Tag Archives: scandal

Be On Your Guard!

11 Nov

millstoneToday’s Gospel from Luke 17:1-6 brings together some important teachings of Jesus. First He says that while scandals will happen, woe to the person through whom they occur. Better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck than to cause a little one to sin.

Then He tells His disciples that even if their brother sins against them seven times in a day, each time he returns to say he’s sorry they should forgive him.

Lastly, the Apostles ask the Lord to increase their faith. It’s just one of many instances in which Scripture confirms that faith comes in many shapes and sizes. It is not a one-size-fits-all or all-or-nothing proposition, but rather is something that can and should grow within us as we cooperate with God’s abundant graces.

And why would St. Luke this include this request to increase the Apostles’ faith right after the discussion on scandal and forgiveness?

Scandals will come, but Our Lord says be on guard. By “scandal” the Church means conduct that leads others to sin (see Catechism, nos. 2284-87). Some sins are quite complementary. For example, sins of immodest dress and behavior can lead others to lust and sexual sins. Misconduct among Church leaders, even without the rhetorical flourish and exaggeration that we come upon in the media, can cause us to sin against faith and charity, and possibly provide the impetus for people to leave the Church. I’ve seen it happen.

Just because scandalous activity occurs, however, doesn’t mean we have to let it lead us astray, as though the millstone were around us, too! Our Lord gives us two positive things we can do when confronted with scandal: forgive and pray for an increase of faith. The latter helps us to see things through God’s eyes, and the former enables us to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

The Creed, the Pill, and CUF

5 Nov

trufflehunterI recently read with much interest the first installment of Archbishop Naumann’s “call story” (Leaven, 11/1/13), which ends with our shepherd as a college student in the late 1960s, discerning the path he should take in life. Though we pretty much know how the story ends, it will be fascinating to read next week about how Our Lord led him from point A to point B.

The article made me recall my own experience of the 1960s, especially 1968, which sticks in my memory as a most significant year. I remember the year beginning with the Packers’ second straight Super Bowl victory and ending with Richard Nixon’s narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace (I was allowed to stay up late and watch the election coverage). I remember Bobby Kennedy being shot only a couple miles from my house and the rioting that accompanied the Democratic convention.

Mostly, though, I was a chubby third-grader at St. Elizabeth’s parish school, oblivious to most of what was going on in the world and in the Church. Whether I was playing kickball in the schoolyard or humming “Kumbaya” as I crafted nifty collages from magazine scraps, I was largely shielded from the cultural changes going on in our society, from the civil rights movement and Vietnam to Woodstock and women’s “liberation.”

These were mostly dark days for the Church. Today there’s the enthusiasm of the “new evangelization” and the great influx of converts. Back then, however, there were people jumping ship in unprecedented numbers. And not just priests and religious. All of us experienced the exodus of relatives and friends from the Church.

Yet, amidst the turmoil, three significant events occurred in 1968 that I think planted seeds of hope for future generations.

Rocking the Credo

The first event was the issuance of the Credo of the People of God by Pope Paul VI. The publication of new, official expressions of the Catholic faith is a rare occurrence. Further, Pope Paul’s Credo is much more detailed than the more familiar Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed.

Popes don’t issue documents such as this lightly or without a significant reason. In this case, Pope Paul VI saw the emerging crisis of faith in the West and tried to minimize its effects. In explaining why he was issuing his Credo, the Holy Father remarked that “many truths are being denied outright or made objects of controversy,” leading to “disturbance and doubt in many faithful souls.”

The Credo was issued at the conclusion of a “Year of Faith.” Hmmm.

I’ve heard references to the “missing generation” created by the millions of abortions in this country in recent decades. But the prior generation–those of us who were raised in the 1960s and 70s–is spiritually missing. A significant aspect of the new evangelization is to welcome this generation back into the Church. Pope Paul’s Credo, amplified 25 years later in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflects the Church’s renewed commitment in our day to proclaiming the person and teachings of Jesus Christ to our world.

Separate Lives

There’s the well-known Latin expression, “lex orandi, lex credendi,” which means that how we pray affects what we believe. I think we can further say, “lex credendi, lex vivendi,” because what we believe (or not believe) affects how we live.

