By Dick Kunnert

Yeshua Fellow and Board Member

(Editor’s note: Among the many ways he has served his parish and diocesan church over several decades, Dick was Victims’ Assistance Coordinator for the Rockford Diocese for many years.)

After almost two decades of disclosures regarding the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, the challenges of Catholic laity persist and grow. Among the key questions we are asking:

  • How do we understand the personal and corporate failures of the Catholic Church in our times?
  • How do we handle our thoughts and feelings that arise from the sense of betrayal, both from individuals and the structure of the Church?
  • How do we stayed tied to this flawed institution that is supposed to represent truth and holiness, but instead reeks of unholy dysfunction?
  • Where do we look for a spiritual path through this mess?
  • Where will the leadership come from to lead us toward spiritual health?

We know we have not been abandoned. Jesus told us that in Mt. 28, “I will be with you until the end of the age.” This came after his commission to “make disciples.” So we are not alone.

But what has happened to the dream? Why and how have we drifted away from our mission? How do we understand the personal and institutional failure that has -- and is -- occurring?

I would argue that responsible individuals who were to lead us spiritually at a parish and institutional levels abandoned their sacramental vocation of Holy Orders and caved to sin and selfishness. Others, who judged themselves as virtuous, tried to hide the deficits of the few by creating “safe places” for the dysfunctional, not realizing the corruptive force of the illness. In this regard, they were not following the wisdom and guidance of the God who is supposed to be their beacon.  

Matthew early in his gospel tells us about Jesus’ comments to his disciples about being aware of false priests and teachers:

Beware of false prophets: they come to you in sheep’s clothing but inside they are wild wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Do you ever pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”

A good tree always produces good fruit, a rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit and a rotten tree cannot bear good fruit: Any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. So you will know them by their fruit.” (Mt. 7: 15-20)

Jesus’ direction was not followed. The bad trees were not cut and thrown in the fire. Now we are paying a price for veering from divine direction.

What does health look like? Health looks like what Paul tells us in Galatians. It is using the gifts of the Spirit acquired in the sacrament of Confirmation to guide our decision making and behavior. Spiritual health and focus comes in using the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.

These gifts, in turn, produce the fruits allowing us to live as disciples of Jesus, fulfilling our personal mission of living out the will of the Father for us.

And the fruits of the Holy Spirit are amazing: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.

These are all the qualities necessary to turn our Church again into the Bride of Christ. 

We – each of us and all of us – need to stay close to, rely on and follow the Holy Spirit. May the Lord continue to bless you and us on your pilgrimage and ours.