The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Is the Church finished?

posted by jmcgee

Ross Douthat has some thoughts on that question:

The Church has been horrifyingly corrupt in previous eras and still survived. It’s been led by ecclesiastics who make Bernard Law’s hands look clean, and still survived. It’s faced fiercer enemies than Richard Dawkins (think Nero, or Attila, or Voltaire) and still survived. Time after time, G. K. Chesterton wrote, “the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs.” Each time, “it was the dog that died.”

But if the Church isn’t finished, period, it can still be finished for certain people, in certain contexts, in certain times. And so it is in this case: for millions in Europe and America, Catholicism is probably permanently associated with sexual scandal, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as in many previous dark chapters in the Church’s history, the leaders entrusted with that gospel have nobody to blame but themselves.

I suspect, sadly, that he’s right.

Comments read comments(22)
post a comment

posted July 7, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Perhaps the better question is “How many of us are finished”, at least spiritually. Why anyone would risk their salvation because of the sins of man is beyond my comprehension, especially having witness to the betrayal of Jesus Christ by his own apostles.
One thing is for sure, “we” will all be finished long before the Catholic Church. I don’t know about anyone else, but I often spend time in thought about the day I stand, alone, in judgment before Jesus Christ, immersed in Truth Itself. Somehow I don’t think the “Sins of Others” defense is going to fly.
We have all that we need to live holy lives. The sad truth is, most of us don’t want to.
And as the saying goes: “The Darker it gets, the greater the stars shine.” Father Corapi often preaches that the greatest saints come from the darkest trials, especially at the end (whatever “end” this may be), but likely, Catholicism in the Western World.
I think it’s a really good idea to keep this in perspective of being a “Western” crisis far more than an overall “Catholic Church” crisis.

report abuse

Holly Hansen

posted July 7, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Can these dry bones live? I think they can. However I don’t believe that Pope Benedict’s “head for the bunkers” Catholic Church is the future. To be true to the Gospel the church must relearn humility, rethink it’s priorities, renounce the desire for political power and practice what it preaches.

report abuse


posted July 7, 2010 at 5:21 pm

There isn’t always going to be a church. Take for example the Churches Paul founded in Asia minor. Now, they are non-existant. Even the Churches that were once flourishing in Asia Minor during the Roman persecutions are now non-existant as well. The same thing will happen to us and in Europe. Not even Rome will always have a Church! Think about it.

report abuse


posted July 7, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Longevity is not in and of itself something to boast about, or to hold up as evidence that the church must be good because it is long-lived. The Roman Empire, malaria and and the Yakuza have all enjoyed long runs too. The church as it has existed for centuries, as an organization which commanded blind uncritical deference in the West is, indeed over. People have figured out, or finally been forced to admit to themselves, that it is an organization that worships nothing but power and privilege at its highest levels. Could that change? Of course, but I won’t hold my breath. Nor will it simply be able to move its road show to Africa and Latin America to do business as usual. Those folks may be uneducated and fervent, but they’re not stupid.

report abuse


posted July 7, 2010 at 5:23 pm

“Even the Churches that were once flourishing in Asia Minor during the Roman persecutions are now non-existant as well.”
I meant Northern Africa.

report abuse


posted July 7, 2010 at 5:54 pm

It’s time for another Council. We’ve thrown open the windows of the Church, as Pope John XXIII wanted. Now it’s time to hold a council to address the crimes of the clergy and take the pulse of where the Church stands in the world and other religions. Almost 50 years ago, the Church decided to listen to the world. Now we need to listen to ourselves.
Unlike Trent’s string of anathemas, the Church will hopefully phrase its self-reflection in positive terms. In order to move from the abuse and bolster the Church in the global north, the church needs to clarify its relationship with society without dogmatism and secrecy. Transparency with a strong identity should be the new goal. It’s a bold task, but I think the Church (both the institutional Church and the Body of Christ) is up for it.

