Summary: If we understand how it happened, and the redemption of Christ, even the clergy abuse scandal can give us cause for hope.

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September 13, 2009

24th Sunday in Course

The Gospel I just proclaimed for you is the first of two summits in Mark’s explanation of Jesus the Nazarene. To emphasize Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is Messiah, Mark omits all the detail that Matthew gives, particularly his entrusting of the leadership of the apostles and the whole Church to Peter. Instead, we have stark sequence of speech: Who do you say I am? Peter replies with authority: You are the Christ.

Jesus knows that none of his contemporaries really understand what it means to be the Messiah. They think the Messiah will be a grand general and politician who will kill Romans and restore the kingdom of David, a bloody reign that had peace for maybe a couple of decades. Jesus knows that the only blood that will gain peace for Israel and the world is His own precious blood, that the only kingdom worth having is one in which the Holy Spirit brings people together in peace and harmony. So he tells the apostles to be quiet about his Messianic identity.

Instead, he tells the apostles that He, the real Christ, will suffer, and be murdered, and only establish the reign of God by His own resurrection. Peter, never one to pass up a chance to put his foot into his mouth, fusses at Jesus for talking about failure and death. Jesus calls Peter “Satana,” which in Hebrew means a great Adversary, one who will thwart the will of God. Human plans are not God’s plans. The true Messiah will give Himself over to those who will mock Him and spit on Him and pluck out His beard and skin and dignity. And, if you read on in the Gospels, you see that He tells us that the Church, too, must undergo the same kind of suffering.

And the Church has suffered greatly over the past ten years. The sexual abuse and homosexual clergy crisis have caused great pain for people both inside and outside the Church. The sinless Bride of Christ seemed to the world to be rife with scandal–mostly older men abusing boys, but with every other possible variant of abuse. And abuse it was, even if those involved considered the actions to be consensual. When a man in a habit or clericals, or a woman religious, says something detestable is good, only children of uncommon valor could call a foul.

The damage done to our communion has been profound. Yes, dioceses have been driven into bankruptcy. Money that could have been used for ministry and for rebuilding our crumbling Catholic schools has gone to restitution and legal fees. But that’s just money. We are a hierarchical entity established by Christ. On the rare occasion I wear my clericals, about half the folks I encounter show me respect, but the other half look at me as if I were escaped from prison. People have become fearful of priests and religious, the very ministers who can help them in the great crises of life. Some–even some in my own family–have left the Church, usually to join a Protestant denomination with an even worse abuse problem, but one unreported by the secular press. This atmosphere of fear and distrust is incompatible with the traditional role of the Church–created by Christ to be a place of safety, celebration, evangelization and communion.

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