The Bigger Agenda

Pope Francis has made one brief statement in response to the incriminating document released by former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò on Sunday. He said:

“I will not say one word on this. I think this statement speaks for itself, and you have sufficient journalistic capacity to reach your own conclusions. When time will pass and you’ll draw the conclusions, maybe I will speak. But I’d like that you do this job in a professional way.”

I have admired Pope Francis even before I was Catholic. I cheered his election as someone from the Western Hemisphere who had served the Church in a Latin culture and understood the concerns and issues of those of the Southern Hemisphere where the Church is growing and more dynamic than the Northern Hemisphere. I have wanted to give him every benefit of the doubt, even when some of his statements seemed problematic.

However on the topic of sexual abuse, his actions have not matched up to his earlier commitment of “zero tolerance” for those who use their position of power to abuse children, adolescents and even adults, specifically seminarians.

The situation in the U.S. is not unique. And the seeming slowness to respond to those who suffer has surfaced in Chile and Honduras most recently.

Not only is Pope Francis silent. But while we all watch and wonder, a self-appointed spokesman for the pope, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, spoke up to defend Francis in an interview with NBC News. He stated:

“The pope has a bigger agenda. He’s got to get on with other things, of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the Church. We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.”

Most faithful Catholics would agree that there is a time and a place to talk about the environment. And if we’re ranking issues, protecting migrants should be above the environment, in my humble opinion. However, the Church, especially her prelates will have no moral authority to carry on the work of the Church, protect migrants or worry about the environment, if first they do not in humility seek the truth, and root out the rottenness that allows this depravity to continue.

Thinking about Jesus, who is the founder of the Church, He has some specific words that seem to go to the heart of this:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30, NRSV)

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6 NRSV)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15, NRSV)

In love it is time to speak the truth as Jesus did. It is better for those who have authority in the Church to excise that thing that causes sin–lose that–better that, than end up eternally in hell! If by your actions, actively or passively, you place a stumbling block before God’s children who look to you for spiritual guidance, Jesus has a special millstone that will have your name engraved on it. And finally, if you are saying one thing with your mouth, but living a lie and leading the flock astray, not only are you a child of hell, but hell will be your destiny.

For the love of God, for the love of Christ’s Church, for the love of the flock, and for the care of your soul–if you are living a lie–it’s not too late to confess and surrender yourself to the mercy of Almighty God. If you don’t, you are no good to us or to Jesus Christ and His Church.

The Bigger Agenda

Equal Opportunity Seducer

One thing this summer has proven to me is that Satan is an equal-opportunity seducer to sin. A high profile, high-ranking churchman among U.S. Catholics has fallen in disgrace when his sexual peccadilloes were revealed, but not before much harm was done to the Church and her members. And then a very prominent evangelical pastor retired earlier this year and is now under scrutiny for things he allegedly did over the course of his long tenure as pastor of one of the best known churches in America.

We shake our heads in bewilderment, but deep down inside we understand the fragility of the sons of Adam’s race and the propensity to sin, especially if power and influence is attached to one’s station in the church and outside of it. Our merciful Lord took a very strong position on this matter: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NRSV).

We make a grave error if we restrict our Lord’s admonition only to “little children” referring to their biological age. Anyone entrusted with spiritual oversight who abuses their position of leadership, authority and shepherding to do harm to another, physically, emotionally, sexually or theologically, Jesus has very harsh words and judgment for that person.

I shudder with the implications. I am currently a layman in the Catholic Church, but I spent 30-plus years as a pastor and missionary in the evangelical church. The opportunities for taking advantage of another in any of the ways listed above are always on Satan’s menu. What can we do to bring accountability and holiness to the church?

I am currently reading The Church: Mystery, Sacrament, Community, part four of Pope St. John Paul II’s Wednesday audiences on the Catechism. In his first presentation I came across these words:

“…we also profess that the Church of Christ is apostolic, that is, built upon the apostles, from whom she received the divine truth revealed by and in Christ. The Church is apostolic because she preserves the apostolic tradition and guards it as her sacred deposit.

“The authoritative guardians appointed to preserve this deposit are the successors of the apostles, assisted by the Holy Spirit. But without a doubt, all believers, in union with their legitimate pastors, and thus, the whole Church, share in the Church’s apostolicity. That is, they share in her bond with the apostles and, through them, with Christ. For this reason the Church cannot be merely reduced to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The latter is, without a doubt, its institutional foundation. But all the members of the Church–pastors and faithful–belong to her and are called to play an active role in the one People of God, who receive from him the gift of being bound to the apostles and to Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis mine)

You and I have a responsibility to assure that the Church is presented to Christ “without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind.” We are called to pray, to fast, to be faithful in our own lives, and to pray especially for our pastors and bishops and not turn a blind eye in those occasions that the leadership of the Church and the people in the pews are indistinguishable from the corrupt world in which we find ourselves.

Jesus takes this very seriously and so should we!

Equal Opportunity Seducer