Probably one of the most bottom-line important pieces of Christian thought outside the Bible was the famous paragraph of C. S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory”:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
I get the argument that the kinds of sexual abuse, physical abuse, corruption and cover-ups in the Catholic Church occur in any institution, and are often objectively worse. For example, as my dear friend Jen Fitz has pointed out, no one is legally obligated to go to Catholic anything, but they are legally obligated to go to public schools (barring the resources for private or home schooling).
However, in an institution which is supposedly founded by God Himself, which supposedly exists to train people up to be Saints, and which supposedly believes every individual is of infinite worth, shouldn’t there be a Higher Standard?
If the Catholic Church is what She claims to be, then just one priest abusing his authority to spiritually or psychologically abuse one person should be a matter of grave horror to every member of the Church–did not Ven John Henry Newman say that it would be better for all the stars to fall than one person ever commit even a venial sin?
If we’re going to compare the Catholic Church, statistically, to other religions, government institutions, or businesses, aren’t we thereby saying that the Catholic Church is just another human institution?
And if the Catholic Church is just another human institution, with networks of predatory behavior, actions like wearing a Crucifix being used as signs of “grooming” by homosexual priests, bishops being reprimanded by the Vatican or dying mysterious deaths for trying to laicize homosexual and pedophile priests, and everything else that people like Fr. Malachi Martin and Fr. James Haley sacrificed their own priesthoods by trying to expose, but now the world believes because the state of Pennsylvania has validated its existence–then if the Church is just another human institution, then that makes the anti-Catholics right, and it’s just a gigantic network of people unwittingly and sometimes wittingly providing various sexual predators, narcissists and/or sociopaths a steady supply of victims and proteges.
But if the Church is the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ (as well as the Whore of Babylon), then She must be held to a higher standard. It shouldn’t be about PR. It shouldn’t be about statistics. It shouldn’t be about minimal legal requirements. It should be about saving the immortal souls of the victims and of the guilty. It should be about fasting and prayer and penance. It should be about sacrificing wealth and privilege and social status for the sake of souls.
And that applies to just about every issue you can think of: sex abuse, abortion, poverty, people with disabilities. “Everyone who has two cloaks must share with the one who has none.” We hear of St. Martin of Tours giving his military cloak to a beggar. We don’t often hear of him being nearly rejected as a bishop because many priests and bishops didn’t like the fact that he dressed as a beggar.
St. Vincent de Paul is known for his service of the poor later in his life but he originally became a priest because he was born into a very poor family and, at the time, the priesthood was the best avenue for upward mobility.
Bl. Pier Giorgio was known for rarely coming home at the end of the day wearing the same clothes he put on in the morning, or more than the most basic clothes decency required, because throughout the day he’d give away his clothes to the poor or trade clothes with them. “Oh, but health.” Yes, he died at a relatively young age because he gave his life in service to the poor.
In America, we have a “vocations crisis” because young men don’t want to give up their lives of pleasure, or more usually because they learn very quickly–as I did, as one of my childhood best friends did, as my wife’s uncle did–that if you want to pursue holiness the priesthood as it exists in America is not the place to be.
In the Middle East and Africa, by contrast, they have a vocations crisis because so many priests are being martyred.
My wife recently posted a “rant” on Facebook about how the two “ideological camps” of Catholicism are mutually inconsistent about respecting Life and supporting people. She meant that, whatever our political views, we’re still obligated to help one another when and where we need it, and we should do so in a manner that treats people with respect. This post was inspired not just by need but by the wonderful example of some local Catholics who’ve recently not only provided us with great material blessings but done so in a manner that was loving and respectful.
Of course, the post degraded into a political argument.
If each of us reminded ourselves every day of the infinite worth of every individual we meet, how different would our world be? What if, as Lewis depicts in _The Great Divorce_ and as the Orthodox teach in the Tollhouse theory of personal judgement, the person I find most annoying, intolerable, disgusting, hateful, ugly or unforgiveable, ends up as a Saint in Heaven, whom I must love in order to get to Heaven? What if the person I find most admirable, pleasant, enjoyable, beautiful, lovable and tolerable ends up in Hell? What if someone ends up in Hell because of my sin?
We all sin, of course, but there’s a reason the Church and society distinguish degrees of sin and evil.
And no one who truly respects the infinite worth of every individual could sexually, physically, psychologically or worse, spiritually abuse another person.
No one who truly respects the infinite value of every soul could shrug their shoulders when a homebound or hospital-bound parishioners begs for Sacraments.
No one who truly respects the infinite value of every soul could decline to even make an attempt at helping anyone else in need.
No one who truly respects the infinite worth of every individual could say, “Well, I obeyed the reporting laws as I understood them.”
I could go on, but if you’ve read this far, you get the point.
Each of us, as always, needs to do a better job of acting like we actually believe in God.
If we want to win people to Christ, acting like Christ is the way, not comparing His Church to other earthly institutions.