And so, in addition to the millions of Catholics who have formally abandoned the faith over the past 40 years, there are countless others who in some fuzzy manner consider themselves Catholic, but who, as recent Popes have noted, are leading lives that are far removed from the Gospel.

We were rightly horrified by the revelation of sexual misconduct on the part of a handful of priests this past decade. But to be honest, the rest of us haven’t fared much better. In recent decades, Catholics have been fornicating, cohabitating, divorcing, contracepting, sterilizing, and aborting at a scandalously staggering rate. And the underlying loss of a sense of sin and grace–what we typically call “secularization”–has affected all aspects of human activity, from dwindling Sunday Mass attendance and Confession lines to a general decline in civility and solidarity among people. I’ve read dissident theologians who justify virtually any kind of behavior out of a mistaken understanding of conscience, and of course today pro-homosexual activists have experienced unprecedented success in their efforts to gain societal approval of unspeakably sinful behavior.

In the face of this enormous societal pressure, the Church–if she weren’t specially protected by the Holy Spirit–could easily cave in. Instead, she has steadfastly and compassionately proclaimed the timeless truths of our Christian faith and our human nature in response to the visceral demands of contemporary society.

Perhaps the most significant case in point of the Church’s fidelity is the issuance of Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI in 1968, in which the Holy Father reiterated the Church’s constant teaching on the immorality of artificial birth control.

The rebellion against Humanae Vitae affected every segment of the Catholic population in the United States. I remember as a teen and young adult how the Church’s teaching in this area was ridiculed and dismissed. The Church seemed so out-of-touch with our “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” culture.

But, to steal a line from a 1960s pop icon, “the times they are a changin’.” Young people are now taking to heart the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and the “theology of the body”–as is an older, broken generation that’s increasingly aware of having been betrayed by the so-called “sexual revolution.” More bishops and priests are breaking the “great silence” through sound preaching and teaching on contraception, aided by various organizations that promote marital chastity and natural family planning.

The Church is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Amidst the confusion of the ’60s, Pope Paul VI courageously reminded us of God’s magnificent plan for human sexuality, a reminder that needs to be repeated–and lived.

The third seed of hope that I believe was planted in 1968 was the establishment by H. Lyman Stebbins of a lay organization called Catholics United for the Faith (“CUF”). Here were Catholic men and women acting upon the godly instinct–the fruit of a deep spiritual life–to come to the Church’s aid in her time of grave need. And, I might add, in doing so they were explicitly trying to manifest Vatican II’s rich teaching on the role of lay Catholics in the Church. For their trouble, they were often ostracized, vilified, and even treated as enemies of the Church. I was part of the second generation of CUF leadership in the 1990s and early 2000s. One board member reminded me that even then, in many dioceses, CUF had to “sit on the back of the bus.”

With the perspective of 40+ years, CUF’s positions have largely been vindicated. As Catholic Answers’ Karl Keating once wrote, on all the make-or-break issues in the Church, “CUF has been on the side of the angels (not to mention the side of the popes). It’s an enviable record of fidelity.” From the side of CUF have come wonderful apostolates, resources, and ministries, most notably FOCUS, the critically acclaimed Faith and Life catechism series, and Emmaus Road Publishing. By their fruit you will know them.

We Hold On

My family loves C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. In the second story in this series, Prince Caspian, things are looking especially bleak for old Narnia, which is under attack. Many old Narnians have lost their faith in Aslan (the Christ figure in the story) and refuse to back the legitimate child-king, Caspian. Yet, there is one notable supporter of King Caspian among the talking beasts, Trufflehunter the badger, who says, on behalf of the badgers, that “we hold on.” While others have forgotten about Aslan and the need for a human of Caspian’s line to rule Narnia, the badgers couldn’t be moved. Trufflehunter says to Caspian, “as long as you will be true to old Narnia you shall be my king, whatever they say. Long life to your majesty.”

I was urged by some during my tenure with CUF to distance myself from CUF’s past, to make a fresh start. Appealing as that sounded at times, in the end it would have been a treacherous act of disloyalty. It would have done a grave injustice to the heroic CUF members who did their best to “hold on,” to follow Christ’s vicar on earth and pass the torch to the next generation.

