Bp Sebastian Adayanthrath
How can we Christians understand scandals in the Church?
This is a very interesting and poignant question since it calls for a wide answer. I was in Milan in 2014 and had the wonderful opportunity of meeting with a Cardinal who has been the secretary of Pope John XIII. He was almost 96 at that time, but good in memory and in history. He knew India very well and its capacity for evangelization.
While having a cup of tea with him I asked him an interesting question: how can Europe who has been the stronghold of Christianity abandoning its faith and faith structures. Why they have nothing to do with the Church. How come secularism is on the rise?
The Cardinal was a great guy who was quite open: he shared with me an interesting concept. He told me that the Christian faith was identified with the Church and priesthood and priests were considered the feudal Lords. The average people suffered in the hands of the feudal Lords and when they got the first chance of economic independence they threw away feudalism and along with it the Church which was seen as feudal.
Now let us come to this question: there have been scandals in the Church either in terms of money, power or sex. We are a broken people and when broken people gather together, there is sin. However no one wants to talk about it or discuss it since it would damage the image of the Church. It was not something special to Christianity, it was part of the culture. “You pray for them” that is what mother would say at home. They need our prayers and not our criticism.
However there is an increasing intolerance towards scandals whether it is in the Church or in the society. Church is part of the society and hence when the society develops symptoms of intolerance, members of the Church would adopt it and apply it to Church’s structures. Also as the Cardinal very well said it: when there have been such a silence for a long time, and when it erupts, it comes like tidal waves. We are in such a time.
It is critically important that we name our brokenness, accept it with gentleness and work alongside to alleviate the scandal.
How Important is morality in the Church?
Whenever I read the New Testament I am amazed and excited by the new morality it proposes. It was a radical way of looking at life and all its possibilities. The paradigm shift is stressed in the gospel of John: that I have come to give life and life in its fullness. Imparting life in all forms in the new ground for morality in the new testament.
Jesus knew very well that it was not easy for His disciples to follow this path: but He warned them: unless your justice exceeds that of the Sadducees and Pharisees… you will not be part of the Kingdom.
Morality in all its forms is critically important for the Church, for the Church has no existence unless it proposes a new way of being in a world which gives critical importance for being rich even at the cost of many a lives, being successful even if you disregard the needs of your brothers and sisters etc.
Church finds a new way of being and it is seen in different parts of the world and that is one of strong reasons to believe that Spirit is highly active in the Church. You can find it among social workers, among the black neighbourhood in America, among the Campesinos in Latin America, among the social activists in France for Equality, fraternity and Justice and many among the friends of the poor in Chattisghat.
Morality is the shining sliver line in the Church and many a people distinguish it by its stand for moral grounds.
How do you think Scandals are dealt in the Bible: two examples , the betrayal of Judas and the denial of faith of Peter? How are they make the Good news?
It is not easy to foster and cohesion in the body of community and at the same time to encourage the growth of each person to maturity, to inner freedom, to be creative and take initiatives. This takes a lot of trust and wisdom. It can be easier for leaders to try to keep people under control, to limit their capacity to take initiatives. However New Testament takes the route of trust and wisdom.
One of the strong reasons to believe in our faith for me is the following: when the New Testament was written, Peter must have been a great leader and spokesperson for the Church. They could have very well avoided the story of his denial saying that it will be great scandals for the followers of Jesus until the end of time. Why the evangelists included that story and why it is being repeated in our churches over and over again. No one in the right mind would do such a thing! But they did it and that is why we say, they were guided by the Holy Spirit.
The message is very clear and crystal: scandals are possible in the Church from the simple believer in the pews to the greatest leader in the Church. But the community should not be afraid of it or try to cover it. Rather, we should speak about it and say that we all are human. We are at the mercy of God. We are sinners and no one is exempt.
Judas too is seen as archetype from the New Testament. The possibility was open before him but he did not want to take that route. He took a different route. He thought about himself only. But not the ever loving mercy of God who is waiting for him as a gentle caring father just like in the Good Samaritan story.
There is always accusation of cover up. Why do you think there is cover up?
With all humility that we should acknowledge that there has been cover up. That is what the reports from various countries tell us. It is not only among us, but at different levels of the society.
One must ask the question: why such a cover up. The reason is our inner fear. We are highly frightened people. We are often worried about our good names, our status in our society and how people think of us. We would like to have good image before the people with whom we serve and we would like to think high of us.
Often we believe that a scandal or an aberration will make people to distrust us or leave us disappointed. We are not only worried about us and also the structures in which we live. We do not want anything to happen to our structures or to the image of our structures. We are presuming that we shall not enjoy the trust and confidence of the people once they know of our weakness.
It is not true: there will be disappointments and frustrations. But, they will very well accept that we are part of the same humanity. We are gullible and we can make mistakes at any time.
Cover up often does lots of damage to our systems and human beings.
What do you think about the media-attitude and the popular support for the victims in such cases?
We should in all humility accept the fact that the truth is multifaceted. Truth has different levels. Every story has various sides to it. I often find the media not making enough attempts to hear both parties and bring Truth as much as possible to the public and help them to form a rather healthy and vibrant attitude to a particular case or situation.
Our media is often too excited. They want new stories for each night. They would like to bring breaking news to excel in their rating. Such an attempt can do damage for all parties concerned let it be the predator or the victim.
Mob attitude is not always right. Mob often fails to think for themselves. They are being carried away and they might form their own opinion presuming how many are supporting a particular opinion.
We are human beings and we need respect above all things. At this juncture Church should have its healthy structures comprising of lay people, priests and religious to sort out the issues which might come up to the attention of the Church. One might say it is costly and would draw lots of energy. However only such a step would help the Church to galvanize its moral energy.We should acknowledge the mistakes when it happens, find out the details, undertake remedial steps to resolve it, without causing damage to persons, systems or society.
Augustine in his confession states “eccevulneramea non abscondo” (see my wound, I do not hide them). What does it tell the Church today?
As a young seminarian I was fascinated by the crucifix at the minor Seminary. I often wondered why the artists throughout the centuries spoke and draw a broken Christ rather than a glorified Christ. After the Vatican council some of the parishes began to put risen and glorified Christ at the front part of the Church and that did not go very far.
Brokenness is the hall mark of Christianity throughout the centuries. Broken body of Christ is the material for reflection in many of our prayers. Christianity long believed that brokenness is what brings healing to people. Jesus is called the wounded healer.
The message for our Church today is that we should not be afraid to acknowledge our own brokenness. It is in acknowledging our brokenness we come close to our savior who has been a scandal for Judeo Roman community.
We human beings are made of contradictions: part of us are attracted by the light and God and wants to care for our brothers and sisters. Another part of us want possessions, power, pleasure, domination or success. We all want to be surrounded by friends and colleagues who will ward off sadness, depression or aggression. We are so deeply divided that we will reflect equally an environment which tends towards the light and concern for others, and one which scorns these values and encourages the desires for power and pleasure. There is always a possibility of scandal and it is up to us how to handle it creatively and meaningfully so that we may grow out of it and become shining examples of witness for the Kingdom.