A time of scandal for the church, a time when high-ranking clerics were found to be complicit in the sexual abuse of children, is a time that brings to a point the question of being part of the church. Who wants to be part of something where the leaders were complicit in evil?
This is an understandable emotional reaction. Like all emotional reactions, it can benefit from some sober second thought. Without a doubt, it is horrible that some priests and bishops were doing wrong and covering it up. But the vast majority of priests and bishops have done no such wrong, and are as horrified by the wrongdoing as we are. The truth is that this evil is not something that is part of what the church is about, it is a contaminant that has found its way in: something dirty, to be vigorously scrubbed off.
This is also a good opportunity to ask ourselves honestly why we are part of the church. Are we part of the church because we bought into the deal: we laypeople do our things, such as attending on Sundays, putting money in the collection plate, and doing the various practical things expected of us, while the priests and clergy are holy on our behalf? Now that we know that some of those clergy haven’t done their part – they’ve been unholy, not holy – should we quit doing our bit? They dropped their end. Why should we hold up our’s?
This is the wrong question, because the deal is the wrong idea of what the church is about. The truth is that holiness is for everyone, not just clergy, and the point of the whole church is to love, follow and become like Jesus. Some clergy failed in this, badly. This is sad, tragic, scandalous. But this should be no reason for us to fail too. It’s not fair to Jesus for us to quit following him because someone else did, no matter who that “someone else” happens to be. Instead, we should seek out and cling more tightly to Jesus, following him ever more closely. It is time to renew our own commitment to holiness. It is time to remember that we are in the church not because everyone in the church is holy and perfect, but because Jesus is holy and perfect. When others do wrong, when leaders fail, we must be steadfast. This is a time to pray fervently, stand faithfully, speak wisely, and love deeply. Jesus is the ultimate reason we are in the church, and Jesus is worth hanging on to.