Questions, Questions
How do we defend the Church to those who have been burned by it?

Cf Catechism, Part One, Section One, Chapter One and paras 203-21


When I was being prepared for reception into the Church I was told by my priest to forget everything that happened before Vatican II (Crusades, Inquisition, Tridentine Mass, etc.), because 'it is a new Church now!'

If I had believed that I would not have been received. The Church I wanted to join was the same as the Church that Christ had founded, which happens to be the Church of the Borgia Popes and Innocent III, but is also the Church of St Peter and St Francis and St Philip Neri. You can't have one without the other: it is a Church of saints and sinners (not to mention idiots), and these are found everywhere, including at every level of the hierarchy.

The Holy Spirit intervenes as little as possible with human freedom. He will prevent a Pope from making a solemn, infallible pronoucement that is heretical, or from abolishing the Mass. But He doesn't stop him saying silly things over his cornflakes in the morning, making bad judgments in political matters, or committing sins. Those sins may be a scandal to others, and they may prevent thousands from converting to or remaining in the Church. If so, the Pope will be answerable to God for that when his time comes - but God does not step in and prevent him committing them.

The Church is the extended Body of Christ. It is His bride. Priests and bishops are there like the bones in a human body, to hold the organism together, so that it can stand upright. Without them it would become jelly. We need the Sacraments, so that Christ can come to us directly, and the priests give them to us, but anything else - any spiritual guidance or wisdom we may get from them - is icing on the cake, and sometimes may be too much to hope for.

Christians need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We must have immense respect for the office the priest or bishop holds from Christ, whatever he is like as an individual, but our personal respect and trust needs to be earned. We should approach with care, but not suspiciously and cynically, looking for the good in him but yet able to see the warning signs of weakness or evil if they are staring us in the face.

Remember that the sins we find in priests and bishops are not any LESS present outside the Church. It is not as though there was somewhere else we could go that would be any better. Everywhere is marked by human sin; no human institution is exempt. At least the Catholic Church on earth doesn’t claim to be: it is quite open about the fact that it is a refuge for sinners.

If you study its history, by the way, you see that the Church is ALWAYS about to collapse from the weight of the sins of its members. It never actually does, not only because there are periodic waves or renewal and purification (which there are, and we may be living at the beginning of one now), but because the Church is 'carried' by the saints who are always arising within her. Also, the sins we commit are constantly being washed clean by the sacrament of Confession, even if we quickly sin again, so the Church, if you like, is constantly both dying and rising from the grave. The Church has the secret of Resurrection.