Since some commentators on the recently revealed scandals have reached the meta- stage of asking whether this is a crisis, or the largest crisis, I thought I would add my 2 cents.
Crisis is an old word with various connotations. I think two examples are helpful here.
In John 16:11, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, when He comes, will convict the world in regard to judgment–krisis–because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
This seems applicable here, because, as St. Paul wrote, our battle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers. Our bishops are asking us to apply to this situation the methods that Jesus said drive out the worst of demons: prayer and fasting.
Seeing our enemy as the evil one also gives us some distance from and traction against the problem. My brother is not my enemy, but insofar as he is giving the enemy a foothold, I do not have to cooperate with his efforts. I don’t have to try to find a “bridge” to “common ground” with the wrong he espouses. What I have to try to find is a way of helping my brother out of error so we can both flee the enemy.
Another connotation of crisis is its long medical usage as a point in a serious disease at which things either become much better, or much worse. Thankfully the patient, the Church, cannot be destroyed. And interestingly enough, her ailments are not new. Those currently afflicting US Catholicism are only now coming to light, but they are not new.
For me, the news of the last few weeks has been, besides horrifying, an explanation. I would guess that I am not alone in having had the sense for a number of years now that something was wrong. Perhaps it’s the sort of ailment that you might hardly notice until it gets really bad, because the descent is so gradual.
One problem that I’ve noticed is an apparent satisfaction with mediocrity in all aspects of Church life, from art (our particular concern here), to theology, to religious education. If it weren’t for our considerable care for the poor and sick, I don’t know if the Church would have many signs of vigor.
In fact, a lot of ecclesial institutions seem aimed towards an entrenchment of mediocrity. The Church Music Association was nearly destroyed at one point decades ago by someone who deliberately tried to make it mediocre from the inside. This does not make sense. Of course there is a perennial tension between charism and administration in the Church, and not every half-baked idea is worth implementing. But there are really great ideas and a lot of apostolic energy that could be used to spread the Gospel.
Instead, what seems to have happened over and over again is that the worst ideas are ascendant. Heterodoxy flourishes in Church-affiliated institutions. This does not make any sense. It’s the institutional equivalent of self-harm.
What I’m hoping, then, is that we are at a crisis point regarding whatever tedious disease it was that was continually dragging us down. From what has been said lately, I think it has to be at least possible that the toxin has been persistent, unrepented mortal sin among some of the men who make decisions for the Church. The concomitant loss of the theological virtue of charity would seem compatible with the sort of dreariness of purpose that has seemed to swamp the institutions. Hopefully this means that once the toxin is removed, we’ll remember what flourishing is, stretch our limbs and run for joy to God. Because in the hierarchical structures of the Church, there is no substitute for the episcopacy.
Again, this is a perennial struggle. Jesus said that if you sweep one demon away you might get him back with seven companions who are even worse. The Church is always being reformed and will never be able to set aside its vigilant attitude of self-reformation, always beginning with personal repentance. Charity begins at home.