Last Sunday, I went to Mass said by a priest who is in his 80s or 90s. He is retired but still says Mass at a local parish every Sunday.
However, this was no ordinary Sunday — this was a Sunday in the thick of the church’s sexual abuse scandal. It was only a little more than 12 hours after the release of a bombshell 11-page letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States, asserting that Pope Francis knew about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s long record of abusing young men. Vigano said that Pope Francis not only disregarded Vigano’s warnings, but also lifted McCarrick’s sentence of a lifetime of prayer and penance imposed by Pope Benedict. (A lifetime of prayer and penance is similar to house arrest in Church law.) Although we had known about McCarrick for several weeks, we did not know about Pope Francis’s role in it until then.
There was palpable anger, even rage, in the old priest’s voice. It was heartbreaking to witness this old man see the Church to which he devoted his entire life brought to its knees by the evil, selfish, and satanic actions carried out by its most powerful men.
With fiery conviction, the old priest declared that the “cockroaches” must be run out of the Church. He said Pope Francis was not courageous enough to call out the core issue and that the Church needed new leadership to clean house from top to bottom.
Most strikingly, he called for Pope Francis to resign along with any bishop or priest whose hands are dirty. Applause almost never happens during a priest’s homily, because it is generally not appropriate during Mass. But when the old priest said this, the congregation could not help themselves — we broke out into spontaneous applause.
Human beings do wicked things. They have been doing them for as long as they have walked the earth. We should not be surprised that there are wicked and selfish people in the Church. But Catholics should not be jaded or give up on her. The correct response is to drive the wicked and complicit alike out of the Church, just as Jesus drove out the profaners from his Father’s temple.
The old priest closed his homily by begging us, the lay people, to pray, pray, pray for our Church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. Catholics must trust that promise and pray daily for the courage and strength to do what is necessary in the face of this evil now confronting us.