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I’m like most. The latest wave of revelations about clerical sexual abuse demoralizes me. I’m not wavering in my conviction that the one true and apostolic communion of the saints subsists in the Catholic Church. I think of what St Paul says: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

In a newly published reflection on the recent scandals, “ Bible and Sin: The Church as Israel ”, Gary Anderson, a First Things stalwart, gives an especially rich biblical rationale for our ongoing faith in a sin-stained Church, reminding us that the people of Israel were hardly spotless—the Old Testament records many episodes of faithlessness and idolatry. Yet God’s election of Israel is more powerful than human sinfulness, and from the root of Jesse was Jesus born.

So, yes, our church leaders sin. “As St. Augustine well knew,” Anderson writes, “when God called the church into being, he did not alter the moral DNA we share with the rest of the human race.” There is much to weep over and repent of, but we need not despair. For, as Anderson observes, again following St. Augustine, “What is divine about the church is not the moral character of its office holders but the eternal promise that God has bestowed upon it.”

The transcendent power belongs to God, not us, and therefore our sins cannot corrupt or destroy or stymie the treasure he has given to us in Christ. Good news that.

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