Just when I thought it was safe to go to communion, my church is making me uncomfortable again.
Just in time for Easter the sorry legacy of pedophile priests has resurfaced. This time international attention is focused on Milwaukee and Munich, on what did the pope know and when did he know it?
Most people I know aren't so rude as to ask how I can be part of an organization that has harbored and protected predatory pedophiles. I don't have to be so polite with myself, especially after I learned, some years ago, that as I entered adolescence one such notorious priest was assigned to a parish and parish school just blocks from my home. My friends and schoolmates served him as altar boys. More than that, I can't know for sure, but there but for the grace of God ...
So I read the headlines and ask myself, "Why am I still Catholic?"
I didn't have to be. I chose to join the church for what I considered to be very good reasons ... a person ought to have very good reasons in making a decision that involves eternity. In 25 years, those reasons have been strengthened by events and experience.
It certainly wasn't a decision I made unaware. I was weaned on Martin Luther and brought up to assume the pope was up to no good. I ate meat on Friday, said my prayers in English and was greatly relieved I didn't have to spend Saturday afternoon 'fessing up to the preacher everything I'd been up to all week long. By the time I was an adult I'd read all about the Borgias, the Inquisition and Pope Joan.
It takes more than 50 pages of small type for the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church to explain what the "church" is. I prefer a somewhat abbreviated definition - the church is the people of God in this world - and at their best, the people of God are going about God's business.
I'm not one to dwell too long or seriously on the niceties of doctrine, but the Good Lord's marching orders to us on earth seem to be laid out plain enough - heal the sick; feed the hungry; clothe the naked; comfort the sorrowing. I knew well that the church wasn't perfect. Still, I'd been born in St. Marys Hospital and grown up well aware of the Church's work in the world - though at a good Lutheran arm's length.
Then I married a good Catholic girl who promised to let me sleep on Sunday morning - but who didn't bind her children to the same pledge. So, in time and with hopes of a short nap during the homily, Dad found himself a regular pew. Then the economy went sour and times got tough.
So now, again, the headlines and news photos remind us of a small number of predatory criminals who've hidden behind a Roman collar and of the bishops and cardinals and maybe even popes whose concern for institutional appearances and reputation was greater than concern for children and justice.
Those are not faces that belong to the church I know. Instead, I see Father Schaefer finding odd jobs to help a family struggling with their heating bill and promising better times to come. I see Father Connolly and Father Nelson making us welcome in a new community and seeing to it that two scared little kids were secure in a new school and even had new bikes under the Christmas tree. I remember Sister Margaret, Sister Mary Beth, Sister Mary Donald - teachers to my children, co-workers with my wife, friends to us all. I've known Father Sauer's wit; Father Breza's hearty friendship; marvelled at Father Niehaus' contagious exuberance of faith.
And with Father Colletti, I'm taking the longest, hardest journey of my life.
My church isn't found in the headlines. At its heart, it has little enough to do with politics and popes. Fallible men make bad decisions, a reminder that each of us has fallen short in "what I have done and what I have failed to do."
Perfect, the church hasn't been. Yet, within it I find the best that is within us.
So I stay, and join with all the struggling faithful, calling on God as befits his errant children, "Bless us Father, for we have sinned."