Cardinal Blase Cupich asserts that "the Pope has a bigger agenda" than responding to Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò's serious allegations that systemic, soul and spiritually life-threatening corruption has long plagued the clerical body of the Catholic Church, extending to its very highest levels.
As I pointed out in my first column this week, in light of Christ's words and example, this assertion evinces a deeply flawed sense of priorities. It is inconsistent with the professed faith of an ordinary layperson like me, much less the avowed and, therefore, presumed to be the exemplary vocation of a high cleric in the Church. For many of the laity, Cdl. Cupich's arrogantly blasé attempt to evade the issues Viganò raises tends to confirm that his revelations are true.
Cupich's evasion denigrates the assumption that keeping faith with Christ's work of eternal salvation has been and must always be its first priority. Worse still, his fact-defying assertion that the focus on clerical homosexualism is "a diversion from the real issue that we need to attack in the life of the Church" lends credibility to Abp. Viganò's report that his appointment to the high position he presently occupies is an artifact of the Church's spiritually life-threatening disease. Let's examine his words more closely:
"But let's also be clear that people who want to make this about sex, in terms of homosexuality and all the rest of it, are a diversion from the real issue that we need to attack in the life of the Church, and that is that there are some people who believe that they are both privileged and protected," he said, adding, "That wall has to come down." (Cdl. Cupich: Pope's agenda focuses on environment, migrants, not sex abuse)
I seriously doubt that any God-fearing Catholic wants to experience a crisis of confidence in the leadership of the Church focused on sex abuse by homosexual clergy. Years ago, facts thoroughly verified discussed and acted upon by the Pope, and other responsible Church officials, forced us to do so. Lawsuits forced us to accept the fact that large sums donated toward the Church's work of salvation were used instead covertly to buy the silence of victims and their families; or openly pay damages to them, as determined by lawsuits and other legal proceedings.
Many Catholics naively trusted that the humble description of the Church's highest cleric, as the "servant of the servants of God," applied to all the avowed clergy. We accepted that they were servants of God who humbly accepted to work with Christ (as we are all supposed to do) to preserve, for ourselves and all the world, the hope of eternal life he has already secured for all who are willing to accept the gift of God he offers.
We took heart and courage from the example of those, set apart by the commitment to commit their life wholly to Christ, a commitment we strive for, but fear to make, lest our weaknesses expose that we are undeserving, and our heartfelt "yes" fall under the shadow of guilt, making us too ashamed even to pray for God's mercy.
Cardinal Cupich pretends that what sets clerics apart is the root of our problem. My experience with penance is that, with the clergy's life of dedication before our eyes, we come to know the courage it takes to persist in prayer and penance, even though we fail. Like Christ, they bring to life in the flesh the equanimity of committed faith, persisting in that vocation even when they fall short of God's glory.
It is not their perfection that strengthens our resolve to strive, but their commitment to persist in their vocation even when they prove to be as imperfect, in many ways as we ourselves. They remind us that, in Christ, God's love persists, despite our failures, so long as we are willing to accept the truth, that we cannot live without Him, even when it is guilty sorrow that drives us to admit it.
Cardinal Cupich belies the cardinal premise of our trust in Christ, which is that we are saved by His work of God upon the cross; so that any good works we do in this world are the fruits of the tree of life, into which — by the grace of God's will, not simply our own — he every day engrafts us. The clerical vow of celibacy was a signpost of this grace precisely because it has to do with a prompting ordained by God that loses its savor of truth when departed from His will to preserve and perpetuate our humanity.
The celibate clergy vow to remind us that the law of Christ's spirit within us acts by the power of God that instructs the law of our flesh to establish and preserve our nature. When they succeed, they encourage us to trust in the strength of that holy spiritual power. When they fail, they remind us to trust in the mercy of God, not our own self-love or self-sufficiency, to restore and complete the purpose God intends.
In this respect, they are set apart precisely in order to prove the will and purpose of God to save us, even from ourselves. So the distinction we honor in them is not "a wall that has to come down." It is a membrane of truth, through which we are called to God, even as Christ Jesus called us — a membrane that admits to God's presence our fearful prayers for mercy, even as it sends away the dross ridden memory of sin, that too often heavily preoccupies our mind, making us fear "to lift up our eyes to the Lord, from whence cometh our strength."
If they are what, by their vows, they profess to be, our Catholic religious know that repentance begins with truth, not touted works of prideful justice and falsely self-sufficient mercy. The heart of Christ is on what God does, not what we do. When we align our hearts with Christ's truth, bearing witness above all to the Lordship, mercy and love of God, then we find true self-forgiveness.
It is not in the world's praise and dispraises, nor the works we may mistake for proof of penitence. Rather it comes from finding our selves in Christ, who is the truth. It comes from remembering what we were, in the mind of God, and what becomes us, through the sacrifice of His Son. And finally, it comes from accepting what we are to be, now and forever, in the kingdom they rule as one, in the spirit of love that includes us and all creation.
In what blind precinct of pride does this seem consistent with rejecting the vocation of God for our humanity? For He made known from the beginning that we should live in distinction as male and female, made in the image and likeness of God. He made us to be united in the flesh for the sake of His good will and pleasure in the existence of humanity.
But also to live in the joy of our communion with God, in and through Jesus Christ. By the same Holy Spirit that confirms their unity, we who are many are made into one body, one people of God, so-called throughout the Earth. Pope Francis called us by that name in his recent letter. Why does Cdl. Cupich claim that it is not the Pope's first priority to admit and address the crisis that threatens to belie its truth?