Crisis in the Church: Finding Hope in the Wake of Despair

Fr. Brian Konzman, SJ, was ordained a priest on June 9, 2018. He is a graduate of the University of Scranton and currently serves St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York City. Among those who struggle to cope with the crisis in the Church are young, newly ordained priests. Fr. Konzman is no exception. We hope his reflections here can help us better find God amidst so much despair.

Let’s be frank. The news this year about the Church has dismayed and disheartened us all. First the revelations about Cardinal McCarrick, then the Grand Jury report from Pennsylvania, then Cardinal Vigano’s accusations against Pope Francis, and now, more Attorneys General are following Pennsylvania’s lead. The constant drumbeat of bad news has caused a lot of pain, both among those who are reliving their experiences of abuse and among those who otherwise just consider themselves good Catholics. One parishioner shared with me that she’s constantly worried that, by being a member of the Church, she’s somehow complicit in an evil institution. To be blunt, as a newly ordained priest, I worry about that too.

 

Fr. Brian Konzman, SJ
Although this steady wave of news has been a cause for great despair, Scripture offers us a reason for hope. We continually hear about God’s promise of salvation for people who are suffering and Christ’s care for those who are least. The prophet Isaiah wrote: Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; [...] Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; [...] then the tongue of the mute will sing. (Isa. 35:4-7).

Be strong. Fear not. We have every reason to be outraged and disgusted and hurting because of what we learned about our Church this year. Imagine how outraged and disgusted and hurt the God we meet in Scripture is. Precisely for that reason, because God knows just how we feel, we are not left alone to despair. The Lord comes with vindication.

God’s vindication is not some abstract thing. It takes a very particular form. We hear it in that passage from Isaiah and, more importantly, we see it in the actions of Christ. The people brought Jesus a deaf man who had difficulty speaking. He touched his ears and his tongue and said, “Be opened!” And the man could hear and speak clearly (Mk. 7:31-37). We even incorporate this into the Rite of Baptism. The celebrant touches the ears and mouth, saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim his faith—to the praise and glory of God the Father.” We explicitly pray for open ears and mouths that proclaim the Gospel.

That prayer has been answered, even if in a very different way from what we might have expected. After decades of silence, where few spoke and practically no one was heard, voices have arisen, and their words have finally fallen on ears ready to listen. That’s entirely consistent with the way God works. We have no reason to be upset with grand juries and journalists. They are doing God’s work by helping people to speak and to hear. Even though it’s painful to confront the past atrocities of clergy we trusted, we have reason to thank God that those atrocities are now in the open and that we can begin the process of healing, of restoring justice, and of making sure this terrible sin never occurs in our midst again. We as a Church have the right and the duty to demand that our leaders provide an account of themselves, of their actions and inactions, and to hold them responsible. Lay people have that right and duty toward their priests and bishops. That is the freedom that God has offered us.

A movie called Operation: Finale was released earlier this year. It portrayed the way in which Israeli intelligence tracked down the Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann and how important it was for them to succeed in their mission of bringing him to court. The film focused in part on how the Jewish people who had suffered under such evil finally had the ability to tell their stories. The world heard those stories, in some ways for the first time with any sort of coherence. The trial allowed people to speak … to listen … to heal. And it encouraged people to promise, “Never again.”

We find ourselves in a similar moment. In this trial, we pray that the ears of the Church are opened, that the voices of the abused are heard, and that the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body here among us are healed. We too must commit to that promise, “Never again.”

The Lord has come with vindication. Blessed be the Lord.

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