“CUF” does not stand for Catholics United “against the Faithless” or “against the Fornicators.” Rather, it stands for Catholics united “for the Faith.”  And isn’t that what all Catholics in Northeast Kansas desire–to help all men and women achieve true, lasting unity by discovering or rediscovering the pearl of great price?

Emboldened with a new ardor, and armed with new methods and expressions, let us embrace the new evangelization as the great work of the Holy Spirit in our time!

Avoiding Scandal

20 Aug

scandalOne of the principal ways we demonstrate our fidelity to Christ is how we talk about the priesthood and contemporary issues facing the Church. Is our speech edifying? Does it bring people closer to the Lord? Are we ambassadors of Christ’s mercy and peace? (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20).

Probably the harshest critics of the Church are former Catholics and those who still consider themselves Catholic but who oppose the Church on any number of issues. Surely it’s very easy to find fault in the Church sometimes. We may be rightly upset or disturbed. When we give verbal expression to these feelings, we may be just “letting off steam,” and everything we say may well be true. But having some of the truth and needing to let off steam do not excuse making statements that will harm the faith of other Catholics whose faith perhaps is weaker, provide an unnecessary stumbling block for nonbelievers, and needlessly and perhaps even unfairly harm the reputations of others (cf. Catechism, no. 2477).

In place of the above, Scripture is very clear. We are told to say “only the things men need to hear, things that will help them” (Eph. 4:29). As St. Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Scandal involves inducing others to sin (cf. Catechism, nos. 2284-87). It’s nothing less than spiritual murder. Are our comments regarding the Church being expressed in ways that will actually turn people against the Church? And if giving scandal is like spiritual murder, then taking scandal is akin to spiritual suicide. We must protect our own hearts, that we do not allow our own negative feelings about the real evils we encounter to fester and ultimately to lead us out of the Church.

In the business world, there’s a maxim that may help us take the right approach in this matter. Successful managers are able to “catch their employees doing something right” and in the process provide positive reinforcement for good behavior. In the spiritual realm, we likewise do well to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). There are holy people in the Church. There are many great stories of contemporary Christian heroes, not to mention the lives of saints through the centuries. There is much good going on in the Church on many different fronts, globally, nationally, and right here in Kansas City. We need to acknowledge and publicize this truth.

This does not mean that we ignore the sins of Church members. The Church is at once holy yet always in need of renewal and reform, and charitably correcting a sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. Using an analogy, let us assume that a husband and wife are having marital problems, and the husband wants to do something about it. The first step would be for the husband to honestly acknowledge the nature and extent of the problem. He would try to work things out with his spouse, and no one would criticize him for seeking the help of others–marital counselors, spiritual advisors, friends and confidantes, and above all God Himself–to help remedy the problem.

However, if the husband were to begin to vilify his wife to his children, to neighbors, perhaps even to the press, we can say that regardless of the truth and frustration level behind his statements, he is only hurting the situation. Notice that St. Joseph, when confronted with the apparent infidelity of his wife, determined to “divorce her quietly,” without subjecting her to shame (Mt. 1:19).

As Catholics, we similarly have to distinguish between acknowledging the truth and taking restorative action from mere venting and causing greater division within the Church. Perhaps during this Year of Faith we will trust the Lord, confident that His mercy and justice will ultimately prevail.

To Whom Shall We Go?

9 Apr

Eucharist2Next week my youngest child, Raymond, will make his First Communion. For the first time, my entire family will be able to receive the Eucharist at Mass!

A couple weeks before my daughter Virginia made her First Communion, I took her to lunch and talked with her about the Eucharist. To test her, I said, “Now Virginia, the Eucharist symbolizes Christ, right?” Virginia looked at me partly in horror and partly in surprise at my apparent ignorance. “Oh no, Daddy,” she said. “The Eucharist really is the body and blood of Jesus.”

I affirmed her response and told her that sometimes I go out to speak to groups of people about the Eucharist. So I asked for her “advice” as to what I should tell people. Reveling in her new role as theological consultant, Virginia replied, “Daddy, I would start by telling them about Jesus: Jesus is God. He can do anything. Of course He can make Himself present under the appearance of bread and wine.”

I am so grateful to God for Virginia’s child-like faith that has now continued into her college years. I pray that she continues to deepen her relationship with Our Eucharistic Lord as she matures into adulthood.

