Good Friday is the day that Jesus died for our sins. It is also, for Catholics, something like what Reformation Day is for Protestants. That is, it is a day in which we assert that we have the fullness of the faith, and that everyone should join us in it.
Can Catholics still make that claim in 2019?
This is, after all, the first Good Friday since the “Summer of Shame.” It is the first Good Friday since we learned the gory details of clerical sex abuse in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.
It is the first Good Friday since we learned that “everyone knew” that Cardinal McCarrick was a homosexual predator of seminarians and young priests. It is the first Good Friday since the former Vatican ambassador to the United States accused Pope Francis and senior Vatican officials of covering up sexual abuse by McCarrick, and that a pro-homosexual cabal had taken control of episcopal appointments.
Archbishop Vigano’s testimony raised questions that have never been answered. And yet here we are again on Good Friday, proclaiming to all humanity that Jesus Christ is their salvation and that we are His Church.
Again, can we still do that this year?
Some Catholics think we can’t. A Gallup poll last month revealed “that 37% of U.S. Catholics said the abuse crisis had led them to question whether to remain part of the church.”
Most tellingly, 22% of weekly Mass-attending Catholics felt the same way. That’s more than a fifth of everyone in the pews with you. And a separate Gallup study last year found that U.S. Catholics who rated the ethics and honesty of clergy highly had dropped to 31% in 2018, down from 63% in 2008.
There are other reasons why Catholics might pray “The Solemn Intercessions”—prayers for the conversion of the world—less confidently this Good Friday.
Pope Francis signed a controversial statement last month “in which he appeared to state that God ‘wills’ the existence of many religions.” He later clarified “that God only permits but does not positively will a ‘diversity of religions.’”
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, meanwhile, penned a letter last year in which, it was reported, “Christ’s mandate to his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples and cultures, Benedict said, ‘is universal with one exception: A mission to the Jews was not foreseen and not necessary because they alone, among all peoples, knew the ‘unknown God.’’”
So, given all this, why stay in the Catholic Church? And why dare to proclaim this Good Friday that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be?
In a great article that appeared in the liberal Commonweal Magazine (and was therefore missed by most conservative Catholics), Ross Douthat gave the most important answer:
…for Catholics dealing with the moral failures of their church’s leaders, with the What are we doing here? question that rears its head with every new round of sex-abuse revelations: we’re here because we still think the truth is far more likely to be here than elsewhere, however obscured and darkened by corruption it may seem.
Douthat goes on to make several points that naturally follow from that one.
But it really does come to that one point, just as it did for St. Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
Believing that, and knowing it, does not mean denying the reality of corruption in the Church. But knowing both the truth of the Church and the corruption within her, may mean having to go to unusual lengths to give your family what they need for their eternal salvation.
It may mean going to something extra, some faithful apostolate, for their spiritual formation. It may mean driving 40 minutes out of your way to worship at a reverent parish, even if you live in a heavily Catholic region of the country. It may mean homeschooling your children or finding that one Catholic school in your diocese that you can trust.
If you do these things, you will not be shaken by the disturbing news within the Church. Not to the point where it destroys your faith. Much the opposite.
You will know, for instance, that nothing that the Pope emeritus said last year contradicts what he said earlier in Dominus Iesus, the Vatican declaration reasserting the Catholic Church’s unique role in the salvation of all humanity.
Indeed, you will want to fight harder to purify our Church precisely so that all mankind can more clearly see her role in their salvation. And you will say with confidence, this Good Friday, those Solemn Intercessions, both as a present reality and a hope for the future.
You will pray to God for the unity of Christians “as they live the truth, to gather them together and keep them in his one Church,” for the Jewish people “that he may grant them to advance in love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant,” for those who do not believe in Christ “that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they, too, may enter on the way of salvation,” and for those who do not believe in God “that, following what is right in sincerity of heart, they may find the way to God himself.”
May the Blessed Virgin Mary unite her prayers to ours on this first Good Friday after the Summer of Shame, so that we may be one even as the Father and Son are one, that the world may believe (John 17:21), and that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:4), a joy which no scandal, no corruption, could possibly remove.