The question was posed to me some time ago by a thoughtful spiritual person who had read most of my blogs and books. The question is again in front of me in the face of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. Indeed why do I hang onto membership in such a dysfunctional organization?
I am still Catholic because I still believe in Jesus’ basic message although I agree with Wendell Berry who observed that current Christianity, although fashionable, has little resemblance to what Jesus had in mind. There are many things that Jesus said — his embracing of the poor and the migrant, his plea for non-violence, his special blessing for children — that are largely ignored by my Church. So I am still Catholic as a statement that I do believe his message can still transform the world and, if embraced, can transform my Church..
I am still Catholic because I believe that the redemption of my Church can only come from within and that the powers that be have lost their ability and their credibility in making that happen. We laity need to demand the reshaping of our church. Perhaps it is time to allow married clergy. Perhaps it is time to allow the ordination of women. Something about the way the Church is structured and governed is not working. Attention gets paid to minimizing damage and not to restoring trust. Yes, many diocese reach out to victims of clergy abuse. Yet the system of governance that gave rise to those abuses remains largely unchanged.
I am still Catholic because I believe that, although the dark side of power has almost destroyed my Church, there is still a potential for healthy power. I have met too many priests and sisters who are aware of the potential dark side of their power and work hard to use it in an affirming way.
I am still Catholic because I believe in the power of redemption. Any of us who are recovering addicts have received that blessing. Redemption can happen within organizations as well. Our Church desperately needs a redemptive experience.
I am still Catholic because of the examples of a few who got it right — Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, Teilherd de Chardin, St. John XXIII. These and others spoke up and suffered for a message much closer to what Jesus had to say. Some of them suffered persecution. They all suffered criticism.
The worst thing that can happen at this point is that the powers that be will “wait out” the current crisis. Indeed I have heard the comment “The Church has survived other such minor crises. The Church will survive”. As one insensitive Catholic said in the presence of a victim “This crisis is just a burp in the Church’s history”. That attitude will merely feed the disease.
The Church as it is may indeed survive. That’s what I am afraid of.