By Eric Sammons
Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. His upcoming book Deadly Indifference (May 2021) examines the rise of religious indifference and how it has led the Church to lose her missionary zeal.
Today is the Wednesday of Holy Week, also known as Spy Wednesday, when we remember the most infamous act of betrayal in human history: Judas agreeing to deliver Christ to His enemies for 30 pieces of silver. This act of betrayal is still shocking to the Christian; we cannot imagine how an apostle, so close to Christ, could betray Him. Yet today the Body of Christ, the Church, is still being betrayed by the successors to the apostles.
The most well-known betrayal is the sex abuse crisis that became public in 2002. For decades priests and prelates abused minors, and members of the hierarchy covered it up in an effort to protect the institution (and their own hides). The response to this massive scandal, however, was not penance, but policy. It was 99% legal, 1% spiritual.
The rotten fruits of that lackluster response were revealed in 2018, when the monstrous deeds of Theodore McCarrick came to light. Here was betrayal on an epic scale: one of the highest ranking and most influential members of the global hierarchy lived decadently for decades, abusing seminarians and paying hush money, but he suffered no ecclesial consequences. Three pontiffs and countless prelates and priests at least had some information about his misdeeds, yet did nothing until the damage was already done.
Today’s betrayals of the Body of Christ are not restricted to sins of power and the flesh, however. For decades prelates have allowed heresy to run rampant within their parishes, often promoting those heresies themselves. These heresies are like a virus coursing through the body of Christ, weakening its witness to the world and its mission to save souls.
The most dominant heresy in recent years is the belief that homosexual activity is not only not an abomination, but is something to be celebrated and even blessed. The German bishops are in full-scale revolt right now over their demand to endorse sodomy, and it’s likely nothing significant will be done to stop them.
Meanwhile, Fr. James Martin, the best-known American purveyor of this particular perversion, remains one of the most prominent spokesmen for the Church today. Martin has not only not been disciplined, he has even been appointed a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communications. Betrayal.
Beyond heresy is the apparent lack of faith among so many of the successors to the apostles that betrays their sacred duty to promote and defend the Faith handed on to us from those apostles. When government officials announced the shutdown of “non-essential services,” our bishops were only too willing to lump the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass into that category. And now many prelates and priests seem to believe more in the power of The Mask than the power of The Mass.
In another betrayal, Catholic politicians who openly promote the killing of innocent unborn children are feted by bishops throughout their careers and then given public funerals celebrating their (evil) works at their deaths. Millions of the unborn, images of Christ, betrayed by those who are called to defend their lives.
Finally, even Peter has betrayed our Lord. Just as St. Peter was embarrassed to be known as a follower of Christ, so too at times our current successor of St. Peter appears to be embarrassed to be a follower of the Lord’s teachings. Too often Pope Francis has denigrated faithful Catholics and traditional Catholic doctrines, while emphasizing the “salvation” of this world over the eternal salvation of souls.
What are the faithful to do? Some believe we must not talk about these betrayals, calling it “bishop bashing” or more “rad trad” complaining. Yet this attitude simply enables future betrayals. It is a form of gaslighting, pretending all is well while millions leave the Church every year as they see that the leaders of the Church do not take their own faith seriously. So why should they? Jesus is the Truth, and to run from the truth about these betrayals does not serve the cause of Christ, but strengthens the Adversary, who revels in the darkness.
Yet we cannot dwell on these betrayals, either. Most of us likely know of Catholics who became consumed with the evil actions of Church leaders and left the Catholic Church as a result. The most well-known in recent years is perhaps Rod Dreher, but there are countless other lesser-known Catholics who have done the same.
To either ignore evil or to dwell on it is not the Christian way; instead we must pass through that evil, as Christ did, to get to the Resurrection.
One way we do that is to rejoice over the ways God is still working in the Church in spite of the obstacles often erected by His shepherds. People are still converting to Catholicism, recognizing that the beauty and truth found within her is an antidote to our troubled times. We see a dramatic rise in people embracing more traditional forms of Catholicism, not as a form of nostalgia, but as a way to enter more deeply into the mysteries of Christ.
Further, there are still many faithful priests ministering in the vineyard, bringing people the sacraments to their flocks without fanfare. Yes, when a priest does something stupid—like only allowing the vaccinated to receive the Sacrament of Penance—it makes the rounds on Catholic social media. But many other priests quietly overcome many obstacles and hardships—including some put in place by their own bishops—to bring Christ to the lost and suffering.
In the mysterious providence of God, betrayal was the door that led to our salvation. It was through the betrayal of the apostle Judas that the salvific Passion of our Lord was initiated. Likewise today it can be through the betrayal of so many successors to the apostles that the Church may bring salvation to the world. How? By bringing about a testing through which we become stronger and more committed to the Lord and his Church. These betrayals refine the Church, perhaps making it smaller, but God willing, stronger. We come to realize that our faith is not in the holders of high office, but in the Lord, who always remains faithful even in the midst of betrayal.
As John the Baptist said of our Lord: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). So too today will He come to the Church, leaving the chaff of betrayal behind to burn, but gathering His wheat so that His message of salvation can again convert the world.