By Barb Arland-Fye
During our interview about the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, Bishop Thomas Zinkula asked if I had heard about Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron’s new book, “Letter to a Suffering Church.” The small book’s subtitle is “A bishop speaks on the sexual abuse crisis.”
Yes, I ordered the book but delivery wouldn’t happen until July. Bishop Zinkula lent me his copy, which I read this past Sunday. In my opinion, it’s a must-read for anyone who cares about the Catholic Church and even those who don’t.
Bishop Barron, the foremost Catholic evangelist of our day, writes movingly about the crisis and the reasons why we, his brothers and sisters in Christ, should stay in the church. We should fight for the church on behalf of ourselves and families but most especially for “those who have suffered grievously at the hands of wicked men,” he says.
A lifelong Catholic, a priest for 33 years and a bishop for four years, Bishop Barron writes from the heart with a deep understanding of the fragile, earthen vessels that carry the grace of Christ. That’s us!
In this 105-page book, Bishop Barron maps out his argument in five chapters: The Devil’s Masterpiece; Light from Scripture; We Have Been Here Before; Why Should We Stay?; The Way Forward; and a conclusion and prayer for a suffering church. The book is published through his Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, a nonprofit global media apostolate. All profits from the sale of the book will go to organizations that support sexual abuse victims.
Letters to a Suffering Church uplifted me because Bishop Barron shows how God remains in charge. We need to listen to and follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that we become sturdy vessels of grace to share with others. We need to hold our clergy — priests, deacons and bishops — accountable for past actions that caused the suffering to continue long after the abuse occurred.
Bishop Barron explains how the devil insinuates himself into the church, which should cause us to be more alert to the way the devil seduces men and women to cooperate with him. The bishop’s sketch of the historical perspective of the “current darkness” helps readers, like me, to see how our humanness trips up the church over and again.
Note to self: read Scripture and other faith-based writings to see how “sin, scandal, stupidity, misbehavior, misfortune and wickedness” impacted each age of the church. But also keep in mind that the grace we, the earthen vessels, have received through the sacraments moves us to endeavor to live the new life with Christ.
Bishop Barron also points out that institutional changes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops initiated in 2002 have made a substantial difference in the occurrence of clergy sexual abuse. “Numerous careful studies have revealed that instances of clergy sex abuse peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, declining steadily thereafter and precipitously after 2002, so that now the reporting of new cases is down to a trickle.” That progress does not negate the hard work that still needs to be done to ensure that abuse in the church never happens again.
Many Catholics, including some of my relatives, wonder whether it’s worth staying in the church. Bishop Barron provides a perfect explanation why. “[T]he fundamental principle remains the same: If you have found in Jesus everlasting life, salvation, the answer to the deepest longing of your heart, then no matter how difficult things become, and no matter how many of your fellows might drift away, you must stay.”
Count me in. I plan to stay with the Catholic Church and to strive to demonstrate the Good News of the Gospel through actions as well as words.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)