By Joel Davidson Catholic Anchor May 4, 2010
Is the Catholic Church separate from the sins of her members?
In one sense she is not. The wounds inflicted by one member affect all others, sending shockwaves through the whole community.
It is even more difficult when the church’s spiritual leaders are implicated in grave sins, especially when believers have turned to them for leadership, wisdom and in moments of great joy and sorrow. We are embodied, relational beings, and it is impossible to untangle personal faith from our experience as fellow believers.
That being said, our faith is not in people. If it were, the church would have fallen to pieces at its conception.
During Jesus’ ministry, the first Apostles shamelessly argued among themselves over who would have greater authority in Christ’s Kingdom. They turned away children only to have Jesus take them in. When Jesus was seized in the Garden to be crucified, Peter lashed out with the violence of the sword, while many of his fellow disciples ran in fear and utter confusion.
And just moments before, some of the disciples fell asleep while attempting to pray with Jesus as he pleaded with the Father on the eve of his Crucifixion.
And who can forget Judas — from Christ’s inner circle — the man who betrayed the Lord for a bribe of 30 pieces of silver?
Then we read again of Peter, the one Jesus chose to be the “Rock” of the church — the first pope. Peter denied Christ three times, as the Lord labored up the tortuous road to Calvary. Later, the Apostle Thomas doubted whether Christ really rose from the dead.
From the very beginning, the church was a tangle of human confusion, fear and weakness. Left to her own devices, it is hard to see how she could have lasted a decade let alone 2,000 years.
But in all these instances, it was Christ who was the trustworthy guide. He continued to forgive and sanctify. He met his disciples in their weakness and strengthened them for the great work that lay ahead.
For his part, Judas did not return to Christ. Even after sitting at the feet of the Lord, he chose his own way, took his life and lost the call to be one of the first ministers of the church.
Scripture does not whitewash the church’s history or make her appear spotless and without sin. Rather, she is seen as completely dependent on the grace of God.
Certainly, circumstances have changed over the last 2,000 years.
The Catholic Church is now a global entity with 1.15 billion followers and more than 400,000 priests and bishops. Yet, as in biblical times, human sin still wounds her and causes great suffering.
Sin and suffering, however, have never been the final words. Christ takes broken humanity and redeems it, and from the tangle of sin he still calls for great saints to radiate his presence to the world.
He has done this for 2,000 years and is still sanctifying today.
Yes, we suffer, but not without the unfailing hope that Christ is more powerful than our sin. He established this church to proclaim the message of salvation and freedom. In his infinite wisdom, Christ chose a broken band of followers to launch this great mission. Our hope today is the same as theirs. We are weak but Christ is strong and he has promised to remain with his church always.
In this time of purging and healing, let us turn to the One who began this work and who will see it to completion.
The writer is editor of the Catholic Anchor, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage.