Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis
By Robert Barron
Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, July 22, 2019, Kindle edition
The American Catholic church had already experienced substantial setbacks prior to 2018. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) had introduced liberalizing initiatives that either thrilled or demoralized the membership, depending upon which end of the ecclesiastical spectrum they identified with. Advancing secularism and the relentless news reports of clerical sex abuse and cover-up then chipped away at the “faith” of millions of Catholics who remained. But in 2018, the flood of reports of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up turned into a tsunami, with accusations aimed at some of the church’s most powerful prelates. The irony was not lost on the average Catholic in the pew who ruminated, “Sunday after Sunday, the priests admonish me to attain personal holiness so that I ‘might’ merit salvation, yet they themselves commit abominable sins, and the bishops and cardinals have either enabled them or acted as predators themselves.”
The Roman Catholic church is a slow moving freight train, but some steps are being taken in an attempt to counter the damage from the 2018 scandal tsunami, including the widespread distribution of this new, inexpensive booklet from Catholic media darling, bishop Robert Barron.
Let’s take a look:
Chapter One – The Devil’s Masterpiece
In this introductory chapter, Baron outlines some of the details of the 2018 scandal tsunami and posits that the entire clerical sexual abuse and cover-up situation was a plot orchestrated by Satan himself to undermine the Roman church. I would reply that the RCC is a faux (c)hristian institution and that this scandal is one of the unmistakable fruits of its corruption.
Chapter Two – Light from Scripture
Baron cites passages of the Bible, especially the story of Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phineas in 1 Samuel, as Scriptural antecedents for scandalous clerical abuse and hierarchical enablement among God’s people. The difference is that the RCC does not have a mandate from God as Eli did.
Chapter Three – We Have Been Here Before
Baron then cites events from church history to show that church leaders and even several popes were involved in corruption in the past. It’s quite interesting that Catholic spokespersons like Barron now readily refer to dark and embarrassing episodes in Roman church history in order to mollify the sting of the current scandal. Such honesty and objectivity was not so forthcoming in the past.
Chapter Four – Why Should We Stay?
Barron holds up the Roman church, despite “shortcomings” by individual clergymen, as still the best way to salvation via its sacramental system.
Chapter Five and Conclusion – The Way Forward
Barron calls for increased tightening of clerical oversight and more participation by laypersons. He lays the ultimate blame for priests’ and bishops’ failings on the overall culture of the Catholic church: “The bottom line is this: if we want holier priests, we all have to become holier ourselves” (location 635). He challenges disaffected Catholics to recommit themselves to their church rather than bail: “This is not the time to leave; it is the time to stay and fight” (loc. 684). Fight for what? The impossible task of meriting their salvation?
My closing comments:
As would be expected, celibate bishop Barron dismisses the Roman church’s mandatory celibacy rule as a factor in the clergy sexual abuse phenomenon (loc. 626). Some Catholics who have studied the abuse problem in detail, like sociologist, Richard Sipe, have concluded otherwise. Between apologies, Barron is not above slipping in the oft-used canard that “the percentage of abusers among priests is roughly equivalent to the national average” (loc. 610). However, some researchers like Sipe have estimated the percentage of sexual abusers among priests to be nearer to twice the national average.
How effective will “Letter to a Suffering Church” and other efforts by the American Catholic bishops be in stemming the exodus of laypersons out the doors of local parishes? The negative impact of the clergy abuse and cover-up scandal continues with every new headline and revelation. There’s simply no putting the horse back in the barn. Here’s my bottom line, bishop Barron: The scandal is a refutation of the Roman church’s salvation system of sacramental grace and merit. If the priests and prelates, with their alleged spiritual prerogatives that were divinely-bestowed upon ordination, are unable to lead holy lives worthy of meriting Heaven, as these scandals so boldly reveal, what chance have the laity? The Catholic church misleads souls by teaching works salvation. If a particular Catholic parish church never had an abusive priest problem, we could still say with absolute confidence that the Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone was NEVER preached from its pulpit.