Sadly, though, many adults don’t have Virginia’s faith. It is said that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, so I have a healthy distrust of polls that attempt to quantify Eucharistic belief. Even so, despite the welcome resurgence of Eucharistic adoration and devotions and other positive signs of life in the Church, far too many Catholics have an inadequate understanding of the Eucharist.

And how can we love what we don’t know?

When we consider the various problems and scandals in the Church, we most typically point to secondary, external causes and effects. Yet, underlying these things is the perennial mystery of evil and sin. So why does sin seem to be having such a field day right now? I think the heart of the matter is a crisis of faith. And while faith in Christ identifies us as Christians, our belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and the authority entrusted to the successors of Peter and the other apostles is what identifies us more specifically as Catholics.

When Our Lord gave His great Eucharistic discourse in John 6, many of those who were already numbered among His disciples could not accept this teaching and returned to their former, pre-Christian lives (cf. Jn. 6:60, 66). No other recorded teaching of Christ had such an effect.

There are many today who do not believe in God, let alone His Incarnate Son. Then there are Christians whose rejection of the Eucharist sadly perpetuates divisions dating back to the 16th century. And there are those who consider themselves Catholic but who hold out for a different Christ and a different Church.

After many disciples left because of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn. 6:67). And Peter’s response, the response of the Church, was, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe . . .” (Jn. 6:68).

Our Lord’s question–which goes out to each of us–demands an act of faith, an adherence to revealed truth. Indifference about the Eucharist, ambivalence about the Church, is clearly not an acceptable response. Yet the actions of many baptized Catholics manifest such indifference and ambivalence. That’s why today–and always–the Church needs heroic witnesses, indeed martyrs, to the truth about Jesus Christ, to the truth about the Church, to the truth about the Eucharist.

Catechesis on the Fifth Commandment

27 Nov

This week we come to what at first blush seems to be the most straightforward of commandments:

You shall not kill.

As a child preparing for Confession I would routinely pass over the Fifth Commandment. After all, I hadn’t killed anybody that month! I was completely missing the spirit of the commandment, and in fact I was–and still am–frequently guilty of injuring others in thought, word, and deed. I failed to see that just as the positive antidote to sexual sins is chastity, the positive antidote to sins of anger, strife, and violence is kindness–loving others as myself.

In our sexually permissive society, it is critically important to reaffirm–clearly, firmly, and sensitively–the implications of the Sixth Commandment (“you shall not commit adultery”). Yet sometimes we may act as though Moses put an asterisk next to the Sixth Commandment, as though that’s the only commandment we really need to be concerned about. The truth is that we also live in an increasingly violent world. This has everything to do with the Fifth Commandment.

For most of us, the Fifth Commandment comes into play when we become angry or frustrated, or perhaps when we’re thinking too much of ourselves and not enough of our neighbor. Our Lord gives this beautiful application of this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:21-24).

To live this commandment, we should proactively practice acts of kindness (random or otherwise!), and reactively practice acts of reconciliation (sometimes a not-so-simple “I’m sorry” will work wonders!) when we cause friction with our neighbor. Continue reading

Straight Talk

17 May

I am truly blessed with many fond childhood memories. I had a loving father and mother and many other family members who cared deeply about me.

Even so, my dominant reality, at least during my school years, was that I was a fat kid. I was relentlessly teased, pushed around, and called names, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. By the time I hit adolescence, I was filled with rage, rebellion, and negative feelings about myself. In my late teens I finally started to get a handle on my weight, but ever since I’ve considered myself in “recovery,” always in need of vigilance lest I return to the nightmarish girth of my youth.

I realize that homosexuality and obesity are two very different conditions, but there are some important points of similarity. For one thing, I know from experience how bullies on the playground (some of whom don’t change their stripes as adults) prey on kids who are different, so I can sympathize with those who have been mercilessly persecuted because of their not-so-hidden sexual identity struggles.

Leaving aside the bullies, there are several typical responses to the fat kid. Some disdainfully point out the obvious (“you’re fat”) and what should happen (“you need to lose 50 lbs.”), but through word and attitude communicate indifference (or worse) to the poor guy’s situation. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who want to offer an easy way, who want to make the child feel good about being fat.

