It is so especially difficult to see all the trouble in the Roman Catholic church these days. It is difficult because any scandal in the church is a scandal against Christ, the Lord and Savior of the Church. And yes, even we Lutherans, and whoever else bears the name of Christ, take a hit as well. Perhaps our hit is not as blunt, but we take it, nonetheless. It would be so easy for us as Lutherans to be smug that we are not Catholics. But what does the Bible say about those who are glad they are not like the sinner? The reality is that the troubles in any part of the church are our problem too. Whatever happens to one part of the body of Christ has effect on everyone else.
The first problem is that it is so hard to determine the truth about the allegations of abuse in the church. Is there any doubt that abuse happens in the church? No. It happens in every church. Is there actually more abuse in the Catholic church than an any other church body in relation to its size? It is just SO difficult to know. There are just no reliable studies of an incredibly difficult behavior which is by its very nature secretive.
But actually, it seems the biggest concern is not the abuse itself, but the alleged coverup and how the church refused to “clean house” of priests who they knew were abusers. A growing chorus of critics are saying that the pope himself was (before he became pope) involved in this secret coverup.
Was there some attempt at covering up the sins of the church – especially sins which are so damning but sometimes so fraught with false accusations and “he said”, “she said” evidences? I haven’t the foggiest clue as to the extent of it, but I will guarantee you there would ALWAYS be SOME kind of coverup – IF “coverup” includes dealing discretely and hopefully sensitively with the issue! (Hanging ALL the dirty laundry out for everyone to see is not ALWAYS the best way to deal with sins, and it certainly is not suggested in the scriptures.) The real problems come when dealing discretely becomes obtuse denial and a refusal to deal with the problem at hand.
But what I find most difficult to put up with is the kind of false incredulity and hatred that people (and especially the press) express when it is suggested that the church tried to cover up its sins. I ask why should a coverup be a surprise? Tiger Woods, Toyota, and every other institution and individual are always finding themselves in the same boat. And we do realize (don’t we?) that the pope and the church hierarchy are all sinners, right? Just like anyone of us they are prone to denial and rationalization and are tempted by the devil every day to not be completely honest and forthright about whatever terrible sin is festering in their midst – especially the sins they preach against every day from the pulpit! We hope and pray that Christians are better than anyone else, but often they are not. But the press, led by columnists like Lisa Miller of Newsweek and Maureen Dowd (neither have a clue about the church and the Christian faith) are jumping all over this in what seems to be a blatant crusade not against the abuse and coverup, but against Christianity itself. Satan is using this very effectively indeed to attack Christ and His Church, bringing doubt and despair to believers and unbelievers alike!
But let me say this earnestly so that I am not misunderstood: I am not saying that any kind of abuse or obtuse coverup is acceptable. Sin is never acceptable. There desperately needs to be true repentance and a cleaning of the church house. This is what Christians are called to do!
So let’s get on with it! Lets get on with repentance and renewal in the church! But let us NOT get hung up on this to such an extent that as the people of God we throw the church and Jesus Christ out with the dirty bath water! The reality is that without “the church” we would not even have a clue that abuse and coverup is “wrong” in the first place. And, further, without the church we would have no idea that there is a Savior who is Christ the Lord who loves to forgive these same sins!
Let us encourage one another in the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that we might be true to the Christian faith and life and fulfill our vows to the Lord so that Christ would be glorified in everything and that all would be amazed at God’s righteousness. Let us cling to Him for our salvation from all our foes!