“..As Christ’s vicar, each bishop has the pastoral care of the particular Church entrusted to him..“
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, no.1560)
For a number of years now, the faithful have been repeatedly scandalised by the revelations of abuse within the Catholic Church, particularly where those episodes relate to members of the hierarchy – Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals. There have been numerous instances of abuse of power and of physical, emotional and sexual abuse; there have also been many, many occasions where Bishops have failed to act to protect those entrusted to them, be they laity, seminarians, Deacons, Priests or Religious.
The cumulative effect of all this on the general population of the faithful is often one of a loss of faith – not only in the institution of the Church, but in the Lord Himself; while understandable, this is nonetheless perilous for souls.
A second effect is the loss of trust in the hierarchy of the Church, with numerous Bishops claiming to have known nothing about eventually-revealed scandals which have continued unchecked for years in some cases, and those same Bishops appearing unwilling to either address, question, speak out or throw light on those terrible events. At times, various Bishops have deliberately obstructed the path to truth and clarity. Unfortunately, all of this leaves many wondering what else the Bishops know and what is yet to be revealed; worse still, many are left with the belief that ‘nothing has changed and nothing will change’.
Because of their repeated failures in this area over many years, each of them coupled with assurances and promises and calls for new policies and procedures, many of the faithful simply do not trust their Bishops. For the Church and for souls, this is a desperate situation.
Where this is the case, it places the souls of such Bishops in grave peril; leaving aside the temporal aspects of these situations – which have been well covered elsewhere – there is the danger of the damnation of the souls of such Bishops.
The Catechism says the episcopal ordination is “the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders”, giving each Bishop an “exalted mission” (no.1554 and 1556) so that he becomes “the one who represents Christ, the Good Shepherd and Head of his Church” in the local Church (no.1561).
A truly good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, as the Lord tells us in the Gospel; he does not place himself, his power, his reputation, his prestige or ‘the good name of the Church’ above the needs of the sheep and their protection. For a shepherd of the Church to do so is to risk eternal damnation – it is a certainly something for which the Lord will require a full and honest explanation on the Day of Judgement, when the secrets of all hearts will be revealed.
While much of the debate on this issue will necessarily be temporal in nature, we should all remember that more than anything else, the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and so it is primarily spiritual. While we have the assurance of the Lord that the gates of hell will never prevail against her, still we can expect that – as on many previous occasions – the Church may be tossed about on a raging sea, sometimes upon waves of our own making because of our sinfulness. But water, as ever, is purifying – even the fearful waters of a torrent cleanse, ultimately.
May this be the case now; may the Lord make use of the present calamities within His Church to touch and to soften the hearts of Bishops; may He grant them the courage to do what is truly right, a voice with which to speak out loudly and clearly and honestly, and a heart riven by profound penitence and deep humility, to beg the forgiveness of the Lord and of His people. And in so doing, may they become truly good shepherds of souls.
Bishop Shawn McKnight, of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri reminded us today – “Bishops need the support of the laity, religious, deacons and priests in order to exercise the quality of leadership that Jesus, Our Lord and Master, modelled for His Apostles. Jesus placed the good of others over Himself. Mission over selfish desires.”
Remember, there is always hope, no matter how dark things may appear. As Fr Roger Landry, a Priest of the Diocese of Fall River Missouri, said recently – “God always seeks to draw good out of evil, and throughout Church history, He has shown this time and again. Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. Now is the time to co-operate – and co-operate fully – with His cleansing fire.”
For all of us, the members of that Mystical Body, let each and every one of us pray hard and continuously for the Church, and especially for Bishops – our prayers, our penances and our sacrifices can all be put to good use on behalf of the Church in order to obtain the necessary graces that the Bishops and the Church might be truly purified and renewed.
And in all this, may the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Church, come to our aid.