While my built-up defenses might have suggested otherwise, and I didn’t always respond favorably to constructive weight-loss suggestions, deep down I wanted to change. I appreciated efforts–even seemingly unsuccessful ones–to reach out to me. The people who cared most about me offered diets, changes in lifestyle, and fitness regimens to help me escape an unwanted condition. They offered a plan which typically involved hard work and discipline. Even more, they offered hope.

Homosexual persons need a similar message. Continue reading

Getting Real About Role Models

7 Feb

Recently I met with a group of other moms, the topic of Tebow Mania came up.  A few of the moms had teenaged sons and they expressed how pleased they were that there was at least one NFL player that they felt their kids could look up to.  Almost in the same breath however was the fear that like so many other figures who seemed promising, Tim would also disappoint.  One mom noted a magazine cover broadcasting Tebow’s new girlfriend, as if the editors were salivating over the next issue when they could either report a nasty breakup or an unplanned pregnancy.

The conversation then turned to all the role models who crashed and burned in the last few years.  Too many sports, entertainment and political figures have hit the papers with a sexual indiscretion, a nasty divorce or a brush with the law.  It is common enough that it has become the bread and butter of certain types of magazines.  It’s no wonder that the moms I was meeting with were a little hesitant to let their sons dive into Tebow Mania!

What is worse is when the fall is one who was supposed to be leading others to God.  How many church communities have lost their faith because a pastor has been caught doing something bad? We Catholics, whose dirty laundry seems magnetically attracted to headlines, are by no means alone in these rare but hurtful instances, but we can feel it more intensely than others.

So, famous people and even our local leaders can seem just poised and ready to disappoint us.  What do we do? Well, I suppose we could choose to live in fear of the next headline, but what kind of life would that be? The fact of the matter is that due to a pesky thing called human freedom, we are all capable of terrible things.  This is what I choose to think of when I these stories break.  It is important that we not get too comfortable in our own piety that we begin to believe that those people over there are big sinners, but I (with all my rosaries and daily Masses and devotionals) am immune.  This is a dangerous frame of mind that I think we can all fall into from time to time.  The fall of others should lead us not to judge a person’s intentions or character (obviously, we can judge the actions as wrong) but to reflect on what we are doing to keep ourselves far away from a similar slippery slope.

I think this is a good lesson for our kids, too.  Continue reading

Addressing the Meltdown

19 May

Blessed John Paul II biographer George Weigel authored a thought-provoking editorial entitled “Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture” published today at National Review Online.

The editorial provides insightful commentary on the 300-page report entitled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950- 2010,” prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops this week.

The editorial has a most provocative opening:

“The American narrative of the Catholic Church’s struggles with the clerical sexual abuse of the young has been dominated by several tropes firmly set in journalistic concrete: that this was and is a ‘pedophilia’ crisis; that the sexual abuse of the young is an ongoing danger in the Church; that the Catholic Church was and remains a uniquely dangerous environment for young people; that a high percentage of priests were abusers; that abusive behavior is more likely from celibates, such that a change in the Church’s discipline of priestly celibacy would be important in protecting the young; that the Church’s bishops were, as a rule, willfully negligent in handling reports of abuse; that the Church really hasn’t learned any lessons from the revelations that began in the Long Lent of 2002.

“But according to an independent, $1.8 million study conducted by New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and released on May 18, every one of these tropes is false.”

Weigel not only proceeds to unmask these popular misconceptions, but also offers commentary on the cultural factors in the Church and world in the 1960s-80s that contributed to the horrific sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in America.

One point not given adequate treatment by the report, according to Weigel, is the role of homosexuality. Even though 81 percent of the clerical sex abuse victims were male (and given studies that show that girls are usually three times more likely to be abuse victims), the study did not find that priests with same-sex attractions were significantly more likely to be abusers than priests with heterosexual attractions.

I thought Weigel’s concluding comment on the broader societal context of the crisis was right on the mark:

“If the John Jay study on the ’causes and context’ of clerical-sexual-abuse problems in the Catholic Church prompts a broader public reflection on the fact that the sexual revolution has not been, and is not, cost-free, and that its victims are often the vulnerable young, then the Church will have done all of American society a signal service in commissioning this study that looks into its own heart of darkness.”