The LA Times ran a front page piece by William Lobdell, their religion writer, about how he lost his religion. He was in the process of converting to Catholicism when he began covering the sexual abuse scandal.
It’s a moving piece. Sad. But the story also troubles me for many reasons. Firstly, there’s my anger with the Church for not reacting better to the abuse scandal. So many lives were destroyed. The faith of so many crippled. But the other thing which troubles me is the LA Times’ decision to splash this story on the front page. Where are the front page stories about faith persevering, old women praying the rosary in church every morning, and miracles?
Many of these victims were molested by priests with a history of abusing children. But the bishops routinely sent these clerics to another parish, and bullied or conned the victims and their families into silence. The police were almost never called. In at least a few instances, bishops encouraged molesting priests to flee the country to escape prosecution.
I couldn’t get the victims’ stories or the bishops’ lies — many of them right there on their own stationery — out of my head. I had been in journalism more than two decades and had dealt with murders, rapes, other violent crimes and tragedies. But this was different — the children were so innocent, their parents so faithful, the priests so sick and bishops so corrupt.
I understood that I was witnessing the failure of humans, not God. But in a way, that was the point. I didn’t see these institutions drenched in God’s spirit. Shouldn’t religious organizations, if they were God-inspired and -driven, reflect higher standards than government, corporations and other groups in society?
I found an excuse to skip services that Easter. For the next few months, I attended church only sporadically. Then I stopped going altogether.
The Church’s first Pope denied Christ three times publicly. Paul was a murderer. Mary was…well Mary was always good but she was the exception. We are sinners. But we continue to try. For example, marriage is a sacrament which I take very seriously. It doesn’t mean I’m not selfish and awful to her sometimes. It just means that I say sorry…a lot. And I try harder. And we forgive. Lobdell is looking for purity where it’s not going to be found.
Lobdell talks about Bennie Hinn and his massive fundraising organization.
At the crusade, I met Jordie Gibson, 21, who had flown from Calgary, Canada, to Anaheim because he believed that God, through Hinn, could get his kidneys to work again.
He was thrilled to tell me that he had stopped getting dialysis because Hinn had said people are cured only when they “step out in faith.” The decision enraged his doctors, but made perfect sense to Gibson. Despite risking his life as a show of faith, he wasn’t cured in Anaheim. He returned to Canada and went back on dialysis. The crowd was filled with desperate believers like Gibson.
Lobdell’s crisis point comes in this question, however, which we all are forced to deal with.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God get credit for answered prayers but no blame for unanswered ones? Why do we believe in the miraculous healing power of God when he’s never been able to regenerate a limb or heal a severed spinal chord?
In one e-mail, I asked John, who had lost a daughter to cancer, why an atheist businessman prospers and the child of devout Christian parents dies. Why would a loving God make this impossible for us to understand?
His final words are:
Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t. It’s not a choice. It can’t be willed into existence. And there’s no faking it if you’re honest about the state of your soul.
Sitting in a park across the street from the courthouse, I called my wife on a cellphone. I told her I was putting in for a new beat at the paper.
I believe he’s wrong on that last point. There is a choice. My heart breaks for the guy. He’s seen a lot. But the leap of faith is exactly that…a leap. It’s not necessarily a push.