In light of the recent scandal in the Catholic diocese of Philadelphia, a horror story which I have no wish to summarize - except to say that this will be worse than Boston for the American Catholic Church. -I thought I would re-quote passages from a sermon by Bishop Thomas Gumbelton (see the full posting here), making it clear through words of wisdom that many people are 'leaving the Church' not simply as an act of personal will or revulsion in response to such scandals, but in obedience to a personal call of the Holy Spirit. The scandals, as shocking and reprehensible as they are, simply provide the catalyst - the objective, concrete support - for a powerful interior movement, leading many sincere seekers into the wilderness of faith. Many such courageous souls are carrying the 'Catholic charism' with them in their hearts, providing safe haven during a dark age. We need to ask what the Spirit is telling us about this mass exodus, and not simply view it as a sociological phenomenon - or as a flock of mindless geese scattering haphazardly during a storm. The presumption should be that the Spirit is leading many of these sincere spiritual asylum seekers, providing them with the interior guidance to discover alternative sources of spiritual nourishment outside the formal institution of the Catholic Church. What should that tell us about 'the Signs of the Times,'
(The title of this posting is an ironic reference to Irish playwright, Brian Friel's, first major success, Philadelphia Here I Come.)
That is another thing we find happening in our church today, where God seems to be leading some of us, many of us in fact, away from sort of a blind obedience to laws that were created, the human laws, even though they were created within the institution of the church. A couple weeks ago, I was part of the national meeting of the organization called SNAP, which is a Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests. Now these are people, almost all of whom have had bitter experience with the hierarchy of the church.
They can’t go into a church like this anymore; they’re too traumatized and hurt, so they have to find their own way, but for many of them, it’s a deeper faith life than they’ve ever had before. They discover God loves them, they can follow the path where God is leading them.
And, you know, there are 30 million people in this country, 10 percent of this population in the United States, who have walked away from our Catholic church, from the institution of the church, probably some in your families, but that doesn’t mean they’ve walked away from God for some of them because perhaps they’re gay or lesbian and they’ve been excluded, called disordered, and they can’t accept that. They know they’re good people so they have to walk away, but it’s God calling them, and with confident assurance and strong conviction, they go where perhaps they would rather not have gone. But they do it because they have faith.
So all of us, I think, have to keep on listening in our lives to God speaking to us deeply within our spirit and develop a relationship to God, not a relationship to a human institution, not a relationship to human laws, not intellectual assent to doctrines, but we must develop a relationship with God that will give us that confident assurance and strong conviction that when God asks us to move in some way in our life, or to accept some difficulty in our life that we would rather not, that we can go where God needs us with confidence, with joy, and with peace in our hearts.