Denver, Colo. (CNA).- I have spent most of this summer angry with Christ’s Church.
When the first credible allegation against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick- my own former bishop- was announced, he was the focus of my anger. I marveled that a man of God could act with such cruelty toward children, seminarians, and priests.
As the weeks passed, my anger spread beyond McCarrick. First it spread to the bishops who were negligent or selfish enough to allow him to continue in ministry, and then to the institution itself- to a Church structure that seems often to reward mediocrity and punish holiness, a system that allows the sacraments of God to be tied up with hubris and the callow self-interest of twisted men.
If I’m being honest, I have also spent most of this summer deeply wounded. Disappointed that men I know- bishops I love, and admire, and respect- failed to intervene in ways that might have prevented harm to children, to priests, to souls, and to the Church. I’m hurt by indecision, incompetence, and indecency, and I’m angry at those who have hurt me.
The apologies from bishops have sounded self-serving, bureaucratic, and mechanical. Their pledges to change ring hollow. The pope-the Vicar of Christ-has not yet given me a satisfying explanation, or a word of helpful consolation.
I’m angry about those things.
I’ve knelt down before Christ with that anger, that pain, with exasperation and a deep sense of disappointment. I’ve asked him to take it from me. He has not yet done so.
Summer is fading now, but my anger is not. These are not wounds which time will easily heal. But it has become apparent to me that I can’t continue to live this way.
Anger can be righteous, holy even, and the source of purifying fire and sanctifying justice. But anger can also be self-righteous- prideful and self-indulgent. Anger can fester and furrow into bitterness, seducing us into believing that we, not God, are fit to judge the souls of other men.
That kind of anger is destructive, not righteous. It leads to our damnation. And it can only be defeated by forgiveness.
In 1997, Pope St. John Paul II explained that neither souls nor communities can find peace “unless an attitude of sincere forgiveness takes root in human hearts. When such forgiveness is lacking, wounds continue to fester, fueling in the younger generation endless resentment, producing a desire for revenge and causing fresh destruction.”
“Offering and accepting forgiveness is the essential condition for making the journey towards authentic and lasting peace.”
God will call each one of us to forgive his Church. To forgive the men who have wounded Christ’s body. To forgive those bishops who have been negligent, selfish, or evil.
We won’t all forgive at the same time- it is far easier for me to talk about forgiveness than it is for the victims of abuse, or their families. But I have allowed my own righteous anger to become something else.
For me, it’s time to forgive.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It doesn’t even mean letting go of righteous anger. I am angry at sin, and at sinners, and among them are the bishops of our Church. I expect our bishops to act rightly, but I don’t yet trust that they will. We need accountability, and I intend to insist on it, in every way that I can. Justice demands that.
We also need a spiritual renewal in our Church, and among our leaders. We need bishops who want to be saints. We need bishops who take governance seriously, who take doctrine seriously, who take sacred worship seriously.
Forgiveness is not a capitulation to how things are, to the detriment of how they ought to be.
In one sense, forgiveness changes very little. But what forgiveness might change is me. Forgiveness means that I’ll try to help build up the Body of Christ. That I’ll try to assist the bishops in fulfilling the call God gave them. Forgiveness will mean that I’ll try to pray for our bishops, and that I’ll try very hard to mean it.
None of that will be easy. But anger, resentment, and bitterness have become a poison to me. And they have eternal consequences. To have eternal intimacy with God, I need the Church. I’m called to communion with her. And that’s what matters in the end. I’m still angry. But I’ll learn to forgive the Church, or I’ll be damned.