Thursday, August 11, 2005

Scandal: it takes two to tango

There's been yet another high-profile clergy sexual scandal, involving a much-respected monsignor from Manhattan. If you want to read about such things, look to Amy Welborn.

I browsed through a few of the comments, and saw the same sorts of responses one always gets, full of doubts about the faith as a result. I know of people who lost faith because of the Macfarlane divorce, because of the pedophile scandals, because of their parish being closed, because of this, that, and the other thing ad infinitum.

The problem with this is that if some scandal can cause you to lose your faith, it means that you never had faith to begin with. Real faith is not faith in the personal virtue of your priest, bishop, or pope. It is faith in Christ. This means that the personal failings of your priest, bishop, or pope should have no effect at all on your spiritual well-being. ISocrates says in the Apology that good men cannot be harmed by bad men: real harm can only be done to you by yourself, when you choose to do something wrong. All others can do is provide you the opportunity. So, if your priest is caught at a hotel with his secretary, it can only cause you to lose faith if you choose to lose your faith.

For more on this, see an old post of mine.


Ellyn said...

You said it!!!

Hugo said...

I slightly disagree with this sentence/sentiment: if some scandal can cause you to lose your faith, it means that you never had faith to begin with.

I think many people who struggle in the aftemath of some religious catastrophe haven't "lost their faith" - they're just struggling to see how this last incident fits into their spiritual / religious worldview.

If our Pope was caught in some hotel with one of his secretaries, it would certainly cause much religious / theologcial / spiritual consternation among people all over the world - but that would be normal and natural. It's the same thing, but on a smaller scale, when people discover that someone who they hold in high esteem because of their faith has done something sinful / atrocious / illegal / etc. - it's not a full loss of faith, but a struggle to integrate this into theri broader religious worldview.

Just my 2 coppers.

Blessings & Peace,

Andrew B. Magergut said...

In close-knit catholic communities, as Ireland here used to be, faith in Christ is largely a communal faith, almost tribal one, if you will. So, for a community like that it's a tragedy when the moral authority of Fr or Mgr or Bishop so-n-so is undermined whatever the cause. In a land where the (arch)bishop's whisper was enough to make or unmake politicians and policies, where 'Christ and Caesar,' as the poet has it, were 'like hand in glove', it is not just a matter of private faith alone, but faith that is objectively ingrained in the collective, is crashing en masse, and consequently, privately too. Thus imho, in a society like this to begin filtering matters private from the collective via scrutinizing personal faith of the integrants would be largely useless. Catholic majority here did firmly believe in the moral authority of Christ via their bishops and clergy and largely did so thanks to them, not despite them. Faith as 'individual salvation' would be very un-irish catholic. My 5 euro ;))

Andrew B. Magergut said...

...also, to paraphrase what i've just said: in the old days in Ireland it would take a whole village to tango, not just 2.

Hugo said...

Hmmm . . . but the people of the tribe/village did have faith - only the faith was heavily influenced by one man (the preist, bishop, etc.).

Again, their faith may have been shaken, but not lost. :-)

Blessings & Peace,

Dorian Speed said...

I wonder if it's more a matter of, "I thought I saw evidence of God at work in this person's life, and now I see that it was all a facade. Perhaps I am deluding myself about my own experiences of God working in my life?"

I agree with what you've said, but I am sympathetic to those whose faith rests upon what they perceive to be the holy example of their contemporaries. More reason to point someone toward lives of the saints, IMHO.