Ever since the Feb. 10 release of the Philadelphia grand jury report, the local and national news media have shined a bright light on the sexual abuse scandal here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Last Friday night’s penitential service led by Cardinal Rigali at the Cathedral placed the still-raw feelings of pain and mistrust in the context of the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
Close to 100 Catholics, including some protestors, came to Center City on a Friday night. Those in the Cathedral prayed together the Stations of the Cross and reflected on the word of God in the Scriptures. That in itself was a remarkable testimony to faith.
Afterward most participants voiced in their comments to media an echo of the sentiments of their brothers and sisters in parishes throughout the Archdiocese in the five weeks since the scandal broke into the open: Catholics’ faith in Jesus Christ is strong.
Despite all that has come to light about child sexual abuse and other improper behavior by some clergy and Church personnel, and amidst all the charges by civil prosecutors and efforts by Church leaders to respond, people still believe in the Lord. They still want to live out their faith in His Church.
The faith of the people the scandal affects most – the victims of abuse, the faithful priests ministering in the Archdiocese and the rank and file Catholics living their faith every day in their parishes – shows the resilience of a house built on rock.
Even as they confess that their faith in Church leadership is shaken, their faith in God remains solid.
As in the catastrophe unfolding in Japan, scientists and news commentators describe the earthquake, the resulting tsunami and all the events in their aftermath.
Perhaps the bigger story now is the resilience of the people. They deal with their situation as best they can without degenerating into chaos, aiding fellow citizens in their hour of need.
It is a dark hour in the Church of Philadelphia, too. But the love of Christ in the Eucharist, support for the good priests serving in the Archdiocese and compassion for victims of abuse have rarely been expressed as fully by the faithful people of God as now.
Some Catholics may lapse in the practice of their faith. The command of Jesus to St. Peter at the last supper to “strengthen your brothers (and sisters)” applies today to everyone who, despite the current scandal, still believes in the Lord.