Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a bishop I have admired most of all for the heroic effort he has put into encouraging priestly vocations, has an excellent article on his blog reminding us of a reality we should have learned in the last two millenia:
Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, nuns, brothers are human.
That means, we are sinners.
Yes, religious people are people….and people sin.
He goes on.
Our faith is not in popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, or even in monsignors. Nope: our faith is only in Jesus. He and He alone will never let us down; He will never sin; He and He alone will never break a promise; He and He alone deserves our absolute trust and confidence.
That’s why it’s especially tragic when someone leaves Jesus and His Church because of a sin, scandal, or slight from a priest or bishop. If your faith depended on us, it was misplaced to begin with. We priests and bishops might represent Jesus and shepherd His Church, however awkwardly — but we are not Jesus and His Church.
I think I should share a bit about my story as a convert in order to help expand on his points. I never really knew Jesus growing up. My parents were protestant and, being big believers in the protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, made sure that I had a Bible in my hands and expected that I would figure it out. I had a problem accepting Jesus in the manner that my parents had, though. I could not get past John 6:
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
Mind you, many people will believe as those who quarreled, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” In order to both ask that question and persist in asking it, you have to posses in your mind an unbending idea that it is an impossible thing. That belief that it is impossible is what protestants have not, and possibly cannot, overcome. It is those who continue to believe that it is an impossible thing who continue to reject what Jesus said in reply to their objection.
As a fifteen-year-old daughter of protestants, I understood what He was saying, and I understood many of the supporting parallels throughout Scripture, on some level. I had no problem believing that it “could” be possible. After all, God is the Creator of all flesh. I understood on a very basic level “why” He would ask us to believe this very incredible thing in order to have eternal life. The only thing I did not know was “how” He could do it. I knew of no church that taught such a thing. For this reason, I could not accept that Jesus was the Son of God…..just yet. I made a promise to God the Father, if you will show me “how” this is possible, I will believe that Jesus is Your Son, join that church, and follow Him always.
It was in 1982 that I made that promise to God. I was very sincere, but I was apparently not ready yet because it was not until Ash Wednesday, 1991, that God finally showed me “how”. The first time I ever attended a Catholic Mass (apart from the funeral of one of my parents’ friends when I was a small child), I witnessed the Holy Mass and knew “how” Jesus made possible what He commands in John 6. I had found God, at last, after a life of what might be called a sort of agnosticism. My joy was immense, and remains to this day, but especially at Holy Mass.
And nothing the priest says in his homily, and no sin that any priest anywhere commits, can take away from that joy.
It is for this reason that, for the life of me, I cannot even get my mind around why there is a propensity on the part of so many to act as if the whole world is crumbling because priests and bishops are sinners….or who act as if the Church is evil because some priests have sinned. Jesus is in the tabernacle: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
When people protest due to the sins of some priest somewhere in the world, I always think of the words of St. Peter, the first Pope:
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Jesus is present in the tabernacles of Catholic churches (and only Catholic churches) worldwide. When I hear someone speak of leaving Him, it is what St. Peter must have felt in that moment that I feel. Simply dumb-founded.
Read Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s article: A Blessed Holy Week
2,579 Catholic priests, seminarians and brothers were thrown by the Nazis during World War II into Dachau. 1,780 of these were from Poland. Of these, some 868 priests perished, 300 in medical “experiments” or by torture in the showers of the camp.
The remaining priests, seminarians and brothers came from 38 nations. Besides the Poles the largest groups were 447 German and Austrian priests, 156 French priests and 46 Belgian priests.