Yes, the Catholic Church is certainly being battered. In the Mideast, in Africa north of the Sahara, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other places, it takes real courage to practice the Catholic faith in public. Let’s thank God for the heroism of the priests, religious and lay people in those churches who have the courage to continue in living out their commitment to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
However, outside opposition has always been present over the last 2,000 years but there are always problems inside the Church as well. The Second Vatican Council has not been an unending success, although it attempted to effect excellent changes to bring the Church into a more effective missionary work for our day. While the Council generated great hope across the world, the sad fact is that a few Church leaders have been working with measurable success to actually roll back the Council and return us to a style of operation prior to the Second Vatican Council. In the United States, there probably are at least 15 million former Roman Catholics walking around in this country. Fifteen million! How did that happen? Why did that happen?
There are many causes for the internal troubles that face the Church. Most observers contend that the biggest single problem in Catholicism is the agonizing sex scandal in the United States and Europe, but, thanks be to God, that will soon be behind us. Actually, the biggest problem in the Church today is a question of leadership. Jesus Christ promised that the Church would endure until the end of time. He did not promise that its leaders would always be competent! Today, we are certainly living through a period of unsteady leadership.
Is there a measure of incompetence present in the leadership of the Catholic Church today? It is hard to see how anybody could doubt that. Over the last few years, the American bishops have had some conflicts with the Canon Law Society, the Catholic Theological Society, the Catholic Hospital Association, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Catholic Charities International, presidents of Catholic universities, liturgical leadership and various priests groups. These groups are not made up of troublemakers. Their members love the Church. They have given their life to the Church. But many of them are having difficulty with the upper levels of Church leadership.
Should that not give the bishops of the United States pause?
Should that not give the Vatican pause?
All of these organizations are filled with talent and dedicated people, but the common thread that runs through all of these discussions is that the bishops claim to have the final say in any discussion. The problem is much more painful when the bishops are talking in areas where they do not actually have adequate competence.
Should all of these difficulties be a temptation to one’s faith? Not at all. These are simply very human problems with dedicated, faith-filled people having different views on what is the best solution or best mode of operation. I believe that the Church is Christ present in history and it is not just the Christ of the Resurrection, the Christ of glory. It is also the Christ on the cross, the Christ of the crucifixion.
Onward through the fog.
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