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Thursday, August 22, 2019 - 21:36

"Judge Not"

The days of Martin Luther's scatological excoriations of the pope are long past (500 years past, to be exact). But do those five centuries mean turning a blind eye to the mounting evidence of sexual malfeasance by the Roman Catholic Church's ministers? The dark record of pedophilia among priests has already been cataloged in the news media and courtrooms of this nation. The alarming pervasiveness of this behavior over recent decades alone—along with the documented cover-up of the tragedy by church officials—is now a matter of public record.

But why bother? After all, boys will be boys, men will be men, so should we be surprised that a system of institutionalized celibacy should yield these now all too familiar headlines? And besides, these stories hardly malign an entire priesthood. One or two rotten apples perhaps—but thank God for the rest of the faithful pastoral guides that serve the Roman parish. I, too, honor those faithful shepherds of the flock who surely find this escalating story reprehensible.

But the hemorrhaging is spreading. National Public Radio reports this week another twist: "Pope Francis, for the first time, acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops, including a case in which some clergy used women as sex slaves. He said on Tuesday that he is committed to ending the problem in the Roman Catholic Church" (www.npr.org/2019/02/05/691843161/pope-francis-acknowledges-for-first-tim... ). In this Tuesday news conference the pope replied to a reporter's query: "'It is true ... there have been priests and even bishops who have done this,' said Francis as quoted by Reuters. 'I think it is still going on because something does not stop just because you have become aware of it,' he added" (ibid).

Yes, Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount did command us, "'Do not judge, or you too will be judged'" (Matthew 7:1). And the proverb, "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones," is a fair point about cleaning up your own house before condemning others. But that aphorism aside, this moral hemorrhaging isn't about "boys will be boys" and a few "rotten apples." This is not simply the fallenness that exists in every faith community. This is an endemic institutional moral crisis of widely exposed sexual sin by some of its spiritual leaders.

Thus, to recognize what is now globally substantiated is not Luther castigating the pope. It is simply pressing the logical question that dogs these mounting reports. From whence come such blatant pervasive clerical moral fallings? In this #MeToo age of protest over sexual abuse against women, will the now exposed abuse of single, Christian women by their spiritual leaders go unchallenged—innocent women across the earth who as nuns pledged their celibate lives to Christ and the Mother Church? Furthermore, what is there within this geo-religio-political system that precipitates such pervasive tolerance of the behavior?

In that same Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Himself taught, "'A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. . . . Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them'" (Matthew 7:18, 20). So is it a mistake to judge an institution (be it Hollywood or the Roman Catholic Church) by its fruits? Is it going against the counsel of Jesus to recognize there must be something inherently wrong with a theological, ecclesiastical system that produces fruits like this?

This I know. There are tens of millions of Roman Catholics who are pained by the mounting statistics. Their devotion to Christ and the Mother Church is stellar. Their abhorrence with immorality, their repudiation of this culture's sexual sin is unwavering. Their longing for peace, for freedom from guilt, for the grace and promise of the Savior permeates their prayers. Surely God holds them close to His heart in this time of such mixed confusion. After all He is the Lord who at the height of Babylonian confusion calls His children, "'Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins'" (Revelation 18:4).

Could this be the right time for your friendship with one of them to love them to the sacred heart of Jesus? Judge not. But love them without ceasing.