September 25, 2018

Peter Rosengren: Hope in the winter of our horror

People light candles during a vigil to protest sexual abuse in the Chilean Catholic church outside the Santiago cathedral.                      PHOTO: CNS/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters

The obvious news of the moment is the raft of allegations made by the former papal ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who served as nuncio – the pope’s personal representative – from 2011 to 2016. The effect of Archbishop Vigano’s allegations, seemingly aimed at an enormous range of senior Church leaders in both the US and, now, the Vatican, has been nothing short of astonishing. They appear to be practically unprecedented. The Church in the US has been reeling for the best part of two decades from what could be called Abuse 1.0.

To a point, American Catholics had accepted the long painful process of the purification of their Church until, in July, Abuse 2.0 broke around them with the revelations surrounding the disgraced former Cardinal, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and, shortly after, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report into a sustained series of cover-ups over decades in six out of that state’s eight dioceses.

These revealed that much which American Catholics had supposed was addressed or being addressed was in fact a deception from many of their leaders. Then, in the midst of Pope Francis’s two day visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families last weekend, came the Vigano allegations which appear to have been timed for maximum effect.

Most concerning of all is the effect the revelations and the allegations are having. The revelations to this point have had the effect of generating widespread anger. To the extent that the anger will help purify the Church by generating a sustained impulse or movement for reform at all levels is, in the longer term, both acceptable and desirable. The Church must learn a lesson that will last it for centuries – at least.

The extremely disturbing Vigano allegations, however, are another thing. These have undoubtedly dismayed Catholics everywhere, pushing many further towards the edge of pessimism or despair. Yet there is an important caveat which needs to be held in mind by all the faithful around the world and here in Australia. What Archbishop Vigano alleges, extraordinary though they might be, are still merely allegations. And more interestingly, on the flight from Dublin back to Rome, Francis issued a clear invitation to the journalists accompanying him to go for broke in investigating the claims and to reach their own conclusions.

Archbishop Vigano. PHOTO: CNS

What are Catholics in this country to do? What is essential for Australian Catholics who love their Church despite the filth which has entered it in recent decades is to realise that the truth or otherwise of the Vigano allegations will not be resolved in this country or in the US. Only time will tell. Archbishop Vigano’s claims distress Catholics, in part, because they do not immediately appear to be obviously false, although reports and commentary in the short period of time since they were made have indicated some inconsistencies or errors in some details.

If they could be disproved at a stroke, Catholics everywhere could breathe sigh of relief. But the fact remains that there is almost nothing we can do here to prove or disprove them one way or the other and we must accept this fact with the serenity of our Baptism. What we can do is to exercise patience and allow the process to work itself out but above all we must remain loyal to the divine institution established by Christ in our prayers and our daily lives. To do this would be an act of fully adult Christian faith.

The truth is that the Church has repeatedly been in exceptionally serious positions caused by the human sinfulness and pride of its members since its beginning. At many points throughout its history everything has seemed to hang in the balance. Yet the Church has always found a way forward, even if it has sustained enormous losses in the process. The final loss of unity between Eastern and Western Christianity in the 11th Century is merely one example of a suppurating wound in the life of the Church which is an ongoing tragedy – especially in the community for whose unity Christ prayed on the eve of his death. But centuries after that tragedy there are increasing reasons to hope for a new unity which may occur in some form within our own lifetimes.

Above all, we Catholics – whatever our vocation – must begin to actively live our faith on a daily basis rather than merely calling ourselves Catholic out of habit but never attempting to live a faith which has become meaningless to so many within our spiritual family. Now, more than at any time in recent history we must pray for the Church. And we should thank the Lord for the gift of his priesthood. While it is always and everywhere true that our first concern is the victims of abuse we must also show our priests how much they and their priesthood mean to us. These good men of the priesthood (and the brothers and sisters of religious life) have suffered so much and in dismay are seeing their vocation so thoroughly betrayed by figures such as the repulsive Theodore McCarrick. They have suffered long and silently for the sins of others. An essential thing we Catholics can do now is to find ways to show our priests we love them and cherish the priesthood they exercise for us and the world.

And so, we must pray – for the world. That, after all, is the royal priesthood of all the Baptised. That has been our job since Christ founded the Church. Now is the time to start living that truth.

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