The Sexual Abuse Scandal & Why Holiness Isn't What I Thought

“When there is corruption and scandal in the Church, don’t leave.  Lead!  Lead by becoming a saint.”  -Fr. Mike Schmitz

If there was ever a time to be holy, it’s now.  Amid so much trial, heartbreak, compromise and sin within the Church, we desperately need men and women who once again remind the world of what it means to be a Christian.  Who demonstrate by their lives that God is real, He is good, and He infinitely loves us.  

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said: 

“Who is going to save the Church?  Not our bishops, not our priests and religious.  It is up to you, the people.”

We the people, the laity, have a tremendous call at this moment to help save the Church.  And the call is simple, though not easy: a life of holiness.

I find it extremely timely that right before this new sexual abuse scandal broke out, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic exhortation on holiness in today’s world: "Gaudete et Exsultate" (“Rejoice and Be Glad”).  In it he writes:

“We are called not to be afraid of holiness"... For our entire lives do not have a mission, but “are a mission.”

Your whole life is a mission in this particular moment of history, planned from all eternity by the Father to reveal right now “a certain aspect of the Gospel."  I don’t know about you, but I can often feel intimidated by this invitation to sanctity.

How could I be a saint when I find my heart so indifferent?  My spirit so lukewarm?  I’m all too distracted in prayer, hesitant to sacrifice, and have my eyes fixed on myself rather than on God.  Yet the Holy Father goes on to encourage us:

“Do not be afraid of holiness… To depend on God sets us free from every form of enslavement and leads us to recognize our great dignity… Holiness is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace.”

Wait, what?!  Let me reiterate that one more time:

“Holiness is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God's grace.”

To depend on God sets us free.

This is such great news!  I had always thought that holiness was an encounter between God’s grace and my strength, my success, all the ways I was “good” and seemingly “perfect” for God.  Not my weakness.  

When we begin to understand holiness in this way, it is truly so liberating.  Holiness is not a call to achieve more, perform more, or become bigger, stronger, greater or more in control.  Holiness is rather a call to become smaller, to grow down, to become more childlike, and learn to live on our knees.  It’s a call to become increasingly more dependent on God. 

I think what most often gets in the way of our holiness is our pride: the belief that we must be great, perfectionistic, superior.  That we cannot need anyone or anything (least of all God).  The belief that we must hide our weaknesses and defects from everyone, lest they find out we are merely human. 

Yet humility is the crown of all virtues.

Perhaps if some of those who knew about the Church’s sexual abuse scandal actually had the humility to bring it into the light long ago (rather than hiding it in toxic secrecy), this scandal would have done far less damage in the long run.  

Witnessing such horrific damage is so disheartening.  But to you who are disheartened by the Church’s mistakes and failures: take courage!  “Between God and man there is immeasurable inequality” (Pope Francis, "Gaudete et Exsultate").

We as Catholics can rise beyond this devastating moment not by depending on men, but by depending radically upon God, whose love, goodness, mercy and power are immeasurably beyond our broken humanity, and broken our Church.  

The love of God goes immeasurably beyond the most terrifying sins of the Church.  The love of God goes immeasurably beyond our own sin, and can transform the worst sinner into the greatest saint.

Let us come before Jesus in this moment, in prayer, on our knees, in our weakness and broken humanity, to depend on Him more and more and more.  For this great dependence upon Jesus Christ is our path to holiness.

For further reading on the call to holiness in today’s world, please see:

To join countless others to pray and fast for our Church, see:

Be His,

Kara Klein Oubre