Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
If you haven't already, please read How to Handle Any Abuse Scandal.
There’s no way to make light of abuse scandals. Our best hope is to rise up and pull all good from the event that we can. The last post discussed the possibility of increasing awareness and vigilance, accountability, and also faith. Some lasting tangible change is possible, too, but in any case, it takes time, healing, understanding, and forgiveness.
There’s something else to do, though, and that’s to prepare ahead of time. It’s imperative to anticipate scandal in the Church. The pope said this, a priest did that, a bishop knew this and covered it up, a group of seminarians knew for years and said nothing—we’ve seen the headlines throughout history. As I pointed out in the previous post, abuse is imminent. It’s one reason Jesus appointed shepherds, and sometimes, those shepherds are guilty, too.
There's a saying I’ve heard: “You don't leave Jesus because of Judas.” Well, you don't leave Peter because of Judas, either.
The Church is a body: you don't cut off your hand just because you lost feeling in your finger, and if matters get worse, you don’t abandon your head and heart because you lost your vision.
The best way to prepare for a scandal is to know exactly what you believe in, and why. We don’t believe in the Eucharist because others told us to—we believe because the God of the universe told us to. We don’t believe in Jesus because he was a nice guy—we believe that he was God because he proved it by healing the sick, raising people from the grave, and defeating death after dying as a perfect sacrifice.
Here’s the bottom line: you don’t believe in the Church because its people are perfect: they’re not. You believe in the Church because its head is perfect and because its head is perfect it will protect its bride from the gates of hell.
When you know what you believe in, and why, you’re an immovable fortress against scandal. Nothing that ever happens can alter the truth that the Catholic Church professes. Nothing. It is more important to continue believing and working out our own sanctity and salvation (cf. Philippians 2:12) than to let the sins of others cause us to despair.