Monday, August 20, 2018

When our faith is shaken by scandals, disappointments and disillusionment.

It is no hidden or hushed secret that the Catholic Church has been badly rocked by scandal and cover-ups.  Just last week, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a scathing report of its investigation of decades of sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by Bishops.  Much has been done by both the media and the Church itself to make right its sinful errors of clergy and religious from so many levels of the Church’s hierarchy, and this seems to be on-going.  Hopefully, cover-ups will be a thing of the past, and where missteps have been taken, that these will be lessons learnt, albeit with so much pain and suffering on the part of the victims.  I pray for a healing of those who have been so unjustly treated, and for forgiveness on your part.

As I minister to the flock, I also do minister to those who either have left the church or are for various reasons refusing to enter into the Church.  It is very sad when I encounter Catholics who find it almost impossible to forgive the sins of the flesh committed by her shepherds, and have decided to walk away.  There is another challenge of a different kind when non-Catholics look at us with disdain and call us hypocrites because they hear us preaching about moral truths, yet see so many living in ways contrary to what we teach.  

While I cannot blame them one bit, I realize that it is something in our human nature to demand and want perfection even from a people who are so flawed and exposed to temptation.  I may be wrong, but I think it is precisely because we have been trained to apply excellence to all fields of our life, that we apply this criterion equally to even things such as mystery – and the Church, and the Body of Christ, is really a mystery.

The great mystery of the Church is that Jesus knows that it will always be flawed and imperfect.  Just look at his choice of those who would make up his first leaders, the group of his twelve specially chosen called his apostles.  He could have done better, you’d think.  I mean, he could have chosen well-established Rabbis, teachers of the Law, educated people, leaders of the community, people who already possessed excellent moral track records, etc.  Yet, his divine choice was none of the above.  Instead he chose men who were very flawed, some of whom clashed socially with one another, hardly educated and in the course of their discipleship revealed a desire for power and self-glory.  Even his choice of the first head of the Church, Peter, was one who had repeatedly denied him (as prophesied by Jesus himself), and whose mouth was often in the fourth gear while his brain was in the first.  

God’s idea and notion of perfection doesn’t seem to be one that is already a completed perfection, but always a work-in-process.  God doesn’t only call the perfect, but he perfects the call, always inviting those called to respond to the call with a self-giving, generosity, charity and fidelity.  And when there is a falling or a failing, his mercy is always there to lift the fallen and restore what is broken, making it whole again.  God doesn’t cover up the failing, and this is where the hierarchy needs to lean in strongly.  Yet, God doesn’t abandon his flawed Church, and he knows that there will be probably many more times this imperfection and this deficiency will need repair and restoration.  That the Roman Catholic Church has survived 2000 years of missteps, mistakes, terrible leadership and heinous sins and still hasn’t disappeared into history books can only attest to the fact that there is an element in the Church that is still supple and willing to be compliant with the promptings and movements of the Holy Spirit.

It’s one thing to explain this to a people gathered in a church setting.  They would have heard gospel references to Jesus’ words and actions of mercy and forgiveness from the pulpit or ambo regularly. But it’s another thing to speak these words to someone unchurched, and to expect or hope that they will accept that being flawed and imperfect could be seen as something that even God can make beautiful and good.  If I had ten cents for every utterance of “the church is full of hypocrites”, I would have a tidy sum set aside by now.  Yet, the truth is that this Church of hypocrites is the one that God wants to redeem and flood with His grace and mercy.  

I am in no way condoning or blessing the heinous sins of the Church’s wayward shepherds with this blog post.  But I want to, if possible, reach out to those who have turned away from the Church because they could not look past the flaws of leaders who couldn’t respond positively to the call to holiness and sanctification.  My plea is that these brothers and sisters look rather at the other shepherds who have been exemplary in their efforts and striving, trying their best to live holy and sanctified lives, and through their lives of self-sacrifice and self-giving been alter Christus (another Christ) to the flock that they had been entrusted with.  

If there are brother priests and religious who happen to read this blog, please pray with me that there will be fresh zeal in all of us to respond generously to the call to holiness in our vocation that we have dedicated our lives to.  


  1. "If there are brother priests and religious who happen to read this blog, please pray with me that there will be fresh zeal in all of us to respond generously to the call to holiness in our vocation that we have dedicated our lives to."
    Sure... a necessary prayer. Pax!

  2. Dear Fr Luke

    Thank you for this article!

    What you wrote closely reflects my thoughts and feelings.

    Knowing that the only way to attack the flock is through tempting the shepherds the devil will continue to do his evil work by targeting the tiniest speck of frailties in each shepherd.

    Continuous prayers by the flock for the shepherds must be said.

    Teach us then how to pray for the shepherds!