Letter to a Suffering Church: a bishop speaks on the sexual abuse crisis

by Bishop Robert Barron

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



Bishop Barron makes it clear in the opening remarks that he is speaking from his own vantage point. He is not speaking on behalf of his brother bishops but his prayer is that these reflections might encourage Catholics who are attempting to navigate today in very choppy waters.

Near the end of the first chapter the bishop states: “So, many Catholics are understandably asking: “Why should I stay? Why not abandon this sinking ship before it drags me or my children under? It is my conviction that this is not the time to leave; at it is the time to stay and fight. The Scriptures shed a great deal of light on our present situation; we’ve been here before in our history and we’ve survived; everything you love in the Church is still present and is worth defending; there is a path forward. If you’re willing to read on, I will try in brief compass to defend each of these claims.” Has this explosion of wickedness been the devil’s masterpiece?? Yes. But Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church. Do the powers of darkness seem triumphant? Perhaps. But the Lord promised us he would never leave us, even until the end of the age. So we are forbidden to given up hope.”

In Chapter two Barron gives us a brief tour of Old Testament narratives, and he concludes this biblical section with a look at Jesus in relation to children. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt:18:1) In answer Jesus called a little child over and placed him in their midst—which is to say, in the focal point, the center. By so situating the child, he physically interrupted their jockeying for position and notice. In his innocence and humility the child exemplifies what the spiritual masters call the true self, which is so layered over with preoccupations with honor that it gets at reality only haltingly and through a kind of buffer.” With other biblical references we see more on the importance of the child:” In short, the child – humble, simple, self-effacing—functions as a sort of iconic representation of the divine Child of the divine Father. The abuse of children is a function of the objectification of children turning them, as we saw, into mere means. The central tragedy of the sexual abuse scandal is that those who were ordained to act in the very person of Christ became, in the most dramatic way; obstacles to Christ.

The historical survey in Chapter 3 is not meant as an excuse, much less a justification, for the wickedness on display in the Church today but it is indeed meant to place in a wider context what we might be tempted to see as uniquely horrific. In Chapter 4, there is data that shows that 37% of Catholics are seriously considering leaving the Church. Bishop Barron doesn’t think such a move is warranted. We are not Catholics because our leaders are flawless but because we find the claims of Catholicism both compelling and beautiful. We are Catholics because the Church speaks of the Trinitarian God whose very nature is love; of Jesus the Lord, crucified and risen from the dead; of the holy Spirit, who inspires the followers of Christ up and down the ages; of the sacraments, which convey the Christ-life to us’ and of the saints, who are our friends in the spiritual order. This is the treasure; this is why we stay.

Bishop Barron states at the end of the book: “God is love and He has won the victory through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The followers of Jesus are on the winning side. “We need to stay and fight for our/His Church. This is a great book for all to read in light of the scandal of minors’ sexual abuse.

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