This past Friday’s USA Today’s headline “CONFESSING SOME DOUBT” got my attention and the sub-title State of the Catholic Church prompted me to read the lengthy article. The article was about Catholics’ responses to the sex abuse scandals by church leaders and the cover-ups that followed.
I am a Protestant Christian and not a Roman Catholic, but I am grieved and troubled by all that has been reported. It’s not just Catholic churches that have been in the news; a number of Protestant churches also have been for the same kinds of misdeeds and more by their leaders. That troubles and grieves me too.
Early in the article the writers suggest “The U.S. Catholic Church is at a crossroads.” I cannot disagree with that, and I also think the same can be said about some Protestant denominations, some individual protestant churches, and quite a few members of both Catholic and Protestant churches.
Reading and considering the many quotations in the article from church goers, I think three words characterize most of them. As a long time Christian and pastor these three words also represent my response.
Clearly the great majority of both Catholic and Protestant church goers are disappointed. Who wouldn’t be? People whom we respected and looked up to let us down. Not only that, the response of some who were in positions to take action did not; and that also is disappointing.
Not only are most church goers disappointed, they are also concerned. And again, who wouldn’t be? There has been a loss of trust in priests and pastors and church leaders in general. One respondent lamented, “I felt so angry and betrayed.” In terms of Catholics, a recent Gallup poll reported 37% are thinking of leaving the religion.
However, and not to put lipstick on a pig, even with their concern and disappointment, a lot of churchgoers are hopeful. One person who was interviewed noted “I’m not so disassociated that I am ready to walk away.” Another affirmed they “have not lost faith in God or the church.” And offering an important perspective, one church goer affirmed, “The church is not about [or focused on] the humanity of its individual actors, it’s focused on God.”
Perhaps in that last quotation there is a warning for us — while we should look up to and respect our church leaders, we should keep in mind the big picture. While we may wish it were not so, there will always be occasions and situations in which we are disappointed by pastors and church leaders.
Some readers will remember what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 as he looked to the future: “I will build my church.” Jesus is building his church, and using his followers to do so. In reality it’s not the Catholic Church or the Protestant Church or any of the denominations; the church belongs to Jesus and not her leaders. As a matter of fact, he is the Lord of his church — and we should never forget that. There are no perfect churches, pastors, church leaders, or members; but the owner and builder of the church is perfect.
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