report abuse

Ron Ronnix

posted July 7, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Correction right off the top: “The [ROMAN CATHOLIC] Church has been horrifyingly corrupt in previous eras . . .” The RCC is comprised of the Pharisees of our day. Jesus Christ wore a crown of thorns. The pope wears a triple-tiered crown of gold, encrusted with diamonds. As different as night and day.

report abuse

Dcn Scott

posted July 7, 2010 at 6:19 pm

“The pope wears a triple-tiered crown of gold, encrusted with diamonds. As different as night and day.”
The triple-tiered crown, to which Ron refers, while worn by popes for several centuries, was retired by Paul VI, who was the last pope to have anything like a coronation. Not only was this not essential to the papacy, it was detrimental. Nonetheless, the history of the papacy cannot be reduced and simplified like that given the historical circumstances that led to the papacy taking on a governmental function, as did many bishops after the collapse of the empire in Western Europe.

report abuse

Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted July 7, 2010 at 6:33 pm

In reading the whole short article I saw all the things listed many Catholics say must be done to save the Church. I saw neither there nor here in comments what will really save the Church–saints. As in St. Athanasius against the Arians, St. Francis purifying the Church by example, St. Ignatius at the Counter-Reformation, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila.–to name a few the public have heard of.
What will save the Church will be a few saints that will become well-known–and tens of thousands who will never be heard of. They will be saints who will FIRST work at making themselves holy through the sacraments, through living the Bible,through prayer, through love of the Church and her people and all others. And through a re-birth of asceticism without which we have become easy prey for every sin and moral abomination Satan can conceive.
We need a new era of The Desert Fathers and Mothers. Reading histories of these holy people and their era one realizes they came from a community rooted in sacrifice and a desire to live the Faith.

report abuse


posted July 7, 2010 at 6:33 pm

I have no doubt that the Church founded by Christ will be around until the end of time. Jesus promised that nothing will prevail against it. There may be fewer Catholics, fewer parishes, fewer churches, but the Church is not finished.
Many “catholics” of today are in name only.

report abuse

Peter Brown

posted July 7, 2010 at 6:35 pm

I have to admit that my reaction to Douthat’s essay was pretty much, “This is news?” Millions of people in Europe and American have associated the Church primarily with *something* bad, rather than with the gospel of Jesus Christ, for at least a century-plus. Sometimes (as with this scandal) the charges have their root in something very real; sometimes not. But there’s always something.
Which isn’t to deny that the Holy Father’s call to repentance is well-taken. The Church will best handle this by grasping the opportunity to be more fully the Church, not by PR exercises (at which we clearly stink) or by playing according to the rules of secular governments or secular media. When confronted with sin, Christians are *supposed* to repent and seek reconciliation–behavior that, incidentally, would be suicidal if power were the Church’s central objective. But it isn’t, not properly; the Church’s central objective is proclaiming Jesus Christ and living accordingly. To the extent that we do that–to the extent that we even struggle to do that–the folks whom God gives ears to hear will hear, whether or not we’re “finished.”

report abuse

Jerald Franklin Archer

posted July 7, 2010 at 7:34 pm

There are always going to be people that occupy certain positions that would be better if they did not. The actions of a few can harm the whole. The recent incidents fuel anti-Catholic sentiment, but really will produce nothing but a stronger Church in the end. It is like being a passenger on a slightly leaky ship–some passengers will panic where panic is unnecessary. They will flee the ship through fear. Others will stay and attempt to fix the leak. At the end of the journey, when the ship is safely in harbor, the faithful shipmates enjoy the fruits of their faith and work, while the ones who abandoned, are still adrift at sea.
I have always said that if anyone was to ever believed that the Church is done, on Her way out, or is soon to cease to exist, is making Christ out to be a liar. Not surprising, many who say this don’t believe in Christ (even though they preach Him) but are placing their faith in the persons within the instutions themselves. I have always noticed as well, that often where you read about the corruption in the Church, both real and imagined, one always fails to cite secular industries or institutions. There is no mystery of why that happens. It is much more interesting, for some individuals, to read about corruption in the Church, than to read about the lives of a saint. Sad, but true, and this is the very quality that separates the sacred from the secular mind.
Imperfect people make up the Church, and the incidents are nothing new. The Church is working to clean up what She can, but the faithful must be an integral part of the process. I feel confident that I will not be window shopping for a new denomination or sect any time soon, even if that were an option, which is is not. One will be eternally grateful that they did not abandon the ship when it all comes to the final voyage and destination to which they are heading. But one only knows where they are going, first by choice, and with the use of a clear and updated map.

