Four years ago I pleaded with the princes of the Church, asking them not to change Catholic doctrine on communion for the divorced and remarried without annulment. I did something I don't often do: I offered up my shame, the sins of my youth, and the state of my spiritual and physical life as a witness to the mighty and unmerited grace of God. I opened up my private life—which cost me much—for the Church's benefit.
I do so again during this perilous time when sin crouches at the door seeking to devour us.
I am a convert who obeyed St. John Paul II's exhortation in Familiaris Consortio to live as brother and sister during the annulment process until my husband and I entered into full communion with the Church, at which time She—the Church through her faithful priest—convalidated our marriage. So precious was the Lord, the faith, and the Church that I counted it as nothing to set aside the love of the man I considered husband for years. Is it because I am especially holy? As St. Paul says, I do not even judge myself. I leave it to God. I am not called to measure my holiness; I am called to faithfulness in all things.
If I, a poor laywoman, can obey the Lord, can you not also do so, O princes of Christ's Church? I pose this question not only to those who have sins of commission—in fact, primarily not you, for I am not strong enough to take on what dwells in you—but I set it before you all: priests, bishops, cardinals, shepherds, even those of you who dare water down the faith to assuage your consciences—or in the name of presenting a softer church to those you presume would be persuaded by such.
My plea is not a reminder of your vows to chastity. That would be too modest, and those of you who are reading now might not need that reminder anyway. My plea is this: Defend this Church; defend the bride of Christ. Militate against this cancer in your midst. Do not fear placing the Lord's zeal for righteousness and justice above your closest fraternal connections. Subjugate your pride, your comfort, and your livelihood to the cause of protecting God's people and the souls of so many more who are watching your actions.
You are being judged. You are being judged with the wisdom and clarity and purity (and mercy!) of the omniscient God, and you are being judged with the fallible, selfish, and skeptical faculties of your sheep and the souls of many presently outside the Church. You have an obligation to act for the sake of eternal souls.
Fathers, help us. Banish Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the earth from your ranks. Some of you might be tainted by association with or knowledge of the events that have come to light or other events not yet made public. Some of you might feel a sense of shame, or you might be tempted to think that humility should prevent you from acting with strength and righteous judgment in response to what you know about your fellow priests.
Do not let Satan tempt you to hide crimes against the souls you have been entrusted to protect. God's forgiveness is real and absolute. He forgives the embezzler, but no one who knows that embezzler employs him near a cashbox again, nor does a righteous man recommend him to that task elsewhere. Build fortifications for this Church, expel those you must, sequester those you can, and be truthful with your sheep.
Again, as a sheep and as a convert, let me make this plea: Do not be tempted to change or soft-pedal doctrine in response to this crisis. The root of the crisis is neither the celibate priesthood nor the traditional moral teaching of the Church—it is grotesque sexual immorality without any accountability. We hear that some want to change Church teaching regarding the disorderliness of homosexuality, of communion for the divorced and remarried without annulment, communion for non-Catholics, and so on. Is the wickedness in your midst not enough, that you would add heresy to your sacrilege?
There are many faithful and trustworthy bishops and priests; I'm graced to know some. My last plea is to them: Heed your responsibility before God. Do you not know that you corrupt yourselves by your silence? Like the prophets of old, I pray you to lament and repent with corporeal acts of penance. Cast out the evil-doing from your midst. Those prophets wondered at times that the Lord's chastisements upon his people came through evil nations like the Assyrians and the Chaldeans.
This is the way of God: If his people do not relent of their wickedness he will bring powerful unbelievers to plunder them. Already there are serious faithful Catholics pondering or even encouraging a RICO prosecution of members of the Church hierarchy. This could in all probability leave the Catholic Church in America destitute. The fact that any of your sheep nevertheless would call for it should show how important purity is to the faithful. Be fervent in protecting us, purging the wickedness from our midst, and demonstrating to us that the Church can be in deed what it is in word without changing the word. Our trust is injured, so your demonstration of this will have to be expansive, even penitential, but it is in your calling as keepers of the keys and shepherds of the flock.
I regret nothing about my conversion. And I look forward to such a purging, that the remnant Church emerges from her chastisement pure and faithful, clinging to her Lord with devotion.
Luma Simms is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Photo by Justin Brendel.