I’m responsible for the abuse crisis in the Church. I didn’t abuse any children, or enable a priest to abuse children, or look the other way when a priest was abusing a child, or cover up any abuse. No, I haven’t done anything like that, but if I’m honest, you will see that I am responsible.
We live in a highly individualist culture and have lost an understanding of sin. We think our sins are our own business. We minimize the severity of sin, and we make excuses for why sin doesn’t matter. We deny the consequences of sin, both in this world and the world to come. All of this is a lie of the enemy. Every single sin does tremendous damage.
Think about the first sin. Adam committed the first sin (even before Eve), and through Adam’s one sin, all of humanity was banished from the garden of Eden and barred from entering heaven. One single sin did that. In other words, a single mortal sin by one person didn’t just damn one person but all of humanity. We have lost our appreciation for how terrible sin is. Look at Christ on the cross. That is the cure Adam’s sin. If that’s what it takes to forgive our sins, they must be truly terrible.
Sin isn’t individual and isolated. In the book of Numbers it says, “The LORD is slow to anger and rich in kindness, forgiving wickedness and crime; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but punishing children to the third and fourth generation for their fathers’ wickedness.” This is a part of Scripture we like to ignore today. We like to think, “God is merciful, He won’t punish me. He loves me to much to punish me, and He certainly won’t punish my children, grandchildren or great grandchildren.” There is a little truth to this. God is not vindictive. He doesn’t punish out of anger, spite or hatred. Either Sacred Scripture is wrong – a lie and our faith is false – or it is true that God punishes to the 4th generation?
Our sins manifest themselves in our children, and our children pass them on to their children. This occurs in three ways. First, in our sins, we create a culture that encourages and embraces the sin. The world is a terrible influence on us, but we create that influence through our sin. Second, by sinning, we hold up the desires of the flesh as an ideal and empower the flesh to dominate us. These desires get passed on. Finally, we empower our enemy, the devil. When we are righteous and avoid sin, we fall under the protection of the Lord, but when we sin, especially grave sin, we step out from that protection, and “the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour.” When we step out from the protection of God, we empower the devil to dominate and devour not only us but those we are charged to protect – our children.
The world, the flesh, and the devil are the three sources of temptation, and we empower all three with every sin. This doesn’t impact just us, but everyone. The catechism says, “[Sin] wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity.” Our sin fractures our relationships with God and with each other. Sin divides us, making us easy prey for our enemy the devil. Even worse, the Catechism continues, “Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.”
Our sins wound us, separates us from each other and creates an inclination toward more sin. The worse we are, the worse our desire to sin will be, and every sin is manifest throughout our society. Sin is so pervasive and our society is so depraved that we fail to see the impact of one sin. Remember, it was through one sin of Adam that all humanity was damned, and it took the Son of God becoming man and dying for us to fix that one sin.
The catechism continues on the social nature of sin, “Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin.’” Didn’t our Church become a “structure of sin” hiding, protecting and enabling the most horrendous sins?
This article isn’t titled why “we” are are responsible, but why “I” am responsible. I have sinned. I have committed mortal sins. What are some of them, pornography, fornication, contraception, failing to attend Mass each Sunday, receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin, and there’s more. If I had been Adam and all of humanity depended on my sanctity, you would have needed Christ’s Passion for salvation.
Ok, I’m a terrible sinner, but how am I responsible for the abuse crisis? I didn’t participate directly in the abuse or cover up in any way, but my sins contributed to the corruption of the world. Every sin fractures us, weakens us and empowers the world, the flesh, and the devil. The priests and bishops that sinned so horribly did so of their own volition. I didn’t make them sin, but I did contribute to the world that tempted them. Our world is so corrupt and perverse that even bishops who are striving to be holy participated in the cover-up of abuse, enabling it to continue.
The laity has failed tremendously. How many Catholics have had abortions or support laws to keep abortion legal? How many Catholics regularly use pornography? How many Catholics masturbate? How many Catholics use contraception? How many Catholics are divorced? How many Catholics commit grave sins of fornication, adultery, sodomy and other perversions? How many Catholics receive the Most Blessed Sacrament each week in a state of grave sin and never even consider going to Confession for anything? How many Catholics encourage non-Catholics, divorced Catholics, or those in a state of grave sin to receive the Eucharist? How many other offenses do we commit on a daily basis and fail to go to confession?
