How many scandals can come out of one Church? How many times can a priesthood breach the trust of their congregation? When will the Vicar of Christ take a moral stand which all can recognise?
These are the questions that seem to increasingly define the Catholic Church in modern society. Rarely, if ever, is there a report from the mainstream media about Catholicism that focuses on anything other than scandal and moral bankruptcy. One would be forgiven for believing that is all the Catholic Church represents. For too long, no one has come to the defence of this Church. Society as a whole, and indeed most Catholics, seem to have come to the conclusion that they are unable to push back against the damning headlines and unrelenting criticism. It is time for that to change. It is time for all people of faith to stand shoulder to shoulder with Catholics in our society who are now victimised to a deeply disturbing degree.
Over the past decade, the Catholic Church has faced damaging press story after tragic revelation. Evidence of grotesque child abuse, of corruption at the highest levels, and inexplicable canonizations have been the most prominent and damaging allegations. No reasonable and caring individual would ever seek to downplay the terrible suffering and lasting ramifications of many of these scandals. The children who were abused had these crimes committed against them in a context of trust, where they were supposed to be safe. That the sacred role of priest was abused in such a way only adds to the contempt with which all people should hold those who performed these terrible acts.
The upper echelons of the Vatican, that seem to this day to be more concerned with the preservation of the institution than the values it represents, have shamed their Church. Their statements and values seem to be utterly out of touch with HIV/AIDS ravaged Africa, or poverty blighted Asia. The annual call for peace delivered in the Pope’s Christmas message has become so repetitive and unimaginative as to be mundane.
Liberal society as a whole seems to have turned on the Catholics. They represent an ethic and a tradition that is anathema to so many of the values which define modernity. They appear superstitious, dogmatic and uncaring. More than anyone, the press has seized this opportunity to declare war on Catholicism, ridiculing and insulting Bishops and Mass-goers alike. What lies behind this aggression?
For all the failings of the Catholic Church as an institution, it still has at its heart a message of love, peace and reconciliation. For all the focus on the ‘High Church’, on the traditions and Papal authority, it still remains a beacon of hope and faith to over a billion people around the globe. This is the organisation that raises more for charity than any other, provides for the sick and the dying in every society, and seeks to promote religious harmony around the globe. Why is it so targeted?
The reality is much more sinister than overreaction to terrible abuses of trust and institutional failings. It comes down to a fundamental rejection of the way the Church sets out its values. The rise of Liberalism as a political ideology has recently spilled over into fanaticism. It appears now that any moral stand is too much for modern society. To stand on principle, to believe in absolute moral laws, is all a little much for this fanatically-relativist society. Thus an organisation that seeks to promote a certain set of values (no matter how short it might fall on occasion) riles people. Anti-Catholics seem fond of pointing out that the Church is not always able to live up to the high minded goals it sets itself. But at least it does set values. It aspires to moral betterment. What does the new fanatical secular-Liberalism aspire to?
The hatred of the Catholic Church and banishment of it from civilised debate is greatly strengthened by the abdication of every day Catholics to stand up for their beliefs. Rather than say that not all priests abuse children, or Bishops embezzle funds, or saints commit crimes, they have hidden themselves away and whispered ‘Please, don’t hurt me’. An understandable, but fatal decision.
This abdication of advocacy has left only the extreme hardliners to ‘stand-up’ for the faith, compounding the perception of a Church out of touch. Public understanding of Catholicism is being shaped by people who are in no way representative of this hugely influential and respectable of faiths. It is tragic.
Garden variety Catholics are not the only ones to blame. Too often, people of faith in general – and fellow Christians in particular – have shirked their responsibility to stand shoulder to shoulder with Catholics. It is time for that to change.
A self-appointment secular inquisition is seeking to purge society of Catholicism, and portray all Catholics as extreme, unreasonable and corrupt. The truth is the opposite to what they would have us believe. The vast majority of Catholics are kind, faithful and charitable, seeking to follow their religion with honour. They deserve not only our lasting respect, but absolute solidarity.
Being a bystander to this witch-hunt is no longer sustainable. Otherwise, who will be next?