report abuse

Dana MacKenzie

posted July 7, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Saw this a few days ago, and though I am a fan of Douthat’s I think he’s being a bit narrow in his outlook. The church of Ephesus was “finished” but that didn’t mean gone.

report abuse


posted July 7, 2010 at 8:49 pm

for 100 of years the Mason been trying to break the Church that Christ himself started, and that wont happen, he comming back, and make it new. The Mason is the ones who is pushing for the One World Order.

report abuse


posted July 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm

I think you nailed it Dcn. John; we need saints!
Regardless of how corrupt the “members” become, we still have 7 beautiful sacraments and a “priest-proof” Holy Mass.
As Bishop Sheen would say, “This is a great time to be a Catholic, to stand up and be counted, to swim “upstream” against the current.
Dark times make the greatest saints.
Ron I wouldn’t be so quick to condemn the Pope, especially until or if you’ve seen his “invisible crowm of thorns”, partially made of comments and misjudgments like yours.

report abuse

R Plavo

posted July 7, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Anyone care to guess how many teens and twenty-somethings they see at Sunday Mass?

report abuse

Jerald Franklin Archer

posted July 8, 2010 at 1:11 am

—Anyone care to guess how many teens and twenty-somethings they see at Sunday Mass?–
That is a good question.
At my parish, we have more younger people attending the traditional Latin Mass than the New Mass it seems to me. I would estimate that it could be about 10 or 20%, but I can really only say that the presence is surprisingly noticeable. They often say they find it more reverent and the music (Gregorian Chants and organ only, many are in the choir) is very uplifting. I see the young ladies wearing their veils and young men dress presentably. The predominate of parishioners are mostly young families. I learned many older parishioners returned when the TLM was brought back. We have it available every day.
As for the younger parishioners’ interest (they really know why they assist at the Sacrifice of Holy Mass), the reason seems to be that they are unfulfilled with the Nuevo Ordo in many ways. They sense a great reverence at the TLM that they say is often lacking in the “protestantanized” versions of the Nuevo Ordo in some parishes today. Even though we do not allow dancing and guitars or communion in the hand, present at other parish NO Masses, there are no complaints. As that is another whole discussion, it is more realistic to say that as many young people search for spiritual fulfillment, they seem to be attracted to the Catholic Church in general, so that is a good sign. They make great evangelists, which in turn produce converts. The Latin is a challenge that many young persons love to take and will often be able to read and speak it very well in a short time. They probably have it in high school, so they have a head start there already!
As an older person, I can’t keep up with what younger persons find “cool” today (I gave my age away there), but where some teens and twenty-somethings tend to “run where the wind” will take them, the young parishioners I have encountered or observed seem to pride themselves in really knowing their faith, respecting the Holy Eucharist, praying the Rosary and practice reserve in what is considered proper in an age where sanctity is often confused with having a social gathering of some sort.

report abuse


posted July 8, 2010 at 8:15 am

What’s going on is a cleansing. That is always good. The corrupt dies, but the Love of Christ lives on forever. Christ’s sheep know His voice and He knows His children and will never let them go. This is the Church that will never die. Let the old and ugly die and fade away making room for the new beautiful blossoms.

report abuse


posted July 8, 2010 at 8:51 am

Well said Judi! Pope Benedict has long warned that we needed a “Smaller, stronger Church”, subsequently, to grow back strong again.
It’s time for the next big purge and purify, but of course, not without the help of great saints (at least “saints in the making”).

