Church: and that it was his business to fight to protect them from
being led astray by false shepherds.
in any way, except that every member of Christ's faithful has an obligation
to proclaim and defend the Apostolic Tradition. This is first entered into
at Baptism and is what the anointing at Confirmation
is all about. The "priesthood common to all
believers" carries this obligation and duty. The laity should not just
passively listen and accept whatever the hierarchy say. They have a crucial
role in preserving and passing on the Apostolic Tradition. When the
Patriarch Nestorius publicly rejected calling Mary the "God-bearer" (Theotokos)
he was booed out of his Church by the congregation.
Understandably, but wrongly, the hierarchy are not very enthusiastic about the laity exercising this role. The Bishops like to think that they always know best, though manifestly they often have not done so in the past: and that the role of the laity is just to do and believe as they are told. This is to entirely forget the prophetic charism that always operates within the Church, orthogonally to Her hierarchical constitution.
What I am trying to say is that I think that I have some kind of obligation to defend the Gospel and to oppose error within the Church, as well as I can, even if that error is rooted at the highest levels. It is not good enough to just give up, walk away and form myself some comfortable spiritual hermitage. This isn't true just of myself, or of some sub-set of the laity, but of all the laity: though most would either deny it or claim to be incompetent to fulfil it.Visible Community of Faith, and that, at least legally and formally, this Apostolic Fellowship is continued into the present as the (mostly Eastern-) Orthodox and (mostly Western-) Catholic Church.
Another obvious question is, why not simply look to where one could do the most good, and leave the difficulties of the Catholic Church to Almighty God? I suppose that I don't have any problem with this, as long as it doesn't entail me reneging on my membership of the Catholic Church. I have tried to play a useful role in the Latin Mass Society, Quest and the LGCM, but been given short shrift each time.
However, there is a mistake here. The organization guilty of this abomination is the set of fallible human beings that presently constitute the Catholic Hierarchy: Pope Benedict XVI; Cardinals Law and Murphy O'Conner [at the time this article was originally written] and the rest of the sorry lot. It is not the Catholic Church - the Body of Christ - that is guilty of the outrage. The hierarchy is not identical with the Church. Not even the Platonic Form of the Ideal Hierarchy is equivalent to the Church, still less any actual set of sinners that happen to pastor Christ's Faithful at any particular time! To leave the Church because of the wickedness of the present leadership is inappropriate.
The Church is not a human institutionIf the Church was just a sort of human club or "voluntary association", then this would be a sensible response. After all, such a society has as its life and norms whatever activity and policy is decided by its executive committee: that is all. Even if, like the Latin Mass Society, it has a constitution that supposedly limits the power of the leadership, the leadership is generally able to ignore or "re-interpret" this so long as the membership do not notice, do not care, or acquiesce. In the end, if one doesn't approve of the policies adopted by the leadership then one either protests and is expelled or resigns one's membership.
However, the Church is no such thing. While from a sociological perspective She is just such a "voluntary association", from a theological perspective She is much more. Those who exercise leadership have no ability to redefine Her objectives or purpose and are all directly answerable to a higher authority: God. The pope is the "Servant of the Servants of God" and, in a sense, is answerable to the laity whose interests he has the primary duty to uphold and advance. If the hierarchy of the Church fail in their mission of demonstrating and defending the Apostolic Tradition of God's Kingdom of Love and Justice then it is they that have failed: not that Tradition, not the Gospel, not the Church.
The importance of not allowing evil to triumphTo separate oneself from the Church when the hierarchy fail is to loose faith in the power of God to preserve and reform His Church. It is to allow evil to triumph, even if the Powers of Hell could prevail against the Kingdom of God's Friends!
This scandal is only one of manyAs a final word on the topic, I must point out that the "pedophile priest cover-up" is only one scandal among many at the present time. The hierarchy is also guilty of:
while in theory claiming to be the Sole Church of Christ,
causing a great deal of confusion in the process!
worship should be
devout, dignified, beautiful, inspiring and moving, but it
is not so. Thank God there are exceptions if you look for them and
don't just acquiesce in the mediocre
norm. There are a few good priests who maintain a degree of integrity,
orthodoxy and dignity in their ministry. Not all the laity are ignorant,
servile, or rebellious.
