If even the Pope is corrupt, it means that I was drastically wrong about him. I have been drastically wrong before: I was once a Protestant!
If even the Pope is corrupt, it means that I thought someone an eminently holy man who was not. It means that I still have much to learn about the love of God– but when has that not been the case? It is a lesson in humility and humiliation, in being willing to adjust my view as time goes on, but also to reserve my judgment when it comes to someone’s character.
When the charges against the Pope (charges I still see no reason to believe) first hit the news cycle, I was dashed. My practice of prayer was already suffering under the weight of the Pennsylvania report, reeling from the sheer inhumanity of clerics and diocesan workers involved in the cover up of evil, often unmistakably satanic, deeds. The report became public on my first day of retreat, right before the Assumption, and colored my interactions with bishops and priests I have known since I entered the Church, clerics I have looked forward to seeing year after year to celebrate Our Lady. It is no exaggeration to say that, on the psychological level, my retreat was entirely ruined. Still, I offered this pain and fear to Christ in prayer– albeit, sad and frustrated prayer. But soon after, when I contemplated that even the Pope may be implicated, the first day passed in some time that I had not picked up my breviary or my Bible. The shock was too much. It is no exaggeration to say that I hid from the Lord. The Lord wandered, looking for me, calling out, “Where are you?”
Soon, I felt that familiar stir, whispering for me to “take and read.” And I did. It was in the pages of my breviary that it struck me like a bolt from the sky: if the Pope is not holy, ought not I be holier? If the Pope has let down the People of God so dramatically, ought not I strive ever more determined to pick up the slack? In fact, whether the Pope or my bishop or any bishop is holy, ought not I be holy? The Lord did not tell His disciples, “Be holy, as your leaders are holy.”
The truth became clear to me: my trust in my bishops, in my Pope, had become a kind of crutch for me. It was not all the natural and good trust of a son to a father but became mixed with the untenable faith that the men were the message. It had never been a conscious thought. I had succumbed to a kind of quiet Donatism, a silent faith that those who brought me the truth could not drastically fall short of it. Of course, I knew such a belief to be misguided, but the mind has a way of disguising its thoughts in ways that take time to unmask.
It is a blessing to have holy leaders, but perhaps it can also become a reason for slack. It is as if the holiness of those leading us can be subconsciously transferred to ourselves– as if their efforts can subtly substitute for an even greater vigor in loving Jesus. Somewhere within, part of me thought that much of the work was being done on my behalf, and so I could put off doing the work myself. The shock, the silence, the rush to hide, were Christ’s way of revealing to me just how much slack in my soul there still is.
Perhaps the Pope is corrupt. Perhaps he is one of the Pharisees he has so long preached against. I do not think so. But even if I am wrong, what does it matter for my pursuit of the Lord? Did Christ not say to obey the teachings of the Pharisees, only do not do what they do? Perhaps the Pharisees have taught me much but they have certainly taught the truth. The Pope’s invitation to me in Evangelii Gaudium still stands:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”.
Christ’s promise to the Church is one of victory over Satan and unshakable solidity in the Gospel, not the sinlessness of those in it. Holiness is obedience to that Church, obedience to its teachings, living a life of faith in the Gospel and love for my neighbor. The mystery of faith includes its transmission by woefully inadequate, sometimes even evil, people, but that faith is no less true because of it. As for me, whether the Pope or the bishops are good or bad makes no difference as to what I must do. Onward for the poor, the wounded, the outcast, the weak! Onward for Christ and the ones He loves! Onward!
Remember, Christian soul,
that thou has this day,
and every day of thy life:
God to glorify.
Jesus to imitate.
A soul to save.
A body to mortify.
Sins to repent of.
Virtues to acquire.
Hell to avoid.
Heaven to gain.
Eternity to prepare for.
Time to profit by.
Neighbors to edify.
The world to despise.
Devils to combat.
Passions to subdue.
Death, perhaps, to suffer.
Judgment to undergo.
Joe Dantona is a convert living in eastern Ohio. He studied political science, history, and theology. He divides his free time between entertaining his wife and kids with dad jokes and getting distracted while reading good books.