Last night I received an email from an old friend, a sometime companion on the inner journey of prayer. He wrote to tell me that the scandals in the Church had become overwhelming for him, that he did not have much hope, and that he had apostatized from the faith and been received into another ecclesial community.
I don't know if I'm supposed to answer, and I don't think I will. It's not really any of my business anyway. What would I say? Shall I apologize for crimes and negligences for which their is no apology? Shall I beg him to return from error? I don't think either of these are called for; it's just that we were once important to one another in the Lord, and he only wanted to share his grief and let me know of the difficult decision he had made.
It raises the question for me: Do I have a limit? Could things get so heinous and discouraging that I would be tempted to apostasy? Of course I want to say no; but that would be vanity and bravado. My faith is imperfect, and my practice barely adequate; on the internal level I hardly live up to my vows. I only barely keep intact the prayer life I have promised through our Rule and Constitutions. I am not such a good Catholic and my faith is not so strong. I probably have a breaking point too, God help me.
But I just don't think I could leave the Catholic Church. How is it that I first heard the Gospel? What were the conditions of possibility of my having a Bible in my room on the hot summer night in 1991 when I first read St. Matthew with open mind and heart? It is that anyone can buy a Bible at Barnes & Noble? No. Is it because of the great work of translators, from the seventy-two rabbis of Alexandria down to the scholars who produced the RSV I held in my hands in those days? Not really. I heard about the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Christ because the apostles and martyrs gave their lives and suffered in order to keep it alive for me. It was this community of witness that produced the New Testament, and they have passed down the apostolic teaching, even into the hands of the bishops who ordained Fr. Larry and Deacon Ron, the first men to suffer the pastoral care of my stupid and distracted soul.
Without that faith I would be dead, or at least living some close approximation of death. And the world still wants me dead.
This apostolic tradition is all I have to stand on in this world. I'm sure that some of my teachers and confreres would judge me narrow-minded and hopeless in clinging to this sense of Catholicism after all the theological education they have given me in their generosity, but that's how I see it. And as much as my conscience is very troubled and I am very angry, I don't think I would ever try to seek comfort by settling for a facsimile of the Church and play-acting through 'sacraments' I knew in my heart to be invalid. Untethered from accountability to the Petrine ministry (or at least the ministry of some patriarchal see), Christianity has no defense against accepting and assimilating whatever errors or moral chaos happen to be the current worldly fashion. Indeed, sadly enough, this struggle is hard enough even within the apostolic churches, but it is hopeless without.
I don't mean all this in a triumphal way. I am upset too. I am increasingly convinced that the health and even the survival of my vocation depends on my making my life into some kind of integrated response to the issues raised by the sexual abuse scandal. When I, who was born with the name Charles L., decided to be baptized under the patronage of Charles Lwanga, I thought it just a matter of convenience. But it was no accident. St. Charles was martyred, at least in part, for his unwillingness to accept sexual abuse. Nor is it an accident that certain experiences of my own religious life and priesthood have put a harder edge on my own reflection on the festering illnesses behind the scandals. My own vocation is meant to be something with regard to this. I don't know what it means yet, and it might not even be anything external, but it has to be something.
I don't know if you ever look at this blog, old friend. But if you do happen to read this, please don't be offended. This post is about my conscience, not yours. It's not a condemnation or even a disapproval. It's my way to trying to encounter, in my heart, the same issues that you are working to take as seriously as you can. Oremus pro invicem.