A New Beginning


Many American Catholics are worried that the crisis brought about by the revelations of sexual abuse of minors by priests has wounded the credibility of the Church. Credibility, after all, is essential to the Church’s mission. The very word shows it: credibility comes from credo, “I believe.” I believe what is credible. Credibility appeals to experience, to the correspondence with the defining desires of the human heart. Credibility appeals to rationality. Faith is compatible with the demands of rationality; otherwise, it degenerates into fideism. A loss of credibility will bring about a weakening or loss of faith. An attack on the credibility of the Church has to be taken seriously. Solutions to the “problem” are being proposed: a strict “policing” of priests and bishops, the elimination of celibacy, the ordination of women, protection from homosexuals, greater emphasis on traditional moral teachings, etc. Will all of this really take care of the problem and overcome the credibility crisis? These apparent solutions assume that the presence of sin in the life of the Church can be neatly separated from the holiness that comes to us through her life. It attributes what happened to a human, sinful element within the Church, protecting thus what is of divine origin. But it is not possible to separate the two so easily. The Church, like the Incarnation, is precisely about the presence of the divine through the human, and of the human through the divine. This is the mystery of Christ, of which the Church is the fruit. The mystery of the Church cannot be separated from the mystery of Christ for otherwise He becomes an abstraction, an inspiring model for life whose memory recedes into the past and can only be kept alive by emotional binges, a frightened traditionalism, or an uncritical fundamentalism. These empty the Gospel of its bold provocation about the ever-present newness of Christ’s claim. Instead of trying to “clean out” what comes from human sinfulness in the Church, the only way to respond adequately to this crisis is to recognize the presence of Christ through it. This means that we must retrieve that experience of wonder that characterizes that encounter with Christ that is at the beginning of the mystery of the Church and without which Christian morality degenerates into moralism. It is a matter of that new beginning to which the “new evangelization” calls us. According to Fr Giussani, this new beginning “does not mean something new that we do, something that we invent. The new beginning is the replication of a Presence. It is a Presence that imposes itself and touches us. What has to happen so that the new encounter can be a new encounter is that we become what we were. What were we? Nothing.” In another period of corruption and crisis in the Church, the Lord said to St Francis of Assisi, “Rebuild my Church.” Why was this mission given to St Francis? Because he had made himself nothing, because by embracing absolute poverty he could experience the encounter with absolute gratuitousness. The new beginning is the possibility of the experience of reaffirming this absolute gratuitousness. The present scandal was brought about by a betrayal of the nothingness of celibacy, of virginity for this kingdom. The vow of celibacy makes no sense outside the nothingness that is the human condition before pure grace. Without it, celibacy can only be upheld by a self-discipline sustained by repression or fear. It is inhuman to live this way. But when sustained by an experience of this nothingness before grace, virginity for the kingdom is an affirmation of the truth of our humanity. To affirm our nothingness is not to put ourselves down. On the contrary, it is to affirm the greatness of human life as open to grace, to the gift of divine life, to an unimaginable fruitfulness for all the human efforts to be what we can be. Credibility can only be restored by embracing again this nothingness characteristic not only of the vocation to virginity, but of the total vocation of the entire Church, of Christian life itself.