According to a recent Gallup poll (here), 37 percent of Catholics stated that the ongoing news about abuse had them personally questioning whether to remain Catholic. We all thought this was largely behind us because of the much publicized scandal that came to light in the early 2000s… but sadly, it has resurfaced and in quite dramatic fashion. The Gallup results suggest that the impact on today’s Catholics extends well beyond frustration and has some contemplating action. How tragic.
It’s worth noting that Gallup also reports that Protestants reported a drop in the ranking of the ethics of their clergy from 61 to 48 percent in the same period. Scandals within the entertainment, corporate, public service, and education sectors have also roiled our confidence in institutions. There is a natural backlash taking place, but perhaps none so intense as within our own Church.
For our Church leaders, this is a moment to speak with confidence about our mission, about the truth we uphold and pursue, and to do so with great humility. For all of us, this is also a defining moment. According to Gallup, almost 40 percent of us are thinking of walking out that door.
This reminds me of another defining moment in the history of our Church. And we’ve had many.
In John’s Gospel, Chapter 6, we hear that Jesus’ followers were disturbed by some of his words. According to scripture: As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I remember meeting with the chaplain of a hospital many years ago. The topic was budgets and he described the fact that their administration had cut spending significantly for chaplaincy services through the years. His own position was funded completely by the Archdiocese of Boston due to a fundamental Church belief that all patients deserve this level of care during hospital stays. As we sat in the conference room, he received an urgent call to immediately proceed to the emergency department. He asked if I would like to accompany him and so with some trepidation, I agreed.
We encountered there a profoundly difficult situation as a couple was confronted with every parent’s worst fear. The situation was personally devastating for not only them but also for the physicians and nurses in that room. But then I witnessed the holy and inspired work of a chaplain who provided ministry and healing and who truly served as the presence of our Saving God in that moment.
Our Church is vitally needed. And together, we can be the healing presence our world desperately needs. But there are powerful forces outside and, sadly, within that fracture us and weaken our resolve.
Master, to whom shall we go?
I’m staying. How about you?