Philippa Martyr: Cleaning the Church starts with you

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Father Andy Hammeke distributes Holy Communion during a March 15, 2020, Mass at St. Mary Queen of the Universe Church in Salina, Kansas. In a letter dated March 13, Salina Bishop Gerald L. Vincke encouraged the faithful to receive Communion via hand as a preventative measure against coronavirus. (CNS photo/Karen Bonar, The Register) See MASSES-PRIVATE-LIVESTREAMED March 16, 2020.

Another minor tizzy on Facebook when an earlier article of mine appeared again in electronic form. Comments usually fall into two camps: people telling me I’m right, and people telling me I’m a shill for Big Catholicism.

True on both counts. I wouldn’t say these things about the Church if I didn’t believe they were right. And it makes me laugh out loud to be seen as a defender of the hierarchy.
But I love my non-fans because they’ve inadvertently given me material for a few columns. A gentleman correspondent recently said to me – in terms of church reform – that while he didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, he did want clean water, and he thought Jesus would like that as well.

living water has been running through the Church since Jesus’ side was opened on the Cross

I realised two things. First, the clean water is already there, and always has been. Second, the reason the water is dirty is us. The clean water is already there. Clean, living water has been running through the Church since Jesus’ side was opened on the Cross.

I think quite a few Catholics have forgotten that the validity of the sacraments doesn’t depend on the purity of the minister. For example, I was confirmed in around 1983 by an archbishop who protected a serial clergy sexual abuser.

Protesters rally
Clerical sex abuse survivors and their supporters rally outside Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome 21 February, 2019. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

I still received the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I’ve had them ever since. But that didn’t stop me feeling sick when I met one of his victims years later and heard his story.
The Church is dark but beautiful (Songs 1:4). Imprison and laicise the clergy sexual offenders, because they’re not safe and they’re usually not sorry. But remember that the sacraments still work their wonders even through sinful hands. Grace – clean water – flows through the Church 24 hours a day, flushing out the dirty water.

woman on phone
“The water in the Church gets dirty because of people like us – the laity. Clerical sin doesn’t get the rest of us off the hook. We make up most of the Church, but we’re less likely to be put on trial for our secret vices – our porn habits, our domestic abuses, our thefts, our addictions. But our sins make the water just as dirty.” Photo: Pixabay

The reason the water is dirty is not just because of sexually abusive clergy. The water in the Church gets dirty because of people like us – the laity. Clerical sin doesn’t get the rest of us off the hook. We make up most of the Church, but we’re less likely to be put on trial for our secret vices – our porn habits, our domestic abuses, our thefts, our addictions. But our sins make the water just as dirty.

“I think quite a few Catholics have forgotten that the validity of the sacraments doesn’t depend on the purity of the minister” Photo: Shutterstock

We also stop the clean water flowing. If we don’t receive the Sacraments with the right heart, we get little benefit from them. Clean water can flow out of a sinful priest’s Mass, but if we sleepwalk through Mass and receive Holy Communion like a zombie, the clean water stops flowing with us.

Pope Francis hears confession of a youth on 23 April in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo: L’Osservatore Romano

You want clean water in the Church? Go to Confession regularly. Receive every single Holy Communion believing fiercely that this is the actual flesh of Jesus Christ Himself. Love your enemies. Become what you say you are. And you can have all the clean water you want, and the Church and the world will both be better places.

Dr Philippa Martyr is a Perth-based historian, lecturer and researcher. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

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