By PAUL WIRTH Diocesan Communications Staff
In his new book, one of America’s best-known Bishops has a message for Catholics who are thinking about leaving the Church because of the clergy sexual abuse scandal: Now is not the time to leave, but to stay and fight, on behalf of yourselves, and on behalf of those who have suffered abuse.
“Letter to a Suffering Church,” by Bishop Robert Barron, came out in mid-July. Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, the host of the PBS documentary “Catholicism” and an Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles.
Bishop Barron looks at the abuse crisis through the lenses of Scripture and Church history. He points out that the Church has weathered scandals in the past, that the spiritual treasures of the Church remain and that there is a clear path forward for those who recommit themselves to holiness.
The 105-page book is divided into five chapters: The Devil’s Masterpiece, Light from Scripture, We Have Been Here Before, Why Should We Stay? and The Way Forward. It also includes a Conclusion and a Prayer for a Suffering Church.
In his discussion about the Devil, Bishop Barron says he is not absolving humans of responsibility for their actions, but notes that the Devil cannot succeed in his suggestions, temptations and seductions unless he finds humans willing to cooperate.
Among the results of the Devil’s “diabolical masterpiece,” he writes, are devastating costs for the Church, in terms of dollars spent on caring for and compensating victims, and in personal terms, since every act of abuse by a priest ripples through families, parishes and communities.
Another cost is religious apathy. In the early 1970s, about 5 percent of Americans said they had no religion. Today, that number is 25 percent, Bishop Barron writes, and is 40 percent among those under age 30. Startlingly, 50 percent of Catholic youth say they have no religion.
In the chapter on Scripture, Bishop Barron points out that the Bible makes clear that sex should not be “wrangled out of the context of love” and used to manipulate or dominate. He cites several Old Testament passages, including the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and looks at New Testament readings, including Jesus’ messages about acceptance, protection and love of children, as evidence of God’s plan for human sexuality.
In We Have Been Here Before, Bishop Barron recalls dark chapters in the history of the Church, including incidents of corruption and immorality, as well as sinfulness at all levels of the Church. These reminders, he writes, are intended to place the current crisis in historical context. “We have been here before,” he says, “and we have survived.”
Addressing why we should stay, Bishop Barron recalls the pivotal story in the Gospel of John when a majority of Jesus’ followers abandon Him and He turns to his apostles and asks if they, too, will leave. Peter replies, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The context is different today, Bishop Barron writes, but the principle is the same. We stay for the treasures of the Church, such as the fact that the Church speaks of God, and the fact that it is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Other treasures of the Church include the Holy Spirit, the Sacraments and the Saints.
“We are not Catholics because our leaders are flawless,” Bishop Barron writes, “but because we find the claims of Catholicism both compelling and beautiful.”
The path forward, Bishop Barron writes, starts with institutional reform. Much has been done on this front, he says, starting with the Dallas Charter in 2002 that brought about the Zero-Tolerance Policy requiring removal from ministry in the event of an accusation, mandatory reporting to law enforcement, background checks, mandatory training, involvement of a lay review board and regular audits. These reforms, Bishop Barron points out, have resulted in significant progress in preventing incidents of abuse.
Bishop Barron says spiritual reform also is needed, both among priests and bishops, and among lay men and women. “If we want holier priests,” he writes, “we all have to become holier ourselves.” Because new priests come from the baptized community at large, he writes, “a better and stronger laity shapes a better and stronger (and less clericalist) priesthood.”
Anyone can get a personal copy of the book for free by clicking here. You will be asked to pay for shipping and handling. Additional copies for parishes or other groups are available at $1 each, with free shipping.