The Catholic world is abuzz with talk about the current crisis: the ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal, enflamed in recent months by disclosures about disgraced ex-Cardinal McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report.
Many Catholics are angry. Many are dismayed. Many are leaving the Church, vowing never to return. And many are convinced this is the worst crisis ever to hit the Church, so much so that the Church may not survive.
I personally have heard more than a few Catholics lament that this scandal might cause the worldwide Church to declare bankruptcy and end up a hollow shell of its former self, kind of like the Sears Roebuck Company.
However, before we write the obituary for the Church, it might be best to put the current crisis in historical perspective. Yes, this scandal is bad. Yes, many thousands of people were victimized by predator priests and bishops. Yes, the financial impact is staggering, with billions already paid out to victims and who knows how many more billions needed for future payouts, especially if other states open grand jury investigations similar to Pennsylvania, as many have indicated they will do.
In her 2,000-year history, the Catholic Church has faced many scandals and crises. We can sometimes lose sight of the big picture and focus only on events that occur during our lifetime.
A great resource to put things into perspective is a podcast series by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, titled “Triumphs and Tragedies.” Fr. Longenecker is a former Anglican (Episcopalian) priest who now is one of the few Catholic priests who are allowed to be married. He currently is pastor of a parish in South Carolina, and is a prolific writer, speaker, and Internet blogger.
In Fr. Longenecker’s “Triumphs and Tragedies” podcast series, he devotes each episode to a specific century in Church history, focusing on the many struggles faced by believers during the particular period. If you think the present sex abuse scandal is the worst thing that’s ever happened to the Church, just wait till you find out what happened in the past!
The Catholic Church has endured so many crises and calamities down through the centuries, it becomes obvious that a purely manmade institution never would have survived this long. The fact the Church still exists throughout the world after 2,000 tumultuous years is powerful evidence that Jesus is the true head of the Church. Only God’s divine protection could have prevented the Church from collapsing completely many, many centuries ago.
Go to DwightLongenecker.com and look for “Triumphs and Tragedies” under the “Categories” menu in the far right-hand column. You can listen to the podcasts on your computer, or download them and listen on your phone or in your car.
Learning more about Church history is fascinating, and realizing that the Church has encountered trials as bad or even worse than the current crisis is somewhat comforting and encouraging—especially when all we seem to hear these days is, “The Church is doomed!”
Don’t get me wrong, the current crisis is awful. We will experience painful and shameful times for the foreseeable future. But the Church has survived many attacks over the span of 20 centuries, from within and from without. (The present situation, by the way, is definitely an attack from within, with a lot of help and tempting from the Evil One.)
The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Himself, and given the mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel to all the world. Sinful people within the Church, of course, make that mission much more difficult. But that is what we’re called to do, and Jesus promised the Church ultimately will succeed. To see how the Lord has protected His Church during dire times in the past, listen to Fr. Longenecker’s podcasts. The Lord will surely protect us during this dire time, too.