We have failed our priests and bishops. I expected our priests to be perfect and to inspire me to be better, but I had that precisely wrong. Our priests and bishops are a reflection of us. They need our prayers, our fasting, and our holiness just as much as we need them. I failed them through my sins, and even worse, I never prayed or fasted for our priests.
What would have happened if I had been as holy as God intended? I am not deluded into thinking that I am the superman that could have prevented all this. But, I was part of the problem and share in the guilt. Many of us contributed to the depravity in our society. If all of us had been holy and righteous as God intended, how would our example have pushed some of the sinful priests to remain holy? For others, it would have inspired them to hold their peers and subordinates accountable rather than enabling more abuse. For the rest that would have sinned regardless so what anyone else did, they would have been driven from the Church quickly.
So, in all my sins and in all my failures to pray and fast for our priests and bishops, I failed them. This is not new. In the desert, when Moses went up the mountain, the people lost their faith. They doubted God and decided they wanted a golden calf, one of the gods of Egypt. It was the laity’s turning from God that led Aaron, the high priest, to make the golden calf.
If we are honest, we will recognize that our sins may be different from the priests in the grand jury report, different from McCarrick’s sins and different from all the bishops, priests and administrators that enable the abuse to continue, but our sins are part of the problem.
What is the solution? That part is actually really easy:
- Quit sinning – no porn, contraception, abortion, fornication, sodomy, etc.
- Practice Virtue – not a little virtue, but heroic virtue as displayed by St. Francis, Mother Teresa, St. Dominic, St. Damien of Molokai or St. Francis Xavier
- Pray – say the rosary every day, minimum five decades, more if you can (and I’ll bet you can)
- Fast – this is necessary and so few are doing it, we need to do penance for our sins and for the sins of the Church
- Honor the Eucharist – go to Adoration, never receive when in a state of sin, and teach others to revere the Eucharist
- Be a Saint – the only other option is to go to hell, this should be an easy choice
- Worship God – never miss Sunday Mass and get to Mass as often as you can, go to Adoration
- Confess – get to confession regularly. The lines for confession need to be much longer than the lines to the Eucharist. Wear your priest out with the frequency of your confessions.
There are over a billion Catholics. If we all did this, the world would be completely transformed into something we can’t even imagine. We have two choices. We can holy and righteous or can be depraved sinners. Our bishops and priests are the men that we deserve.
There is one more thing that needs to happen, and as a member of the laity, I can’t do this directly. I can only pray for it. We need to do is enact proper consequences for those individuals that abused, enabled abuse or covered up the abuse. That means our leaders need to:
- Removal every priest, bishop or lay leader that committed abuse (they need to be stripped of their faculties), and turned over to local secular authorities and removed from any role that gives them the ability to continue to abuse.
- Every priest, bishop or lay leader that enabled an abusing priest or bishop to continue in an active ministry needs to be removed from their position (clergy would be stripped of faculties, lay leaders fired).
- Every priest, bishop or lay administrator that assisted in the cover over of abuse, participated in payments to abuse victims with the expressed purpose of maintaining secrecy (I’m not talking about proper restitution), or failed to report abuse to both Church and secular authorities needs to be removed their position (clergy would be stripped of faculties, lay administrators fired).
- When a priest, bishop or lay leader is accused of abuse, they need to be suspended. If innocence cannot be proven, they need to be removed from active ministry. Check out how St. Alphonsus Liguori (Doctor of the Church) handled the false accusation that St. Gerard Majella sexually abused a young woman.
I expect these recommendations will be viewed by some as extreme and lacking in mercy. On the contrary. They will provide justice to victims and mercy to those that would be abused without severe action. Could there be innocent priests, bishops and lay leaders removed from their positions? Yes. Absolutely. We will have people lie about us, persecute us and seek to destroy us. The world has been doing that for 2,000 years. We are Catholics and we are called to lay down our lives for our enemies. So, if some are accused unjustly and suffer as a result, it is nothing compared to the abuse and cover-up that has already occurred.
Finally, when we sin, we need to feel the sorrow of sin and truly repent. I am sorry for all my sins and for their impacts on specific individuals and our society and church.