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Philippa Martyr: Are you addicted to church scandal?

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Feeding yourself a regular diet of church scare stories loosens your grip on reality. You start to doubt that the church is the true church after all.
Feeding yourself a regular diet of church scare stories loosens your grip on reality. You start to doubt that the church is the true church after all.

Every now and then I get an email or Facebook comment from a reader along the lines of, “I normally agree with your column, except when it applies to me.”

I wish I could feel sorry about this, because I know home truths are awful. I’ve always hated them too.

Some Catholics think that if they weaned themselves off church disaster news, they would be like ostriches sticking their heads in the sand. After all, if we don’t know about the evils in the church, how can we fight them?

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But there’s a difference between “fighting” and “marinating in it.” Are you really “fighting for the church” by bingeing on bad news and YouTube videos, getting your thrills, and then sharing it with your family, church friends, prayer groups, and random strangers?

Unless you’re working daily on personal holiness of the self-sacrificing and penitential kind, then you are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

You can’t use church scandal as an excuse for being a bad husband, an angry mother, an impatient friend, or just a lousy human being. God’s not going to give you a free pass because a “Cardinal Cattivo” spent a small fortune on Dior handbags.

For the record: The church has survived thousands of years of popes, good and bad. Spending your days cultivating disdain for Pope Francis won’t move God and the church to elect a successor of whom you personally approve.

This is a sore point with Catholics who are addicted to the thrill of fear, and who live from podcast to podcast. I know you think that the church is not putting its best foot forward right now.

We’d all like Catholic truth to be proclaimed much more clearly. But getting enmeshed in conspiracy theories and church scandal just muddies the waters further.

Anyone can call out corruption and bad doctrine, and should do so (I am Exhibit A). But you need to counter that with sharing the fullness of God’s truth, and the witness of a joyful and trusting life.

People try to justify spreading scandal by saying they’re just telling the truth about the church. But they’re not. They’re telling one select bit of it (the ugliest bit) and ignoring all the wonderful salvific truths of the Gospel.

Scandal is deadly, and not just for the people who commit it. Yes, those clergy abusers and cocaine cardinals and other no-gooders are in a lot of trouble with God.

But so are you, if your endless gossiping about them weakens the faith of others. That’s because scandal is also deadly for the people who spread it.

Jesus is scathing about the people who put a stumbling block–in Greek, skandalon, the root of our word scandal—in the path of his innocent followers.

Lightning strikes Christ the Redeemer. Photo: Pixabay
Lightning strikes Christ the Redeemer. Photo: Pixabay

Feeding yourself a regular diet of church scare stories loosens your grip on reality. You start to doubt that the church is the true church after all.

You and your audience start to doubt Jesus’ promise that the gates of hell will not withstand the church’s battering ram.

From there, it’s a fast train from the Catholic Church to a Catholic cult, which is at best weird and at worst nasty and dangerous.

There are also Catholics who are shamelessly coining money out of the church scandal, apparition and apocalypse industry.

It’s not just books; there’s YouTube channels and subscriber podcasts and Substack articles.

I have read a fair bit of this stuff over the years. I can now safely confess that it didn’t improve my relationship with God at all.

How is anyone supposed to receive the Gospel while being fed a litany of fear and despair? It’s not what Jesus told us to do.

He said to go out and preach the good news. The good news is very specific: God loved us so much that he sent us his only son to save us, while we were still sinners. He wants a loving and trusting and close relationship with each one of us.

He gave us seven astonishingly powerful sacraments that flood the world with his power on a daily basis. He promised us his constant presence till the end of time.

You’re all adults and can make your own choices. But I’d rather feed on things that help my love of God and trust in him to grow, not weaken.

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