Friday, March 25, 2011

The Accused and the Fallen: The wounds of the Church and what we can learn from them

Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that “the corruption of the best is the worst.” In the worst case scenarios, fallen away Catholics often turned out to be the worst enemies of the Church. And yet there are others who just fall away; and to be sure, their fall is felt throughout the Catholic world. This is especially true with priests whose fall from grace.

Quite often, however, people fail to distinguish between a weak priest and the Catholic Faith itself. When a priest falls from grace and therefore falls out of favor with the believer, his or her faith in Christ is sadly dragged down with it. It is a mistake- but common nevertheless -that the sins of priests become associated with God himself. For many souls, disillusionment with the former leads to the distrust of the latter. This is why the recent developments over the allegations concerning Fr. John Corapi’s misconduct are so important and heartfelt.

Although at this point it is only an allegation, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the news of Fr. John Corapi rocked the Catholic world. It grieves me to no end to think that there is a lingering possibility that such a solid priest- a real man of faith –could have involved himself in the aforesaid misconduct. With Fr. John Corapi or with any priest for that matter, it is a loss for the Mystical Body of Christ that such a celebrated reputation could be in question; especially a priest who was an emblem of a sanctified manliness such as his.

For the sake of the Church and for the sake of those souls inspired by his witness, I pray that the allegations about Fr. John Corapi are just that- allegations!

The news about Fr. John Corapi- whether true or untrue -is especially painful for Catholics in light of previous priestly scandals; and no I am not talking about the 2002 pedophilia scandals. Here, I refer to the recent revelations of Fr. Tom Euteneuer, Fr. Alberto Cutie, Fr. Marcial Maciel, and the three clergy from EWTN in recent years who failed to keep their vows of chastity. As uncomfortable as it might be for the Catholic faithful, it is important nevertheless, to do a collective examination of conscience and rethink certain habits of thinking that have gained currency within the Church.

We have forgotten, it seems, the caution the Saints have prescribed when dealing with the opposite sex and even their willingness to take flight, to repress and to aggressively combat sexual temptation. In an era when college dormitories are allowing co-ed roommates, such laissez faire attitudes towards sexuality has evidently rubbed off on Catholics. At the very least, caution has been relaxed even during the ministering of souls.

One of the greatest contributions Pope John Paul II made towards the shaping of the New Evangelization is his work on the theology of the body. He did much to cast a positive light on human sexuality. Indeed, he presented a new way of looking at how God reveals himself through human anatomy and gender complimentarity. What this pontiff introduced to the Church is nothing short of revolutionary.

However, whenever the Holy Spirit inspires a new direction or movement within the Church such as the New Evangelization or a new way of looking at human sexuality, there can be a tendency among some to completely break with the old in favor of the new; to take a kind of either-or approach. In doing so, they overlook the wisdom of their spiritual ancestors i.e., Father of the Church and the Saints, thus leaving new developments without guidance. Here, I refer to some who have done an effective job in promoting Theology of the Body but have nevertheless omitted or dismissed the hard-hitting and repressive approach to sexual temptations that our Lord admonished us to observe:

“But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.”

For penance and as a preventative measure, Saints such as St. Jerome would study Hebrew when he was beset with sexual temptation. As one scholar said, St. Jerome ended up being quite proficient in his Hebrew. St. Benedict, when tempted against chastity by the devil would throw himself into a thorn bush. "Radical and harsh," you might say, but these were common practices among the best of the followers of Christ. Although there is no evidence that Sister Lucia, on of three Fatima seers, ever experienced these temptations, she, nonetheless, would tie a rope around the skin of her waste as a form of penance. The Saints were always mindful of the lurking nature of sin; as such, they were quite distrustful of they should have been.

These seemingly aggressive and radical responses to sexual temptations appear to be more in keeping with the violent imagery used by Christ than the merely affirmative or positive approach we are accustomed to taking.

Not just the spiritual practices but the customs Christians observed in times past conformed more to the limitations of human nature than they do now. In St. Thomas More's time, for instance, that is, in sixteenth century England, men would sit in one part of the church and the women in the other. Although it is only a guess, the partition of the sexes may have prevented undue distraction during the Sacred Liturgy. To add yet another example was the traveling practices of the Holy Family in the first century. One of the reasons why Jesus at age twelve had eluded the notice of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin was due to the fact men and women traveled separately. For centuries, the separation of men and women (not in all circumstances) were observed in many social and religious venues. It may seem puritanical, but I would proffer that many occasions of sin and even scandals were avoided.

Now, to insist that twenty-first century Catholics should carry out these old social observances is perhaps unrealistic and even unnecessary. However, there is something that we can learn from them.

More on the next blog-