I have gone through a great wave of emotions over the past few weeks, since the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report which outlines not only numerous accounts of abuse by priests over seven decades, but the numerous ways the various bishops covered up or ignored these wicked priests, with some of these bishops rising to the upper ranks of the Church. The first emotion is anger - anger that this continued for so long, anger that none of the bishops seem willing to hold themselves or their brother bishops responsible, anger that even the pope seems unwilling to do anything serious. The second emotion is sadness - sadness at how many were abused and probably lost their faith, sadness at the people who tried to help but couldn’t get anywhere, sadness that this is dragging the Church through the mud once more.
All of this raises the question of whether it is good to stay in such a Church when there seems to be so many wicked men in the Church, so many who are more concerned about their rank or power rather than where they are leading souls. I am not the only priest who has struggled with these staggering and scandalous reports and wondered what to do or where to go from here. Yet I cannot shake the words that Saint Peter so quickly offers up in the Gospel today: “Lord, you have the words of eternal life.”
Brothers and sisters, where else can we go to hear these life-giving words, in particular the words Jesus has been speaking to us the past few weeks - “I am the bread of life”; “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” These are hard words to understand, even harder to live, as are so many things which the Church teaches, such as the difficult teaching on marriage we hear in the second reading. However, all of these words and all of these teachings come from the lips of the most innocent and truthful Man in all of history, He who declared Himself to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, He who was willing to suffer the death of the Cross because of my sins so that I might receive that bread of life.
I believe these revelations of scandal and wickedness will be something good for the Church, like receiving the news that one has cancer. It is not the scandals themselves that are good, but that we know they are happening so that we can answer how to remove them and restore the Church to her apostolic glory. The one answer that we ought to have is that we do not believe in men; the psalms warn us against that when they say, “Put not your trust in princes, in whom there is no help.” Our faith is not in a human structure or organization but in God, in Jesus Christ who established and maintains His Church in spite of the wickedness of her members, especially her clergy.
The Church continues in her divine mission because of the grace that the Holy Spirit maintains within her. And where can we find that grace? We find it in the sacraments, and above all we find this grace in the Most Holy Eucharist. Not in the Bible, not in the tradition, not in anything else other than the sacraments which Jesus has given us and which have been maintained by the Church for 2000 years. “To whom can we go?” Peter asks our Lord. We cannot find this in any other religion nor in the absence of religion. We cannot find it in sports, in politics, in technology, in nothing else but in that simple bread and wine transformed by the action of the priest - even the most sinful priest - into the body and blood of Christ.
My dear brothers and sisters, do not lose hope in God or in His Church. There will always be sinful men and women in the Church. Remember that Judas walked with Christ, saw His miracles, and yet still betrayed Him to His death. Yet Jesus transforms that most wicked sin into the greatest good done for all of humanity. Jesus can do the same even with such terrible men at the helm in our day. I don’t know how He will do it, but I believe and trust that He will, and that He will do it even through me a sinner. Our faith cannot be in sinners, nor even in the saints who are in the Church, but God alone who acts in and through both of them. Let us taste and see the goodness of the only one who is truly good - the Lord who offers Himself for us in the Eucharist as our nourishment, our strength, and our foretaste of the glory He desires for us if we remain faithful, if we remain with Him and His Church.