By Dominican Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell, vice postulator
These days, a typical remark made by Catholics to their priests concerns the current world situation. The political tensions and divisions seem to sharpen, and the brouhaha over the health care bill seriously raised the bitterness quotient among some Americans. Within the Church itself, polarizations are strong and the relentless media blitz about the sexual scandal among priests and the failure of the hierarchy to handle the situation properly makes the ordinary person ask: “How much of this is true? How accurate is the reporting? Who is really to blame? What does this mean for my faith?” Confusion reigns.
The Catholic Church is not immune to crisis and at this time in many parts of the world, Christ’s Church is hard-pressed to contend with the media blitz that seems to never end. The issues raised in the press seem interconnected. The renewed focus on the sins and crimes of priests raises the issue of mandatory clerical celibacy and the dearth of vocations. The financial drain consequent on the litigation of abuse cases in the United States puts the Church’s institutions and good works in jeopardy. Most alarming of all: the loss of confidence and trust in the Church and its priests — the most serious fallout from recent news accounts that include accusations about Pope Benedict XVI himself.
Faithful Catholics cannot help but be shaken. How do we restore faith and confidence in the priesthood and the Church itself? Only by returning to the foundation of the Church and its priests, by turning to Christ himself who is the foundation of the Church and the eternal High Priest who never leaves his flock untended. As Pope Benedict has suggested, when looked at in faith, the present crisis can only be understood as purification. God uses the pain and suffering of the present situation to lead us to a faith that is based on our trust and confidence in him rather than any human person. Our confidence in the Church is founded on him, not on any good works that the Church undertakes or the integrity of its ministers.
Venerable Michael McGivney lived at a time when the Catholic Church was under attack and groups of immigrant Catholics, in particular, were unacceptable in the culture at large. The rejection and persecution of his day stemmed from ignorance and a gross a misunderstanding of the Church. There were scurrilous accusations made regarding priests and nuns. Today, the crisis comes less from outside and more from within the Church.
Priests who have betrayed their sacred trust and bishops who are accused of handling the situation badly have precipitated the current loss of confidence among the faithful. Father McGivney’s response to this crisis is the example we must follow: Return to the foundation of our faith, the person of Jesus Christ. He alone can heal the wounds of those who have been victimized by the sins and crimes of his ministers. He alone can restore the confidence of his people. We place our trust in Christ; in our fidelity to Christ is our fidelity to his Church.
We can go on in hope because he is the author and guide of the Church. Drawing near again, in faith, to Christ himself should give us the confidence to analyze the situation with calm and insight. We can begin to separate in news reports the true from the false. Being defensive is not the answer and surely to reply in kind to anger and frustration only deepens the conflict. Every accusation can be viewed as a grace if we consider its content seriously. With Christian faith and hope, we must face the truth and confront what is false.
This is not a moment for Catholics to run and hide. This is a moment of truth. We must face the accusations and consistently speak the truth no matter the number or outrage of the accusers. This is the example of Venerable Michael McGivney and it must be our path into the future. Let this holy priest inspire us to go on with hope and optimism. And let us pray for the new generation of priests, that they will be truly men of God and of the Church. Venerable Michael McGivney, pray for us.