But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.
MATTHEW 18:6 DOUAY-RHEIMS
My daily life involves contact with numerous Protestants, atheists, agnostics, and lapsed Catholics. They ask questions about my Catholic faith, and I answer them. I am versed in apologetics for the Catholic faith, and my experience as a Protestant and an atheist makes me uniquely knowledgeable about all of the arguments for and against the faith. For atheists, I deal mostly with the problem of evil. For Protestants, I have to debunk a lot of myths about worshipping Mary and statues or the Pope being the antichrist. I know the Bible, science, and church history. I will admit it. When it comes to the arguments, I am good at them. But the conversation always ends on the same issue.
"Your church is full of child molesting priests!!"
That is the last word. I do not know what to say to a line like that. I have no satisfying response to something like that. I can do like others and talk about guys like Jerry Sandusky or the many sex scandals among Protestants which are more numerous than in the Catholic Church. But none of that seems to make much difference to those who oppose the Catholic Church or to people like me that defend her. Child molestation and sexual abuse are heinous sins and crimes and are the most despicable in our society. They are so despicable that even hardened criminals behind bars will kill a child molester to somehow atone for their own sins. Yet, the Devil in all his craftiness has made the Catholic Church virtually synonymous with child rape.
Who is to blame for this scandal? The answer is obvious. The priests who sexually abused minors are to blame. But the greater blame rests on those bishops who knew of the abuse, tolerated it, and shielded these priests moving them around from parish to parish to help in the cover up of their nefarious deeds. This is grave sin, and our Lord has made clear in the verse I cited above that the punishment for their sins will be most severe. I would not want to be one of those people on the day of judgment.
When you want to beat a dog, any stick will do, but this sex abuse stick is the best stick ever. The licks from it are hard. It gets to the most sensitive parts and beats them to a pulp. I would rather die in a thousand horrific ways than ever cause offense to a child in this manner or even be accused of it. Yet, thanks to pervert priests and bastard bishops, I have to bear the shame of this scandal every time someone learns that I am a Catholic. Protestants have the luxury of changing their churches, changing the names of their churches, or what have you. The only difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Catholics take the beating while the Protestants step out through the backdoor to the next church down the street. Catholics own it while Protestants disown it. As for atheists, child sex abuse seems to be the only atrocity they are unwilling to tolerate though they will defend abortion, euthanasia, forced sterilization, genocide, and just about any perverted sex act involving consenting adults though they would want the age of consent lowered to age 12. I can hear some atheists howling over this because a few think it should only be age 15.
The argument of all these people is the same. Because these evil priests were disobedient to the commands of Christ, that allows them to also be disobedient to the commands of Christ. So, they can spurn His church, His sacraments, His body, and His blood. They can live anyway they choose. And, when Judgment Day comes, they will cover their sins with the sins of these Judases citing the greater crime as permission for their lesser crimes. I know this because this is why the conversation stopper always comes at the end of the conversation. The moment people realize the truth they bring out the sex abuse scandal because this is all they have left. It is a conversation stopper because they want the conversation to stop. They don't want to hear anymore. This is why my response to this scandal is to stop talking.
I don't like talking. I don't think it makes any difference. I remember the wonderful Jennifer Fulwiler saying as much in an interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN. You have to shut your mouth and just live it. When I do my examination of conscience at the end of the day, the vast majority of the things I regret are the words that come from my own mouth. I can't even call them sins because even the good and true things I say I regret because I feel that I have wasted my breath. This was the feeling I had when I left chastened and bruised from my attempt to convince a Protestant friend that we had it wrong about the Catholic Church. I had seen the light, and I wanted him to see it, too. He did not. He would not.
The faith is not a debate. I am a convert, so I know something about being on both sides of an issue. I was not argued into the faith. The big fear others had for me was that some bad Catholic would tick me off and send me back down the dark path of atheism. What they did not know was my extensive knowledge of just how bad Catholics could be from my one year at seminary and my extensive reading of Calvin and the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, bad popes, etc. As an atheist, the sex abuse scandal was a massive weapon in my arsenal. But as an atheist, I stopped using those arguments. I would point out to my atheist friends while I was an atheist that Stalin and Mao were atheists, so equating religion with genocide was not going to be a winning argument for us. As a Protestant, I knew that Catholics in England were hung, drawn, and quartered. As a Calvinist, I was always made to answer for the Salem Witch Trials. As a libertarian, I had to answer for the anarchist utopia of Somalia. We can chalk all this up to the ad hominem fallacy, but there is weight to these arguments. If what you believe is true, it should somehow make you a better person.
The conclusion that I came to was that no one had any saints. Camus asked famously in his work, The Plague, if an atheist can also be a saint. But The Plague is a work of fiction, and the answer is no. You can't be an atheist and be a saint. You also can't be a Protestant and be a saint. You can't belong to any philosophy, religion, or organization in the entire world and become a saint. This is true except for one place and one creed. The only place you will find saints is in the Roman Catholic Church. You will find plenty of sinners there along with bad priests and bad bishops and even some bad popes. But the most loving, humane, selfless, and sacrificial people that have ever lived have borne the name of Christ and partook of His body and blood at the altar rails of the One True Faith.
