Read the history. You will see that in every age and in every place Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has been attacked by two evils: corruption from within and persecution from without.
In the recent child abuse crisis both forces have gone on the attack at the same time. The corruption and wickedness of a very few priests, and the complacency, weakness, ignorance, incompetence and willful cover up by some of the hierarchy has caused serious damage to the Church and Christ’s message. There is nothing to be said on this count except that those in responsibility must continue to do everything possible to put our house in order.
But while the attack through corruption within has been real, so has the attack in the form of persecution from without. The enemies of the Church have used the child abuse crimes to attack the church viciously and often unreasonably. There have been good journalists who have reported fairly, recorded facts and given a true perspective, but there have been too many others who have slandered, lied and distorted the truth.
Much has been made of the fact that an exorcist in Rome has called the attacks ‘demonic’. I believe this is true, but he forgot to add that the attacks through corruption within the church are also demonic. Both forms of attack are inspired by the powers of evil in the world. Priests are tempted by lust, money, influence, power and prestige and they often take the bait. At the same time, many outside the church have minds and hearts darkened by sin and they hate the church and will do anything they can to attack her.
There is only one remedy to both forms of attack: Sanctity. Sanctity is strong and wise and courageous and good. Sanctity has clarity. Sanctity has charity. Men and women who have been transformed into the image of Christ have the power to cleanse the church or the corruption within and stand up to the persecution from without.
Pope Benedict has said that ‘Scripture can only be understood through the lives of the saints.’ It might also be said that ‘All things can only be understood through the lives of the saints.’ How does a saint respond to corruption within the church? He or she confronts it and stands up to it and whenever they have the power they root it out fearlessly. Read the lives of the saints and see how they defended the church from heretics and false shepherds and corrupt leaders. They were warriors. They cared nothing for their own reputation, but rooted out the rot like terriers going after rats. How could they do this? Only through their own sanctity. Those who are less than saints fear to do this because they are aware of their own failures and the are weighed down by their own hypocrisy and they are weakened by their lack of moral courage.
Likewise, regard the saints as they stood up to persecution from without. They cared nothing for their own lives. Without having a persecution complex or paranoia, they joyfully went about the Lord’s business, and if that meant losing all and imprisonment and loss of their reputation and martyrdom, well, that was part of the deal to start with. “You cannot be my disciples is you will not take up your cross and follow me.” “You cannot be half a saint!” cries St Therese, “You must be a whole saint or not saint at at all!” So the saints engage in the battle, when they must, with the persecution from without. They do so with a joyful courage, a clarity and focus that is amazing to witness.
The battle is not just for the clergy or the religious. It is a battle that each and every one of the baptized must be engaged in. If the recent crisis has done anything for the church it should be this: that all of the baptized see clearly the two forces that always attack the church; that all of the baptized realize that a battle is engaged–that corruption within and persecution without are the enemies, and that each of us should realize that it is ‘us and them’ and there is no middle ground.
Finally, the same two enemies that attack the church also attack each one of us. I am attacked by corruption from within. I am attacked by persecution from without. The battle is cosmic, but the battle is also waged in my own heart and life.
All that remains for me is to take up the sword, for my part in the battle is important, and my decisions and actions may make all the difference.