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Continuously reforming the church

Posted By August 30, 2011 | 11:33 am | Spiritual

By Father John Catoir
Catholic News Service

From the very beginning, the followers of Christ have been busy about the formidable task of reforming the church. It is a job that is never finished.
Heresies have blossomed down through the centuries, all aimed at finding the truth or cleaning up the mess that others have left behind.
I find it interesting that, in spite of the many doctrinal errors that have emerged over the centuries, we are still all one in Christ.
Did you know that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches clearly that all of those who adhere to Jesus Christ as Lord are considered members of the mystical body of Christ? That means that all Protestants are our true brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what the specific differences of our belief systems.
One of the outstanding Protestant reformers of the 16th century was John Knox, the Scottish Presbyterian. He roared his objection against the Catholic bishops for their widespread abuse of authority. He taught his followers to rely on their own consciences and not on the hierarchy for their guidance.
History tells us that chief among the many ecclesiastical abuses of those times was the practice of kings appointing bishops, who, very often, were relatives.
This gradually led to an era where many bishops and archbishops were merely self-indulgent figureheads, entirely lacking in faith. And the popes seemed to be more political than spiritual; and some of them had concubines and children. In a few cases they made their sons cardinals of the church.
When Knox declared that, henceforth, individual conscience would be the supreme authority of his church, he established a precedent that departed from the practice initiated by Jesus.
Jesus made the apostles the first generation of bishops. Most of them proclaimed themselves sinners; they even had one traitor among them, so they weren’t perfect human beings. In fact they were martyred for the faith, proving to be men of wisdom and strength.
By eliminating bishops from his church, Knox did not solve the problem of corruption in high places. Nevertheless, I admire his sincerity and fortitude, even though his actions divided the church.
What a contradiction — this practice of continually dividing the church in order to purify it!
There are now more than 40,000 Christian denominations in the world.
Where will it end?
There is something to be said for righteous indignation. Wasn’t Jesus outraged over the abuses by those in religious authority in his own day? His very rebuke of these local leaders led to his own suffering and death. Because of that, something deep within me makes me think that Jesus has a soft spot in his heart for John Knox, all things considered.
What of todayís church?
Today, we find bishops reeling from attacks by their own people, who are furious over the recent pedophilia epidemic, which has disgraced the church. The very idea that spiritual leaders could try to cover up such scandalous behavior while children were left unprotected and abused sexually is reprehensible and criminal.
We must carry on with determination that the abuse doesnít happen again. Catholics will be deciding for themselves how to cope with the scandal.
The best advice that I can give is found in an old axiom: ìUnity in necessary things, freedom in doubtful things, charity in all things.î
Jesus called us all to forgiveness!