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!