The sexual abuse of innocent children is deplorable; the sexual abuse of innocent children by priests is diabolic. The sad history of priestly sexual abuse has wrought great pain to its many victims, great scandal to the faithful and great sadness to all those who love the church.
In recent weeks the scrutiny and examination of the church and church leaders especially Pope Benedict XVI has dominated the headlines and airwaves across the globe. Every day there are exposés of the failings of the church and church leaders as well as harsh critiques of the failure of church leaders to act and even a few scurrilous attacks on the church because she is the church.
It seems priestly sex abuse is no longer just an “American” problem but now the past actions of all church leaders are to be examined under a media microscope and from every possible direction. The spotlight of media and public opinion is usually focused on the failures and the betrayals of church leaders especially upon inadequate response to priestly sexual abuse. The media, many maintain, is just doing their job and in doing their job they have at times been unfair to the church. The church must welcome and accept valid criticism and truthful reporting but not reporting that is inaccurate or exaggerated. In the United States the Catholic Church continues to be a leader in dealing with the sin and crime of sexual abuse, a fact often ignored by the media in their quest for a sensational headline.
Pointing out the failures of the church is an easy task for many in the media especially those who do not accept our moral teachings or share our faith. This kind of “gotcha” journalism proves a very popular way to examine large institutions like churches or governments and undermine prominent public figures like presidents and pontiffs. Without a doubt, there are those who hope that such disclosure will gravely wound a church which they consider to have too large a voice in the moral arena. But what of those who love the church? How are we to overcome our disgust and outrage, our doubt and shame for the sins of priestly sexual abuse and failures of church leadership to stamp it out?
We have to remember that the truth will set the church free, even if that truth is hard to accept. The sins of the church will continue to be exposed by the intense spotlight of the media; but the church will only be converted and renewed by those who love her deeply. We pray that our Holy Father will continue to weather the storm of controversy that now surrounds our church. He has made it the hallmark of his pontificate to rid the church of the “filth” that is priestly sexual abuse, we pray he perseveres in this challenge and remains constant in this conviction despite harsh criticism and hateful attacks. The doubt and despair of Good Friday was destroyed by the bright light of the Risen Christ who must continue to inspire and guide the church. We are called to stand by our church even when she fails, and the Easter message of the Resurrection comes to us at this time as a message of hope that the darkness will not prevail. Let us never forget, even in the darkest of days, that Christ is truly risen.