Of course, there are the Sacraments. I remember the utter anguish which I went through when for a time I thought that I would have no choice but to "excommunicate myself". Though going to Mass has often been no more than a chore, the idea of being denied or denying myself Holy Communion is horrendous. The idea of not being able to make use of Sacramental Confession hardly less so.
Moreover there is the Catholicism of the Past. This is a vast resource of teaching and spirituality. It includes all the Oecumenical Councils and the creeds they authored; Sacred Scripture; the writings of the Fathers of the Early Church and the insightful wisdom of many holy men and women. Obviously, this is there for anyone to make use of; but if one does so with any integrity it is impossible to avoid the central message that this body contains: that formal membership of the Visible Church is not an optional extra but the essential foundation of the Christian Life, because this Visible Church is the most legitimate continuation of the community of Jesus' friends into the present day.
Strangely, I think that there is another effect at work too. Whenever people "split off" from the Visible Church (even for the very best of reasons, and even if they don't do so "thoroughly"), then they tend to drift further and further off in some direction or other which is somehow congenial to them. For example, now that "The Priestly Society of Pius Xth" has to some degree left Catholic Unity, its preaching is, in my very limited experience, becoming Jansenist in tone: possibly because they are all "rigourists" at heart and because a large number are French, excuse my Francophobia! Even though the body of the Church is in a terrible mess, the very fact that it encompasses a (somewhat legitimate) spectrum of opinion and style tends to keep those that actively associate themselves with it from going too far off the rails.
I accept that these reasons are not enough to recommend communion with the Church of Rome to a seeker of truth in good faith. I should be able to point to clear objective evidence in favour of the proposition that - on the whole - such membership produces manifest fruit; so that the matter could be decided exactly as Our Blessed Lord insists it should: "By their fruits you shall know them". In the past, a Catholic apologist would have said something along the following lines:
The True Church must be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostollic. The Churches in communion with the Roman See [the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) the various Syrian Catholic Churches, the Melchite and Maronite Churches, the Catholic Armenians, Copts, Bylorussions etc etc] are all of these together and form a commonality which isNowadays, these claims are all compromised:One throughout the World: though admiting of variation and diversity. This commonality has a clear governance, a common final authority, and a manifest consensus of faith.
While it is in principle throughout the World: the Roman Communion (and in particular the RCC) are riven by disputes and rebellions of various kinds. The worship of the RCC is itself a cause for dissension, not fellowship. Much typical and distinct teaching is ignored or directly denied by both laity and clergy. The only answer to this wholesale breakdown of Catholic Order forthcoming from The Vatican is a continual insistance on uncritical obedience.
My personal convictionFor myself, I refuse to let a set of ignorant, short-sighted, weak priests steal my Church from me and then tell me to "clear off!" If, as is my experience, they cannot preach a sensible and orthodox sermon on the Trinity: the core doctrine of the Christian Faith, then why should I pay any attention to them when they pontificate about peripheral matters?
Because the Church needs people just like you. "Take up your cross and follow me."To enter the Church is to find yourself at home at last. But it is not to have arrived in a definitive sense, for the home is a tent, and the tribe is a pilgrim people en route for the promised land of the Kingdom of God's Friends, which is even now at hand but has yet to be realized.
"Being both gay and Catholic in my corner of the Diocese of North Carolina is not the most ideal situation. The gay-friendly parishes are embarrassingly casual, to the point that one wonders whether Mass has truly been said. There is one parish in the diocese where the pastor has an indult to celebrate the Tridentine Mass every Sunday, and it is a parish thoroughly devoted to the present and most recent Pontiffs and all their pontifications. I can't exactly call myself traditionalist in that sense, as it is something I've yet to experience. What I have experienced most of my life in the Church, and continue to experience, is the kind of Mass so lacking in devotion and a sense of holy awe that I escaped to the Episcopal (Anglican) communion for a while, where at least the liturgy was somewhat more inspiring. But, of course, I came to accept that the Eucharist was watered down in that barely meaningful, protestant way. I had no choice, I felt, but to return to the banal liturgies where at least our Lord was truly present in the Sacred Mysteries.