God’s Church is indefectible because He prevents it from falling away from the truth — despite all the bad people in it.
The sins that have been exposed in the latest sad revelations are despicable, unthinkable and outrageous. A heartbreaking betrayal of trust and abominable failure has occurred among who knows how many bishops, covering up hideous sins and causing more innocent people to be abused and violated.
Nevertheless, our altogether justified revulsion to all that (I have condemned it in no uncertain terms and called for an “ultra-zero tolerance” purge) is not a good or sufficient reason to leave Holy Mother Church. This is nothing new (i.e., in terms of sinners – even very despicable ones) in the Church.
To offer an analogy: If Isaac Newton — heaven forbid — had been found having sex with a little boy, it wouldn’t alter the fact that gravity is a scientific truth. We wouldn’t reject his established, demonstrable teaching.
St. Paul didn’t hesitate in calling the Corinthian assembly “the church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; RSV) even though terrible sexual sin had occurred within its ranks (1 Corinthians 5:1).
He was even more harsh with the Galatian church. He charged them with “deserting” Christ and “turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6) and stated that they were “severed from Christ” and had “fallen away from grace” (5:4; cf. 3:1-3; 4:9; 5:7). Yet he still referred to them as “churches” (1:2), “sons” of God (3:26; 4:5-7), and “brethren” (1:11; 4:12, 28, 31; 6:1, 18).
Somehow, our Lord Jesus still called the assembly of Christians in Thyatira “the church” (Revelation 2:18), despite the presence therein of (how familiar!) wicked sexual immorality (Revelation 2:20-25).
Jesus called all seven assemblies of Revelation “churches” (2:1; 2:8; 2:12; 3:1; 3:7; 3:14; along with the repetition of “what the Spirit says to the churches” in 2:7 and similar passages), yet excoriated several of them in no uncertain terms (2:4-5; 2:14-16; 3:1-3; 3:15-18).
Again, God didn’t discontinue His eternal covenant with David (Psalm 89:3-4, 26-37; 132:11-18; 2 Samuel 7:12-17), even though he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (no small sin). God, knowing everything and being outside of time, knew this would happen, but it didn’t stop Him from making the covenant with David in the first place.
He decided to choose Moses to be His lawgiver, despite his having murdered a man; selected betrayer Peter to lead His Church, and murderer of Christians Paul to be His chief initial missionary to the Gentiles (and all four men wrote plenty of inspired Scripture).
This is very serious sin! How many of you have priests who murdered someone? Can you imagine Paul trying to get admitted into a seminary today, with his past record of killing Christians?
Jesus knew it would always be the case that sinners and “tares” (“weeds”) and non-believers would be among the elect and true believers in the Church, and spoke of it frequently (Matthew 7:15-20; 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 22:1-14; 24:1-9 25:14-30). St. Paul concurred (e.g., 2 Corinthians 11:4; 2 Timothy 2:15-20).
St. Paul, in addressing elders (Acts 20:17, 28) stated that the Holy Spirit Himself had made them bishops, yet from among these very same men, heretics and schismatics would arise (Acts 20:30). Paul feared what he might find when he visited the Corinthian Christians:
Perhaps I may come and find you not what I wish, . . . that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned before and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness which they have practiced. (2 Corinthians 12:20-21)
Sounds a lot like today (including heretic and schismatic bishops and all kinds of sexual sin). If sinners in the Church were a reason to leave, there would be no Christians at all and no Church. But Jesus promised that the Church would survive -- with sinners in it — till He returned.
Matthew 7:21-23 strongly implies that there are many counterfeit believers, who say “Lord, Lord” and “prophesy” and “cast out demons” and “do many mighty works” in Jesus’ name, but who will be cast from Jesus’ presence at the Judgment, where He will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”
Jesus said that “many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).
Jesus also said, “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8), and, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14; cf. Luke 13:23-24).
Someone might retort that great sinners David, Paul, and Peter all repented of their heinous sins, so that God could use them, and this is true, but it’s also the case that God allowed Saul to become Israel’s first king, knowing that he was to fall into apostasy and reject Him. David refused to attack or kill Saul, even though he was trying to kill him, because he was “the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:1-10; esp. 24:6, 10; cf. 26:9, 11, 16, 23; 2 Samuel 1:14, 16).
God ordained that King Solomon build His temple, yet he also fell into serious sin, and it appears that he died that way, unrepentant (1 Kings 11:1-14).
I’m not trying to “rationalize” or excuse any mortally sinful bishops or priests (God forbid!). Rather, all of this biblical data teaches us that wickedness in the Church is nothing new. It’s very old and predicted from the outset. God’s Church is indefectible because He prevents it from falling away from the truth: despite all the bad people in it. Thus, we would be fools to leave it, and endanger our souls (John 6:68).