Why stay in the Church?

I was talking to a friend recently about the Church and the latest scandals. The Vatican trial of Cardinal Becciu, who is charged with wasting $412 million on a botched property deal. And the reaction to Pope Francis’ motu proprio “Traditionis Custodes”, limiting the use of the Tridentine Rite (which has brought an aggressive division in the Church and nasty opposition to the Pope to the surface). My friend asked: “Why stay in the Church?” This is a good question.

When you feel disillusioned with many things the Church can be accused of (colonialism, racism, the lack of transparency, poor leadership, the abuse of and compromising with power and money, sexual abuse of children and the hampering of women’s rights, to name a few) you might well ponder “Why do I stay?” The question rolled around in my head for a while. 

I then came across a column written by Ronald Rolheiser OMI, who, interestingly, asks the same question. He articulates an answer well.

He begins by suggesting we stay in the Church because this is not unique to the Church. Many of the countries we live in – or the groups we belong to – can have the same charges levelled at them. He asks if it is not morally selective to feel ashamed with the Church want to leave when we continue to belong to groups or live-in countries that can be accused of the same sins.   

Rolheiser then goes on to suggest three other reasons. He says that, first, the Church is our mother tongue. It gave us faith, taught us about God, offers us the sacraments, taught us about virtue and put us in contact with living saints. 

Second, he says that the Church’s history is not univocal. While the Church is riddled with sin and has admitted that, it is not the end of the story nor the Church’s reality. The Church is also the Church of saints and martyrs that has improved the lives of millions of people through schools, hospitals and other important infrastructure and charity. Rolheiser says that this shows the Church stands in “the darkness of its sins; but I also stand in the light of its grace, of all the good things it has done in history.”

Third, and important for Rolheiser, is that “the Church is all we have got”. He says that we realise our need for a religious community even if we do not want to admit it. He says that to say we do not need an impure religious community is an escape and a self-serving exit which is not helpful. Why? Because, he says, that for compassion to be effective, it needs to be collective. When we dream alone, it remains a dream. When we dream with others, it becomes a reality. “I cannot see anything outside the church that can save this world,” he writes. 

There is no pure Church. There is no pure country, organisation or group. If we accept this, then we willingly accept that none of us is pure, faultless or sinless. By staying in the Church, we really say: I recognise that I am weak and sinful and the Church is made up of people like me. 

The Church is a mirror of me, a mixture of weeds and wheat. That is where, at the end of the day, individually and corporately, we really know our God.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

director@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
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1 Comment
  • Mitzi Andersen
    Posted at 11:59h, 13 Aug

    Thank you for these comments, Fr Russell. They will always be relevant and we will need regular reminders of their relevance.

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