One of the best movies to come out in the past few years was a film called “Spotlight.” For those of you who don’t know, Spotlight was a film depiction of the team of journalists for the Boston Globe in the early 2000’s who wound up uncovering a scandal in the Catholic Church where priests were molesting young boys. The film came out in 2015 and so by the time I saw it, I thought “this is past tense.” “Surely,” I thought, “since this was uncovered this doesn’t happen anymore.” One would think such national, negative attention would force the issue to be exposed and addressed. Then, in the past few weeks, we have learned about Pennsylvania area priests who have molested more than 1,000 children over the course of the last several decades.
This is tragic and disgusting. The harm and trauma inflicted on these children is inexcusable and must be answered for. However, we have to also realize that this is not just an issue for the Catholic Church.
One of the cool things about being a pastor is the different stories you hear about people’s faith encounters and journeys. It’s especially rewarding when people can articulate it well. But, here is one that I hear often: “I used to be a Catholic, then I became a Christian.” This is a misinformed perspective and it’s something I’d like to talk about because it’s a bigger deal than you may think, but first, a history lesson.
In the book of Acts we have the story about how the church began after Jesus died and was resurrected. It’s a gripping tale on how the Holy Spirit moved through a vast variety of people, bringing them together for the purpose of sharing the radical love of Jesus with the world. What happens after Acts is a lot less known on a popular level within the Church.
Where there is a variety of people, there is also a variety of ideas. Some good, some not so much. Churches needed a way to distinguish these ideas and began appointing regional leaders to oversee a number of different church communities. These came to be known as bishops and as the church grew, so did the need for more offices of leadership. Different communities prioritized different leaders and offices and within the first thousand years of the church we have the first concept of denominations. What we now know, today, as the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, split. Five hundred years later, we have what is called the Reformation which shaped Christianity as we know it today. Many different church communities decided to go their own way, to put it lightly, and many different denominations started parting from the Catholic Church and started their own. This is where we get the word “Protestant” from and is what any denomination outside of Catholic and Orthodox falls under.
With all that said, the Catholic Church is still a part of the Christian religion. One does not “convert” from Catholicism to Christianity. What most people mean when they say such a thing is that they switched denominations, not religions, albeit unknowingly. Yes, Catholicism is a different “brand” of Christianity, but it is still a Christian denomination that worships Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
So, what does this mean? It means Catholicism is part of our family, so to speak. And like any family, there are rotten parts of it that need to be addressed. I’m not saying that Catholicism is rotten, but it obviously has some rotten parts. Priests who are molesting young children is something that needs to be addressed and all Christian denominations should rally around the Church to do so. And not only do we need to address the priests, who are sick, we also need to address those who are covering it up, because they are just as sick. When our Catholic brothers and sisters come under fire for these types of scandals, so do we, and so does the name of Jesus. In the spirit of unity, then, we are to pray, support, and yes, challenge, the Catholic denomination during these times of scandal and abuse so that we can move toward a solution and the love of Jesus can be shown brightest.
Not every priest is a pedophile. Not every Catholic is a person who supports or blindly follows pedophiles. And, Protestant denominations are not exempt from this type of behavior, either. They’ve had their fair share of sex scandals, molestation cases, and abuses as well. So again, it’s not necessarily a specific denomination that needs to be confronted here, it is sick people within these denominations and a conversation needs to be had about the processes and institutions that allow these people to gain positions of influence and leadership.
Make no mistake, this is not a Catholic problem, it is a Christian one and as such, requires a Christian response. The first step of which, is to stand together.