, it is very easy to get caught up in the ways of the world when dealing with the problems that confront the Church. We must never fail to turn first and foremost to the means of grace and salvation that Christ has offered to us through His Church. The times that God has had to chastise His people throughout salvation history are precisely those times when His people have tried to deal with their problems on their own. This is what is expressed in the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." (Jer 2:13) It is precisely by turning to God, the font of living water, that we can become channels of His grace and His mercy for the Church and the world. We must work to keep the "circulatory system" flowing within the Church.
Accepting this Grace for Ourselves and Others
For the supernatural life-blood of grace to flow through the veins of the Mystical Body of Christ we are called to "watch and pray", "take up your cross everyday and follow me", etc. The root of the evils of the "priest scandal" must be addressed by prayer and repentance, in union with the merits of Jesus. In the Crusade for Priests, we offer prayers especially in union with Christ’s agony in the garden on Thursdays, as is expressed in the first two prayers found in the Chalice of Strength prayer book. We offer up the Precious Blood of Jesus, which "speaks more eloquently than the blood of Abel" in the Litany of the Precious Blood. In gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, instituted on Holy Thursday, we encourage participation in the Holy Mass, Eucharistic Adoration and Holy Hours especially on Thursday to intercede for priests.
It is also highly recommended that the members of the Crusade for Priests make frequent use of the Sacrament of confession. Obviously we can only confess our own sins. But our reception of any Sacrament is not only for our own benefit. It helps every other member of the Body of Christ. For when one member rejoices, all the others will rejoice as well (cf. 1 Cor 12:26). The first place that the renewal of the Church must always begin is in its individual members through the experience of God’s mercy in personal conversion. We should pray for a greater contrition for our own sins, as well as a great sorrow for the sins of the Church. Christ expresses His own attitude towards sin in the garden of Olives: "My soul is sorrowful, even unto death." This same attitude is beautifully conveyed in the prophet Jeremiah: "Let my eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease, for the virgin daughter of my people is smitten with a great wound, with a very grievous blow." (Jer 14:17) Let us continue to strive to sanctify our sorrow for the "great wound" with which the Church has been afflicted, by our trusting prayers to Jesus Christ and our faithful use of all the means of salvation which He offers.
Fr. Basil Nortz, ORC
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