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What Must Survive a Corrupt Catholic Church


Source: The New York Times

By making monasteries, of a sort, of our homes and hearts, we may develop the spiritual disciplines necessary to endure this seemingly endless trial.

By Rod Dreher

Mr. Dreher is the author of “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.”

I have a Catholic friend who lives in an exceptionally bad diocese and who for years has been heaving rocks up mountains to keep his faith strong and his family in church. His resilience has amazed me. Yesterday, after a grand jury report revealed that bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, my friend, a tough-guy lawyer, wrote to tell me that he wept in his office. He said, “I am at the end.”

Twelve years ago, so was I. My once-fervent Catholic faith had been eviscerated by my covering the scandal as a journalist. Leaving Catholicism was the spiritual equivalent of a trapped animal gnawing off his own leg off to save its life. It was extraordinarily painful, but if I hadn’t done it, depression would have consumed me and likely annihilated what was left of my Christian faith.

In 2001, when I first began covering the Catholic sex abuse scandal, I interviewed the Rev. Tom Doyle, who destroyed his own clerical career by defending abuse victims. After the interview, the priest cautioned me that if I pursued this story further, it would take me “to places darker than you can imagine.”

He was right. We learned from the Pennsylvania report that one priest raped a 7-year-old girl as she recovered in the hospital from a tonsillectomy. The grand jury uncovered evidence of a sadomasochistic clerical pedophile ring in Pittsburgh that photographed boys they had posed to look like Jesus Christ, then gave them gold crosses to show that they had been groomed. Those particular cases were new to me, but the satanic darkness was all too familiar from my investigative work. I have known since 2002 about Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, molesting seminarians.

I left Catholicism for Eastern Orthodoxy, not because I expected to find a church free from sin, but because for various theological reasons, I thought it — not Protestantism — was the only way out. I needed valid sacraments, and I needed them in a church where I would not be overcome by fear and rage. In Orthodoxy, God gave me the graces of healing.

It genuinely grieves me to see how much my Catholic brothers and sisters are suffering. I’ve been there. I know that pain. And yet, for me, it was a severe mercy.

When I converted to Catholicism in my 20s, I seized my faith like a sword to be wielded against the world and the church’s enemies. Arrogant, proud, triumphalist — that was the kind of Catholic I was as a young man. That was not the church’s fault: It was mine. And then it was all taken away from me.

In my humiliation, I received the faith a second time, as a warm coat given to a shabby beggar on a cold winter’s day. On the day I entered the Orthodox Church, my Ukrainian-born godfather said to me: “None of us have the right to look down on the Catholics. If our sins were exposed as theirs have been, we would be shamed too.”

Over the past 12 years, I have rebuilt a spiritual life based not on intellection, disputation and hero-worshiping the ecclesial institution, but on a simple way of prayer, fasting and repentance.

You don’t have to convert to Orthodoxy to live your Christian faith this way (though it helps). But Catholics and all Christians are going to have to be more deeply converted if they intend to hold on through present and future trials.

Three years ago, the Rev. Cassian Folsom, a Benedictine monk in Norcia, Italy, the hometown of St. Benedict, warned me that the familiar world of go-along-to-get-along Christianity was going to die soon. Any Christian who wants to survive the coming darkness, he said, will have to live in a far more intentional and traditional way, in some sort of real community.

Years earlier, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago famously observed that he expected one of his successors to die in prison — the idea being that the state will eventually persecute the church. Because of that, many Catholics have expected the gravest challenge to the church’s survival to come from outside.

It is now clear that the greater threat is from internal weakness and vice. The church’s purgation has just begun. There will be more grand juries, and more revelations. If the media ever begin investigating the sordid world of Father McCarrick, it will uncover clandestine networks of sex, money and power honeycombing the church’s hierarchy.

The sex abuse scandal cannot be understood from a wider church crisis of corruption — sexual and otherwise — and loss of institutional authority.

This general crisis was foretold by a surprising prophet. In 1969, a priest named Joseph Ratzinger made a startling prophecy on German radio. Four years after the end of the Second Vatican Council, he predicted that the Catholic Church was at the beginning of a great and wide-ranging catastrophe, one that would destroy its wealth, power and status. Father Ratzinger did not mention clerical sex abuse per se, but his remarks indicate a recognition that contrary to the official post-conciliar optimism, the church would not survive in its then-current state the cultural revolution shaking Western civilization.

“From the crisis of today, the church of tomorrow will emerge — a church that has lost much,” he said. “She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.”

The future Pope Benedict XVI went on, “The future of the church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith.”

This is a challenge and a counsel of hope not just for the Catholic Church of our time, but for all churches, and all Christians. None of us can afford to be proud and complacent. Many of the old verities are tumbling down, like scales falling from our eyes. As painful as it may be, it is far better to see the painful truth than to avert our gaze from things that disturb our false peace.

This crisis is systemic and will not be resolved by new policies and procedures, as the hapless episcopal bureaucrats want to think. Pope Francis is not going to swoop in to save the Catholic Church, and heaven knows that by now, the bishops cannot be relied on to reform and restore the church.

If the church is to be rescued, it will have to happen in the everyday lives of the faithful, no longer deceived by illusions or false promises of faithless shepherds.

Don’t mistake me as an advocate of quiet stoicism. I think the Catholic laity should raise hell. Organize protests outside chanceries, withhold tithes to the bishop’s appeal, make noise, demand change. It’s your church, too — and your children’s. Sending angry tweets about how all these bad priests and bishops deserve millstones is not enough.

Still, as you act, never forget that a faith that endures is not forged on a protest line, or in institutional reformation. It is as it always has been: in the prayerful, sacrificial habits of daily life. I left the Catholic Church, but I still had to figure out a way to keep myself and my children Christian.

By making monasteries, of a sort, of our homes and hearts, we may develop the spiritual disciplines necessary to endure this seemingly endless trial and to keep the light of faith burning brightly amid this new Dark Age.

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative and author of “The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.

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