report abuse


posted July 8, 2010 at 10:35 am

Being a lapsed Catholic myself, I won’t dare to speak for anyone but myself here; but it seems to me that the whole abuse scandal is the result of a lack of integrity on the part of the Catholic Church.
I’ve been aware that there’s been a tendency to “shuffle” suspect priests for quite a few decades now (well before the current scandal “erupted”); and while I can appreciate the desire to keep one’s fellows out of legal trouble (and that the decline in the number of priests can be used as an excuse), the entire exercise (in my view) appears to violate Christ’s teaching as found in Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, and Luke 20:25. If “render unto Caesar” is a demand that we must live in the “real world” (and I believe it is), then I assert that integrity demands that the proper response to an accusation of unlawful behavior would be a full admission (*if* the accusation is valid) and acceptance of the legal consequences.
Further, if a priest (or nun, or whatever) is sentenced to jail as a result of his or her behavior, I would suggest that the proper response of the church would not be excommunication, but rather a direction to minister to the convicted person’s fellow prisoners. I don’t feel it’s appropriate for a community based on love and forgiveness to turn its back on one of its own; far better for the community to have the convicted face his or her errors (and share them and his or her experiences of the consequences) as part of the path towards redemption, both for themselves and the community as a whole.
Having said that, I feel the answer to Deacon Kandra’s question may well be “it doesn’t matter.” I would assert that the Almighty’s interest is not in any institution, but rather individual persons, who may or may not be associated with the institution. The human need for spiritual connection is still as strong today as it was during Christ’s ministry, and if the current incarnation of the Church is not able to touch the heart of the individual, then another incarnation that is so able must, and will, develop.

report abuse


posted July 8, 2010 at 10:54 am

I grew up in a mostly Catholic neiborhood, went to a Catholic HS and I am married to a Catholic – my second marriage. Even though I am not Catholic, lay Catholics, nuns, Brothers and Priests have always treated me fairly, honestly and behaved with the highest standards of ethics and morality. While they may not become Saints, they have lived their faith in their words and actions and inspired many of us to try and be like them.
My Grandfather taught me that trying to live a life of honesty, honor and integrity within Biblical standards of ethics and morality will in the long run prove to be the best path for me (and any individual) and for the world. I think the world either cannot or will not see that even though the “average Catholic” in America is trying to live their faith in an environment that is anti-Catholic, anti-Priest, anti-religion and promotes that old saw “situational ethics”, the average Catholic individual and family are doing a pretty good job.
As a Jew, I know I am very safe living among Catholics who live their religion. They provide a safe and nurturing environment that encourages moral and ethical behavior – for all. And, they provide good role models for me to try and live up to.
My thinking for Catholics is keep your chin up, keep living your faith (and I see it can be REALLY tough), work to overcome the roadblocks and in the long run the only possible outcome is the principles you are living – faith, honesty, honor,integrity, ethical and moral behavior and more – will be victorious. The practical effect of your words and actions are that the Catholic Church will have more solid, honorable Priests, more people in the religious life, more lay Catholics who are admired by the other good, honorable people and much more positive influence by Catholics and the Catholic Church on this world. And, this world needs that.

report abuse

MD Catholic

posted July 8, 2010 at 1:18 pm

LJ, well put!

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

This blog is no longer active
This blog is no longer being actively updated. Please feel free to browse the archives or: Read our most popular inspiration blog See our most popular inspirational video Take our most popular quiz

posted 10:42:40pm Dec. 12, 2010 | read full post »

One day more
A reminder: "The Deacon's Bench" is closed! Please enjoy the archives!

posted 11:26:20pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Meet Montana's married priest
Earlier this week, I posted an item about Montana getting its first married priest. Now a local TV station has hopped on the bandwagon. Take a look, below.

posted 10:29:55pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Big day in the Big Easy: 10 new deacons
Deacon Mike Talbot has the scoop: 10 men today were ordained as Permanent Deacons for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. This group of men was formally selected on the day the evacuation of New Orleans began as Hurricane Katrina approached. The immediate aftermath of the storm for this class would be

posted 6:55:42pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Gaudete! And let's break out a carol or two...
"Gesu Bambino," anyone? This is one of my favorites, and nobody does it better than these gals: Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Staade. Enjoy.

posted 1:04:10pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.