Don’t confuse the Church and its leadership



Ted Escobar

Pat and I joined our daughter Jenny for mass at St. Joseph’s Parish in Yakima on Sunday, and I was surprised to hear a homily regarding the Catholic Church’s challenges with sexual crimes.

I was not surprised the young priest spoke about what is now a crisis. I was surprised I hadn’t thought about it all day.

I’d read about it online in the morning but had set it aside in no time. It’s become commonplace to read about the faults of some of the Church’s priests.

The priest celebrating the mass answered some questions congregants probably had… or have.

The answer to the big question was: It’s not the priests in whom you believe but the Holy Trinity. You believe in the church, not in the men in black.

That is my attitude. I admire priests for the sacrifices they make for their calling, but I never forget they are men. I admire the Church, and I don’t allow members of the clergy to ruin it for me.

Pope Francis’s integrity is in question now. The former Nuncio and Ambassador to the U.S., Carlo Maria Vigano, has accused Francis of knowing of the sexual abuse baggage former Washington, D.C. Archbishop Edgar McCarrick carries.

Now the church leadership appears to be splitting. The older, more conservative leaders of the Church are siding with the Nuncio. The more liberal leaders are getting behind Francis.

I’m not surprised. I’ve had a challenge with this pope since he was elected. While many others were hailing his election because he was from the West, I was checking out the fact he was a leftist as a young priest.

I thought that alone would lead to trouble. The Church is generally conservative, steeped in tradition and the Bible. This split may have been inevitable.

I, too, am conservative and traditional. I break church law often, but I don’t ask it to change the rules for me. I don’t ask it to relax the rules for me. I don’t even ask it to change the wording of the mass to match up with a changing secular society.

This is not the first pope I have questioned. I had my doubts when Pope John XXIII took Latin out of the mass. I had grown up with it and was starting to learn what the words meant when he told local churches they could do the mass in the language of their flock’s choosing.

Latin was part of the beauty of the mass for me. I stayed away for a while. I struggled to accept it was the same Catholic Church. Eventually I came back, but it still took a few years for me to accept what Pope John XXIII had done.

The funny thing about that story is that up until then, I never questioned a priest or a nun.

I thought it was a priest’s job to accuse me on Sunday of committing every sin in the book during the week. I thought it was a nun’s job to slap me on the wrist for being unruly in Catechism.

I thought God was my Master. I had no idea he was my friend.

I finally got away from that when the Church started to focus on redemption and salvation, instead of damnation, in the last 50 years. God became my friend.

It took me a long time to understand the difference between the Church and the Church’s leadership.

The first time I really thought about it was when television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart was taken down, momentarily, by sexual misdeeds.

He was not a priest in my mind, so it was easy for me to say to those who professed to no longer believe in him. You weren’t supposed to believe in him in the first place.

That solidified my understanding that the leaders of the Church are men and fallible.

Who knows where this is going to lead. There should be a complete investigation around the world by independent agencies, sanctioned by the Church. Let heads fall where they may. This needs to be cleaned up.

I do know the Church will still be standing when the dust settles, and I’ll be standing within it — with all of my daily sins.

The Church will always be my path to heaven. If I’m a Catholic then I’m a Catholic, rules and all. The church, not the leadership, is my refuge.


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