Sometimes, when I read or hear about the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, I am filled with righteous anger. Anger at the priests and religious who did this, and maybe even more so, anger at the bishops and others who covered up and enabled heinous evil. It’s hypocritical, and it’s disgusting.
But at other times, I am filled with anger at the media and critics of the Church. There are times — and this past week, with its malicious attack on Cardinal Pell is a good example — when public figures and commentators indulge in vicious anti-Catholic bigotry. The noble goals of truth, justice and healing are sacrificed, even if momentarily. But worse than that: the terrible trauma of victims and survivors is exploited. It’s hypocritical, and it’s disgusting.
But here’s the thing: while I periodically navigate between these extremes, I can find myself irrationally reacting against a media article I’m reading, or a person I’m engaging in conversation. Let me give you a few examples:
- In private conversation, a Catholic from an older generation decries the media obsession, and the slavish position of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council. I feel anger boiling up within me, and a dismay that the Church doesn’t whole-heartedly and without qualification accuse herself and engage in radical penance.
- I read a newspaper article which unjustly pillories individuals within the Church, and reduces the scourge of clergy abuse to something marginal, like celibacy for the Kingdom. I feel anger boiling up within me, and a stubborn defensiveness of the Church.
These are just two examples from a spectrum that covers every position and every reaction. But there’s a common denominator: I respond with self-righteous anger, which is quite different from righteous anger. Maybe you experience something like this yourself.
Because of this, I now studiously avoid second- and third-hand accounts of the Royal Commission and the cases of abuse. I still open myself up to first-hand accounts. The direct testimony of Royal Commission witnesses for example, and confidential conversations with victims and survivors of sexual abuse. In those instances I am moved by compassion, not self-righteous anger.
But I avoid TV and newspaper coverage, facile musical parodies, and even artful treatments (by all accounts) like Spotlight. These second- and third-hand accounts too easily stoke my passions in negative and destructive ways. Which tells me something I knew already: in the midst of this terrible sin and scandal, which teems with human vice and worldliness, the devil also prowls. There is something truly diabolical about all this, which we must attend to.
I repeatedly remind my parishioners, at the beginning of the media’s periodic coverage of the Church’s sins, to consciously foster a supernatural outlook:
- To match every minute consuming media treatment of this evil, with another minute prayerfully reading the life of Christ in the Gospels.
- To debrief with the Lord each evening, examining one’s emotional responses to the latest news or commentary, and placing it all in God’s hands.
- To choose one’s words carefully, and listen with real compassion when others speak about these matters.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I counsel visits to the Blessed Sacrament. To go out of one’s way and kneel before a tabernacle, even if only for a minute, to remind oneself that Christ is the head of the Church; he is the reason we are Catholic; and he is always present to us in the Eucharist, regardless of the virtue or vice of his ministers. When we do these things, I think, we are better able to respond to this terrible evil just as our Lord responds. Not with self-righteousness, but with real compassion, sorrow, and righteous anger.
One more thing: suffering is not in vain. Suffering can be redemptive. As St Paul so beautifully puts it,
“the Sinless One became sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.”
What is true of Christ is also true of the Church, and it’s true of us individually too, Christ’s members. We can assume sin, and carry its consequences within us, for the good and healing of others. So we should meet this current affliction with sincere hope in healing and redemption. For the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.