The Church in Crisis: An Appeal to Priests, Bishops, and the Laity

September 23, 2019

Recently, I have been meditating on Christ's outrage at the moneylenders in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-17). It's a scene that’s both comforting and unsettling, depending on your perspective. I've never understood the violence in Jesus' reaction — until now. The house of His Father was meant to be a refuge and holy space for worship, a place to rest in the knowledge that the God of Israel was near. Yet God's own people turned the house of the Father into a common market. They preferred mercenary transactions to Love Himself.

The revelations of horrific scandal in the Church cannot be understood or explained through a single passage from Scripture. I struggle to put into words exactly what has changed for me and why this passage seems so relevant.

Ultimately, it comes down to anger at the manipulation and exploitation of God's beloved people, at how some people in the Church have justified, ignored, and hidden abuse. Most of all, I grieve for survivors, I am angry that justice is so slow in coming, and I am so angry that people in the Church exploited the beauty and truth of God's love in order to abuse His people.

Like many Catholics, I feel helpless in the face of such systemic and grave evil in our Church. I write this letter to articulate the emotional fog that each new revelation leaves and to provide what I hope is a helpful perspective.

Feed My Sheep: An Appeal to Priests and Bishops

I was recently reminded of what a beautiful blessing the priesthood is for the Church. We often take for granted the most precious of God’s blessings because, being so generous, He bestows them every day, everywhere, and in spite of our continued failings. I am grateful to Jesus for leaving Himself for us in your hands.

Please remember that you are, first and foremost, our spiritual fathers. You are shepherds, called by God to feed His sheep. You are called by Jesus Christ to protect His Beloved; to care for her as He does; and, if necessary, to disregard convention, comfort, and the instincts of self-preservation to do so. Do not abandon us.

Members of our Church are starving for Truth. I ache for truth when I see yet another story of cover-up, another defensive statement from a diocese, or another shallow attempt to convince the world of what we know to be false: that the Church is not, in fact, bleeding and broken.

Members of our Church are starving for Truth.

The Church does not need your business acumen, your PR strategies, your marketing or media savvy. The Church needs your faithfulness. We need you to believe that God, not you, will save His Church. If that means losing priests, losing bishops, civil and criminal prosecution, even persecution, so be it.

When I speak of members of the Church, I am speaking of each soul in your parish, of each person who has been injured and terrorized by the sins of the clergy, and of each person whose trust — if not in God, then in His ordained ministers — has been shaken. I am speaking of laity, clergy, and religious. We are the Church, and we need you to be courageously faithful.

His Mercy Endures Forever: An Appeal to Complicit Bishops

I want to speak especially to bishops who have knowingly participated in abuse or cover-ups of abuse. You may (I hope) regret the decisions you made in hiding the ugly truth of sexual abuse. I cannot know what led you to betray the Church. I can judge your actions, but not you. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Do not dig yourself deeper. Look to Peter, not Judas, and do not despair of God’s mercy. Please be courageous enough to expose the whole, ugly truth, so that our Church can be healed. Feed your sheep, not with good intentions, diplomatic apologies, or five-year plans but with repentance. Act with the heroic virtue of Peter, who was not ashamed to throw himself on the mercy of His Lord, no matter the gravity of his sin.

If you must publicly admit your sins in order to share the truth, even if your actions will condemn you in the eyes of the Church and the world for the rest of your life, then do so. The belief that coming clean will be a blow to God’s kingdom is a lie from Satan. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.

Remember that Jesus promised you His love — and His cross. Perhaps a life of shame, quiet prayer, and penance will be your path to sainthood. You have harmed the Church gravely. May God give you the grace to participate in her healing by handing over your life completely to His loving and merciful will.

Remember that Jesus promised you His love — and His cross.

Remember that the ever-merciful Jesus entrusted our care to you. If you have done wrong before, do right now. If you failed to lead us before, lead us now.

Such a Time As This: An Appeal to Lay Catholics

“When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he had this reply brought to her: ‘Do not imagine that you are safe in the king’s palace, you alone of all the Jews. Even if you now remain silent, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another source; but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows—perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen?’” (Esther 4:13-14)

I feel overwhelmed when I consider what my part in reforming the Church might be. How can I, who am not called to any ministerial office in the Church, offer anything but outrage and good intentions?

One piece of advice I recently received was that “the most effective way you can participate in the healing of the Church is to be a saint.” Theologically, I didn’t doubt it, but it seemed so impractical and removed from my daily life and the lives of people who are hurting now.

But as I was praying about this issue, God allowed me to see that, in each of my gifts, He gives me a way to serve — and in each of your gifts, He gives you a way to serve. If you feel overwhelmed by the scandal in the Church and unable to offer something of value, I encourage you to pray and consider where God is inviting you to bring His love.

Pray and consider where God is inviting you to bring His love.

As horrific and gut-wrenching as each new revelation of scandal is, it’s not a problem that can be fixed in isolation. It cries out for our daily re-conversion and dedication to pursuing holiness. Each of us, the Church and her leaders, are in desperate need of our Savior.

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Emily Archer

Emily Archer is a recent graduate of Baylor University, having written her undergraduate honors thesis on her three great loves: authentic feminism, faithful Catholicism, and traditional fairy tales. When not reading or writing or trying to cut down on Netflix, she works as a speech and feeding therapist in her clinical fellowship year.

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