My confirmation saint was St. Joan of Arc, and I chose her for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons was that she was condemned to death by the same church that would canonize her as a saint. Her story is one of betrayal by rat royalty and bad bishops. Despite this betrayal, she went to her death, burnt at the stake with the request that a crucifix be held up, so that she could gaze upon her savior as the flames consumed her. This failure by the bishops to recognize a saint but to choose to betray her is only outdone by the betrayal of Christ Himself by the religious leaders of His day. Other saints would suffer in similar ways at the hands of bad bishops.
There are bad people in the Catholic Church. In my diocese, there is a priest who has taken the reins of a parish and run it straight into the ground. This is because he is an arrogant bastard and a son of a bitch. I hear that he caused a sincere and sweet convert to leave and return to the Methodist Church. I watch as people who serve in that parish drop off and the website turn to garbage as no one even cares to update it anymore. The ironic thing is that this guy is from the tough school of things insisting on more reverence in the Mass and "doing things right." I can add to this guy all those other jerks who think the problem with the Catholic Church is the loss of the Latin Mass, priests facing the congregants during the consecration, and believers accepting the body of Christ in the hand instead of on the tongue. All the blame is put on Vatican II. But here's the thing. That sex abuse crisis predates Vatican II. They have cases going back to the fifities. Believing that what ails the Catholic Church can be remedied by a return to the Latin Mass is like a Baptist believing that the victorious Christian life depends entirely on abstaining from alcohol and tobacco.
Hosea 6:6 says, "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." This verse came to my mind as I sat in my pew for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I was late and arrived just as the homily was beginning. I was mad because I was mean to one of the people who I blamed for making me late to this mass on a holy day of obligation. I was so consumed with meeting my obligation that I was a total jerk to someone I consider a friend. Stricken in conscience, I could not take the eucharist but abstained. I ended the Mass by texting my friend with an apology and asking for his forgiveness. I had sinned. The irony of my sin was that I committed it while fulfilling a religious obligation. It was a reminder to me of something I believe God had told me at an earlier time in my heart when I was received into the Catholic Church and took my confirmation.
Pope Benedict XVI was the pontiff during my RCIA, and I was very admiring of him as I still am for his orthodoxy, his renewal of the traditional rites with Summorum Pontificum, and his uncompromising stance as a cardinal prior to his election. But by the time I was done, Pope Francis was our new Holy Father, and his style and emphasis were quite different. I was not enthusiastic about him. I had my reservations about him right up to my confirmation. Then, I got it. It happened even as the chrism oil was still on my head. I had envisioned being a real lay leader in the church teaching classes, writing for websites and publications, and doing all sorts of rock and roll stuff. Being a convert, I could feel the zeal pushing me to being a firebrand and an uncompromising hard ass Catholic. Then, all of that passed from me in that confirmation. I had been all of those things as a Protestant and as an atheist. I was the most ardent guy in the room. The irony is that the most ardent guy would so easily abandon those paths.
They say in confirmation that you receive your gifts to be used in the Church and for building up the Body of Christ. I have always been a writer as I still am. I can also pass as a decent public speaker. One friend calls it the "gift of gab." But I know it now as the "curse of gab." The thing I learned from this new pope is that it matters less what you say and more what you do. I have a gift for words, and I can tell you that this gift is the one I value least. Talk is cheap. People are good at talking and writing. Very few are good at doing. The gift I took away from my confirmation is the desire to do the blue collar work that no one else wants to do. My best arguments come not from my words but from my actions.
The reason Pope Francis is the antidote to the sex abuse scandal is because the sex abuse scandal is merely the tip of the much larger problem of bad Catholics. The reason the sex abuse scandal is a conversation stopper is because Catholics need to shut up. The argument from the world is that Catholics are hypocrites. And what would Jesus say? He would agree with them because this is what He said about the scribes and Pharisees of His day who were short on mercy and long on sacrifice.
This is why I don't like talking. This is why I don't like having the conversations. It is because I feel acutely that my words don't match my actions. People ask me what the biggest difference is between Protestants and Catholics that I have observed, and I will tell you. Protestants have the biggest mouths. They are always flapping their gums. Protestants turned Catholic bring this into the Catholic Church with them which is how you can tell the converts from the cradle Catholics. The converts learn to tone it down. I know this because I have toned it down considerably. Zeal should be channeled into prayer and works of mercy instead of preaching.
This is the message of the epistle of James. I can quote from it, but it is better to just read the entire book. As I learned from Dale Ahlquist, the book of James is the most Catholic of the Catholic epistles because it gives you the quick and dirty on how to live as a Catholic. You can't read that book without feeling the sting of conscience and a burning in your soul. If I could sum up that letter in one statement, it would be this. Talk less and do more.
The Catholic Church needs saints. Scoundrels and hypocrites abound. But saints are so rare that it only takes one or two to make the difference. The simple fact is that we scandalize the Catholic Church everytime we fail to practice what we preach. Our words should be like captions on a photo. They should explain what you are seeing. But even without a caption, the picture still says a lot. This is what made the biggest impact on me as an atheist. It was meeting someone sincere in their Catholic faith and wanting what they had. I could give a thousand arguments for why Catholicism was wrong, but they were no match for a single good example. Now, I just want to be the good example for others. May God help me in this endeavor.