Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare′a Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. – St. Matthew 16:13-20 (RSVCE)
For the past almost twenty years, the Catholic Church has been engulfed in the sexual abuse scandal and crisis and he revelations of abuse commited by priests, and now, Bishops and Cardinals. Crimes committed by men that have been covered up and hidden for years are finally coming to light and being revealed after the past two years following the McCarrick scandal and Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Many have left the Church over these scandals. How could Catholicism be true if all this abuse and corruption and immorality happen? I remain a Catholic, a convert at that in 2016, in spite of everything and still believe it is the true Church because of one reason: Jesus Christ said so.
G.K. Chesterton once said, “The difficulty explaining why I am Catholic is that there are 10,000 reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true”. Catholicism is true because Jesus Christ says it is. When Jesus gives Peter the keys, He is giving Peter his own authority. Christ as Savior, as the sole Redeemer, alone decides who enters Heaven. As the Word made flesh He alone interprets the Scriptures to their fullest meaning, being that it was He who wrote them through the Holy Spirit. As the Lord He is supreme and eternal King over His kingdom and over all the world. And He gives His authority to proclaim and bring His redemption to a fallen world, He gives His authority to interpret and define Scripture, and He gives His authority to rule to one man: Peter.
In the Gospel, it is Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, who proclaims and identifies Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth, a carpenter and teacher, as the Messiah, the Anointed King and Son of God Himself. Before this Jesus asked who people said He was. Now, of course, He already knew. And what do the Apostles say? They answer John the Baptist. They answer Elijah. They answer a prophet. But Peter, like he usually does, takes it one step further. Peter says, “You are He. You are the Messiah, You are the Christ, You are the Savior, You are the Son of God”. And what does Jesus do? He affirms Peter’s boldness and his witness, knowing that it was the Holy Spirit Who allowed Peter to know this and proclaim it. After this, Jesus does something that, any Jewish reader would have recognized: he changed Peter’s name from Simon to Peter. This is the significance of a deeper role and higher calling for Peter than just “one of the twelve”. Jesus then gives Peter the very keys of the kingdom of Heaven and tells him, ‘..whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. WOW! Now THAT is authority! And it gets even better, because right before giving Peter this authority, Jesus tells him that He would build His own Church upon Peter. And not only that, but Jesus establishes a divine commitment and promise and tells him, “and the powers of death shall not prevail against it”. The NASB translation has it, “and the gates of Hades will not overpower it”. THAT right there! THAT is the promise that Jesus makes. Jesus promises that Hades, Hell itself, will not be able to overcome the Church. So if Hell can’t, how does man have any chance? Now, does this mean that the men who lead the Church will always be completely perfect? If the precedant is any indication, that’s a big fat, “No”!
Right after Peter proclaims Jesus as Messiah, Peter sticks his foot in his mouth in Matthew 16:22 by objecting to Jesus telling the Apostles about His coming suffering, death, and Resurrection. Jesus, in verse 23, says to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s”. That’s, in a word: yikes! Peter goes from proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God to getting called a stumbling block to Christ. Yes, the first Pope was called a stumbling block to Jesus BY Jesus Himself.
When Jesus was arrested, the Apostles abandoned Him and fled (read: the Bishops abandoned Him and fled). St. John alone accompanied Him to the Cross. But what did Peter do? Peter followed at a distance and, while Jesus was being tried by the Sanadrein, denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted. Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, the Leader of the Church, the first Pope, betrayed Christ. Not to mention that Judas, who was also an Apostle and Bishop, betrayed Christ and handed Him over to death (I won’t get into the whole Judas redemption debate here).
The Middle Ages and Rennisaunce periods of the Church were frought with corruption, debauchary, simony, adultury, murder, and sins known only to God alone. At the height of Church corruption sat Rodrigo Borja, also known as Pope Alexander VI who reigned from August 11, 1492 till August 18th, 1503. As Cardinal Archbishop of Valencia and Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, he participated in the Conclave of 1492 following the death of Pope Innocent VIII and was elected on the fourth ballot, not without the charge of simony against his fellow Cardinals. Borgia was the father of multiple illegitimate children (4 were legitimized) and was called a, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “corrupt, worldly, and ambitious Pope, whose neglect of the spiritual inheritance of the church contributed to the development of the Protestant Reformation”.
So if people think that they can’t be Catholic anymore because the Church is corrupt, I got news for ya: there has always been corruption and scandal in the Church and there will be until Christ comes again. Yes, the Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic as the Mystical Body of Christ, but the members that make up that body are all sinners. Just because her members debate and fight over orthodoxy and heresy, does not make the Church less one, because the eternal teaching of God through Christ given to the Church does not change. Just because her members commit the most vile and disgusting of sins with the greatest contempt for Christ, the Church, and others, does not mean that the Church is not Holy, for Christ Himself, the Head, is holy and brought it forth by the water and Blood that flowed forth from His side on the Cross as He died for it and gave it birth and confirmed in fire by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost as a divine institution. Just because her members have different traditions and cultures and argue with each other does not make the Church less Catholic, because the Church gathers into her fold from all corners of the world, all cultures, race’s, ages to unite into the oneness that is the Catholic Church. And just because the Church had, has, and will have Bishops that don’t always do the right thing does not mean that the Church is not Apostolic, for all but one Apostle went to the Cross with Christ. In fact, we can look at this current scandal and corruption of the abuse cover up in view of the Cross. Judas, the traitor, represents the Bishops who committed acts of abuse and who aided in the coverup of abusive priests and bishops. The other 10 Apostles, who ran from the Cross are the ones who admit their guilt, that they ran and did not do enough, who came out with their statements of sorrow and apology. They feared the Cross. But then, there is St. John, who went to the Cross, who knelt there and looked upon Christ suffering in agony. He was brave. He represents the Bishops who, once this scandal struck, bravely went to the Cross, joined the flock in their outrage and suffering and stood with them. These are the ones who took immediate action because they knew what needed to be done. So, what do we need to do?
St. Boniface said, “In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course”. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen said that it is up to the laity to save the Church because our bishops, priests, and religious won’t. We must aid them in keeping the Church on her course towards the eternal shore of Heaven and not lose any crew to the icy waters along the way. We must all be one and act as one in harmony, truth, and love with each other. Then, and only then, can we get the Church back on course and out of the waters of scandal, abuse, and corruption. Because, as Bishop Robert Barron said, “The Church is not an organization, it’s an organism”. And as such, organisms grow and mature, just like every one of us. We are called to grow in grace and in life with Christ. We are called to become like Christ and live in His love for us and give that love to others. C.S. Lewis said, “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose”. If we forget this, or if we make this to just be some novelty, or fanciful and unrealistic ideal, then we are lost and the Church is lost. Christ is everything to us and right now His mystical body is hurting and we are hurting. And the only medicine to heal the hurt is to stand up and face this corruption and abuse and evil head on and fight, not from without and against the Church, but from within and for the Church, to cleanse and purify her that she may continue to sail to that lighthouse which is Christ on the sands of Heaven’s bright shore. In a 2009 interview, His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Comastri, Vicar General of His Holiness for Vatican City and Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, said, “The Church lives on. Not because of the strength of men, or the intelligence of men, or the wealth of the Church. The Church lives on because of a divine guarantee”. That divine guarantee is from Christ, God in the flesh, Who promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail. And they won’t. That is my hope, that is my faith, that is my blessed assurance. Because God said so, and that’s good enough for me. Viva Christo Rey. Viva Iglesia Catolica.