Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On Bishops and their Failings...

There is a lively discussion going on over at Pontifications about the possible conversion to Orthodoxy of Mr. Rod Dreher. This has apparently been a huge topic of discussion on the blogosphere. While that subject is of little interest to me, a comment was made by Fr. Jay Scott Newman that is noteworthy to say the least. One of the reasons cited by Mr. Dreher as a factor in his possible conversion are the recent scandals engulfing the Catholic Church and it's bishops. Although Fr. Newman's comment was intended as a response to that specific issue, I think it can be applied broadly to scandalous behavior by clergy, including bishops. Fr. Newman writes...

I am not a man given to violence, but on the day in March 2002 when the SECOND child molesting Bishop of Palm Beach resigned in disgrace, it was well that I did not have access to that sorry waste of chrism; I would almost certainly have done him harm. And I spent the first few days after his public confession in the one of the darkest rages of my entire life; I was ashamed to be a priest. I say this by way of acknowledging that I understand Mr. Dreher’s anger at the corruption in the presbyterate and episcipate that should sicken and shame us all.

But. But. Consider this: The Lord Jesus personally selected the Twelve upon whom to bestow His own messianic authority, and when the Hour for which He came into the world arrived, what did they do? Peter, James, and John went to sleep; Judas betrayed Him; they all fled in fear (the first collegial act of the apostolic office); and Peter denied three times even knowing the Man. In other words, mendacity, cowardice, sloth, and treachery were part of the apostolic succession from the very beginning, and these were the men hand-picked by the Son of God.

My point to Mr. Dreher and the countless others who do not know what to do with their rage at clerical degenerates is this: All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. It should always disappoint us, but it should never surprise us, when the human shepherds of the flock confirm a central truth of the Gospel by their sinfulness. Put not your trust in princes (including princes of the Church), in mortal men in whom there is no help. And believe me when I say from sad experience that Orthodox priests and bishops are no less human (and therefore no less sinful) than their Catholic brethren.

And this, too, bears some consideration: That second degenerate and disgraced Bishop of Palm Beach almost immediately after his resignation moved to a Trappist monastery to lead a life of prayer and penance for the rest of his days. Reliable sources report that the sweet graces of contrition and conversion are now evident in his life. This, of course, will not remove the harm done to the young men who were his victims, but it is an indication that Christ can make all things new. Even the Catholic clergy. There is much here to think and pray about before one embraces schism to escape the company of shameful clerics.

Obviously the issues in the Roman Catholic Church are not the same as those in the OCA (which thank God seems to mostly involve money). Even so the point is that we must not loose our faith because those in positions of trust fail in that trust from time to time. Those who fall are not in need of pious condemnations but rather prayers. Yes in some cases, their actions may disqualify them from positions of trust and responsibility. But the Church's mission is not condemnation. Rather it is forgiveness. When we forget this, we are likely also forgetting our own sins, which St. John of Krondstat calls more numerous than the sands in the sea. This we do at our very great peril.

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