The institutional Church is not perfect. We know it. The secular media like to point it out whenever they have the opportunity. And many Catholics no longer go to Mass because of it.
Whether it’s the very disturbing scandals of the molestation of children and other abuses by priests, or bullying by parish managers, or the judgmentalism of lay persons whose sharp words condemn, or unpastoral bishops, it’s all scandalous, because it’s all anti-evangelization — it’s not Christ-like.
However, there’s good news in this! The pain of doing something to stop what’s bad, and the embarrassment of facing the need for change, and even the pain of negative media attention, are a cross that leads to resurrection.
The Church — the imperfect representation of Christ — can always be resurrected into a better Servant. It starts with you and me. It includes how well we love abusers in addition to caring for the abused and how well we affirm the holy priests we do have so that they become visible role models. It includes standing up to bullies while finding a way to do it with mercy. It includes silencing judgmentalism while extending a hand of love to the judgmental, while also supporting the judged.
Any form of abuse or unloving response to abuse by a Christian is a grave sin, because it harms the whole Body of Christ as it turns away the unbelievers who are watching. How far should we go to stop this? What are we willing to sacrifice to heal the Body of Christ?
In our Gospel reading (John 3:16-21), Jesus points out that those who do evil prefer darkness so that their wickedness can continue unnoticed. Most of us, however, tend to contribute to this darkness. When we witness abuses, we’re afraid to speak up for fear of reprisal, or we’re afraid that it’s a sin to take action because it will make the Church look bad, or we’re afraid that there aren’t enough priests and it’s better to have a bad one than none at all, or we’re afraid of seeing more than we’re comfortable seeing.
The good news is: Jesus has overcome the darkness! The Lord can bring to light what has been hidden. Sins need be exposed so they can lead to repentance, and how it’s handled needs to be exposed so the world sees what real love is like, and holiness needs to be exposed so that others are inspired to embrace the faith.
What we see in the light is sometimes very ugly, repulsive, shocking, and dismaying, but isn’t that what Jesus looked like on the cross? If we truly prefer the light, we thank God for the cross of exposed sins and we trust his Holy Spirit while looking forward to the inevitable resurrection. Although bringing sin into the light is painful, it really is the way of Christ. The New Testament is full of such stories.
The cross is the only way to redemption. Jesus redeems scandals by raising up much good from them.