By Jim Moudry
Theological Consultant to CCCR
The news of criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis brought by the Ramsey County Attorney, which he called “institutional failure” to protect children from abusive priests, is welcome because it is a necessary step to a needed resolution. But it is extremely painful to faithful Catholics in our local church, provoking the full range of responses ranging from white hot anger at our church leaders, starting with Archbishop John Nienstedt, to hopeless despair, with everything in between. Every one of those reactions has its validity. After absorbing the best I can the immensity of this story and having run through a series of personal reactions and possible strategies for a response, this thought came to me: we have been here before many times in the course of our 2000 year history. Shocking institutional failure and sin and crimes. And here we are, the Body of Christ, the People of God, being asked once again to pick ourselves up with God’s grace and “keep on keeping on” being church. Some thoughts which help me.
At the heart of Jesus’ preaching and ministry was his announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God, the reign or rule of God in people’s lives and in human history. This was the metaphor Jesus used to describe the new life style he called people to, people dwelling in peace and justice, reconciled to one another, rendering loving service to each other—in short, authentic, genuine human living. The church emerged to be in service to the reign of God, to announce and embody its values in order to show what God is doing in this world and to invite people to become part of it.
This church is not to be equated simply with the reign of God, but it is not separable from it either.
In case you hadn’t noticed, this church is composed of sinful human beings, you and me, capable of living God’s dream for this world, and capable of terrible sin against all the dream means. The church is always sinful in its members and in constant need of reform. A traditional adage for our church is “ecclesia semper reformanda”—the “church must always be reformed”. This was invoked at the time of Vatican Council II to remind us of our sinfulness and need for reform. Our church’s history is the story of saints and sinners, starting with the apostle Peter who denied three times he even knew Jesus! “He went our and wept bitterly”. Jesus made him the leader of the apostles and of the infant gathering of his followers. Tradition made him the bishop of Rome we call the Pope. That we are a sinful group and have been from the beginning and at the highest level is not something we should forget. The current sinful mess we are in in our local church grieves us deeply. But we should not be so naive as to think it has never happened before even at the highest levels.
We must be careful not to let the current mess we are in cause us to forget that we, all of us together, are the church. And we must continue to do the work of the reign of God, perhaps more intensely than usual, to be a community of loving service to one another, reaching out to the poor and carrying on the work of loving our neighbor and one another in the myriad ways our lives give us to do. All while this great wound in our body festers and slowly heals. Heal it will. Where sin is, grace abounds.
See also the previous PCV posts:
• Actions to Take to Be the Church We Want to See
• In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"
Recommended Off-site Links:
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt – Hank Shea (Star Tribune, June 13, 2015).
The Line in the Sand – Jennifer Haselberger (CanonicalConsultation.com, June 10, 2015).
It Will Take a New Leader to Repair Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis – The Editorial Board (Star Tribune, June 8, 2015).
Twin Cities Archdiocese Charged with Child Endangerment – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, June 7, 2015).