Selective Outrage and the Catholic Church

Elizabeth Scalia has a poignant essay up at NPR:

The question has come my way several times in the past week: “How do you maintain your faith in light of news stories that bring light to the dark places that exist within your church?”

When have darkness and light been anything but co-existent? How do we recognize either without the other?

I remain within, and love, the Catholic Church because it is a church that has lived and wrestled within the mystery of the shadow lands ever since an innocent man was arrested, sentenced and crucified, while the keeper of “the keys” denied him, and his first priests ran away. Through 2,000 imperfect – sometimes glorious, sometimes heinous – years, the church has contemplated and manifested the truth that dark and light, innocence and guilt, justice and injustice all share a kinship, one that waves back and forth like wind-stirred wheat in a field, churning toward something – as yet – unknowable.

The darkness within my church is real, and it has too often gone unaddressed. The light within my church is also real, and has too often gone unappreciated. A small minority has sinned, gravely, against too many. Another minority has assisted or saved the lives of millions.

But it is here that Elizabeth’s strength and compassion shine most clearly:

My family was known for its neighborliness and its work ethic; its patriarch was a serial child molester.

The child molester was also a brilliant, generous, talented man – the only person who ever read me a bedtime story. I will love him forever, for that, even when I wake up gasping and afraid.

… Have I been much sinned against? Yes. So have you. Have I sinned against others? Oh, yes. So have you.

Like a pebble cast into a pond, our every action ripples out toward the edges, reaching farther than we intended, touching what we do not even know, for good and for ill. It all either means nothing, or it means everything.

As a Catholic, I believe it means everything.

While I cannot excuse the actions of those who abused innocent children or who failed to intervene, I utterly reject the self righteous fury of those who would condemn an entire church for the actions of a few. As a young girl I recall having a conversation with my mother about my own love/hate relationship with the Episcopal church. As I railed on and on about the imperfections and contradictions between church doctrine and organizational practice, she gently reminded me that churches are fundamentally human institutions run by weak and imperfect beings, none of whom is immune to the temptations and foibles that afflict religious and non-religious people to an equal degree.

Faith does not end the temptation to sin, nor does it offer an iron clad guarantee of superhuman perfection. We come to God as we are with all our faults upon us, hoping for a redemption that very much depends upon our own willingness to suppress our selfish desires and submit to an authority greater than our own. Is it, then, so surprising that an organization composed of flawed beings inevitably reflects our own failure to do what is right?

Yes, the response of some church officials to the abuse of innocent children represents a betrayal of everything the Church stands for. And that is the point: unlike, say, NAMBLA the abuse of children has no place in Catholic doctrine or teachings. Priests are neither taught nor encouraged to abuse children at seminary.

The temptation to look for scapegoats is a human failing, too. Those who hate the military gleefully seize on every crime committed by a soldier, sailor or Marine as evidence that war causes crime, as though it were unheard of for civilians to rape, murder or steal. Those who hate religion seize on crimes committed by the faithful as evidence that religion causes pedophilia, as though child abuse were the exclusive province of the Catholic church.

Never mind that civilians and atheists commit crimes too.

Never mind that some of the most unlikely people – people we trust with the safety and care of our children – commit crimes against our children every single day and these crimes are often covered up by enabling coworkers and even senior staff.

These crimes – which span all fields of endeavor and a thousand gradations of faith, agnosticism and outright atheism – are not caused by joining organizations that roundly condemn such acts, nor by the attempt to obey a higher law. They are caused by the simple fact that we humans have a long history of failing to live up to the standards we set for ourselves. We have a long history of victimizing the weak, abusing power, and covering our tracks when the prospect of discovery threatens to destroy the illusions we strive so hard to maintain.

When human beings do what human beings have done for centuries, who should we blame? The answer to that question often has far more to do with our own bigotry and bias than the real culprit: human nature.

So far, that remains a condition for which there is no cure. Still, some would rather blame those who try to make the world a better place than look at the dark places within their own hearts.

And we all have those places. All of us.

CWCID for the WND link: One of Althouse’s commenters

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