I’ve been reading with curiosity the Vatican’s response to recent actions taken by Belgian authorities in conducting raids and confiscations of Church property in response to allegations of child sex abuse.  The Pope himself is now wading into the fray to express his outrage.  I find this interesting.
It has taken remarkably little time – less than a week – for the Pope to weigh in against these actions, referring to them as “deplorable”.  Yet it is only recently that  the Catholic Church – and the Pope – has spoken more unequivocally against the equally deplorable actions of what I assume is a small percentage of Catholic priests and other officials.  Only recently has some form of apology come from the Pope.  As damaging as the allegations of child sex abuse are, they have taken on a far stronger tone due to the Church’s reluctance to admit that there have been problem cases with some of it’s people, and to take steps to rectify the situation.
Understandably this reluctance has led some to the conclusion that the Church is not fully committed to dealing with this situation.  Understandably, there are some who have been led to believe that other steps are necessary in order to determine if allegations are true.
There are lots of things that could be said here.  I could rail against the unnaturalness of the Church’s stance on celibacy for it’s called workers.  While I can appreciate their theological rationale, I don’t agree with it.  And even if the Church allowed it’s priests to begin marrying tomorrow, it wouldn’t eliminate all of the problems that the Church has to deal with.  People are broken – and sin flourishes in practically every environment.  But I think it would certainly make a difference.  
Is the Church to be treated differently than other organizations?  That’s an interesting question.  Although churches have proliferated over the last 500 years, the Roman Catholic Church is unique in it’s longevity and omnipresence in Western society and culture.  It can be – and has been, compellingly I think – argued that Western culture and society itself has the Church to thank for it’s existence and nature.  Not a popular opinion these days, to be sure, but curious all the same.  Does that uniqueness allow the Church a certain type of treatment or consideration not received by others?  Should it?  
I haven’t seen Catholic bloggers respond on this topic yet (at least the one Catholic blogger).  I wonder if they share the Pope’s outrage (I would expect they do), and if so, if they offer any reasons for that outrage beyond the it being unprecedented.  However, we’re talking about a Church that once experienced the indignity of three rival Popes three rival Popes installed and supported by warring political factions.  This is hardly the worst indignity the Church has experienced.   
It seems clear that the Church has been greatly concerned with controlling what investigations, what evidence, what admissions are made as to the real or alleged wrongdoings of the men and women who serve within it.  Acting in this manner has further compromised faith in the Church beyond the level warranted by the misdeeds of a small portion of it’s membership.  I believe that if the Church were more forthcoming, it might not be necessary to resort to practices reserved for organized crime syndicates, drug rings, and other organizations where pervasive criminal activity – and a willingness to try and destroy evidence – are assumed and/or valid.  I also believe that there are those who will never trust the Church.  Some in part because of the damage they have received at it’s hands.  Others for different reasons.  We would be naive to think that actions like what the Belgian authorities have taken will not continue, or even increase in frequency.  I would assume that this concern is due in great part to a desire to protect itself and it’s members.  While this is a natural reaction, it is not the reaction that Christians should seek or expect.  Not at the great cost it requires.
What should the reaction of the Church – and of Christians everywhere – be?  Prayer for our brothers and sisters in the faith.  Prayer for the victims of sinfulness.  Prayer for those who have fallen into patterns of behavior that are dangerous and damaging.  Prayer for the mission of the Church.  That mission is not self-preservation.  We are not responsible for the perpetuation of the Church.  That is the Holy Spirit’s work.  We are only to be faithful to what we have been called to do – to go and make disciples, to share the good news of what God has done in our lives.  
And we should remember that the Church of Jesus Christ is not limited by our institutional representations of it.  The work of the Holy Spirit is wide and beyond our ability to perceive or imagine it.  Our institutions may be damaged.  May be shut down or closed off.  May be denied legitimacy or the right of incorporation or public meeting.  This doesn’t phase the Holy Spirit.  It didn’t stop the early Church.  It hasn’t stopped the work of the Holy Spirit in China or the former Soviet Union or any other place where the structures of faith were banned or persecuted.  We should be vigilant and faithful in remembering that who we are as sinners redeemed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Church, not a collection of buildings or hierarchies or organizational charts. 
The time will come, I believe, when we are forced to remember this.  Forced to experience it and live it out.  And that when that happens, we will have a far clearer understanding of whose hands hold us.  

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