Today I will reflect on how best to face up to injustice in Church and society. It is painfully necessary for our salvation to hear from the scholarly investigators and legal experts who are outraged at the cruel misbehaviour of Catholics and others from the last century and it is heartening when our own leaders confess their sinfulness and yet retain an historical perspective as they point to the sound social teaching and practices of the Church so as to prepare us all to address 21st century injustices.
Let’s look to the gospel for guidance: the problem for Jesus in the gospel is ‘evil in the synagogue’. Who reacts best? Jesus.
He expels the evil, frees the person from possession and inspires the people. In the church today we would be grateful for prophetic leaders who see and condemn what is wrong in our society and Church, value our Catholic heritage so that we will do our very best in the future to help everyone to live in peace, including those who were harming others and themselves. Let evil be expelled and healing continue and the gospel be taught.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is portrayed as a healer and we are the people who are broken and lame. He gives strength and courage. People listen because he tells the truth with authority in a way that is understood. He is an advocate for the poor and needy. He casts out evil and brings in justice. How is Christ’s mission continued today?
Our local news bulletins feature many strong personalities who speak out on behalf of those who ask for justice. In many cases they are from a Catholic family background and benefitted from a Catholic school education. Many have volunteered to assist those on the margins and they are now very forcible in their condemnation of the sins of the clergy and religious.
It is good to hear their passion for justice and I do think the Church must do a deeper investigation and try to get to the source of wrongdoing. Justice will be more fully achieved when there is empathy and respect for all concerned. My worry is that a previous generation who cared diligently for the poor are being vilified by all concerned because of the sins of the few. It should be acknowledged that for centuries the Catholic Church has produced great spiritual leaders with a social conscience who founded societies to give practical help and enable poor people not only to survive but to flourish. People like St Angela, St Vincent de Paul, lay leaders like Pauline Jaricot and Edel Quinn worked miracles of healing even though resources were in short supply and society had its ingrained prejudices. They challenged wrongdoers and also retained a sense of perspective. Think of St Therese and her profound understanding of the human weakness of those who were too harsh and cold in their zeal to correct. I do not think they would ever demonise all religious women for the sins of a few. Jesus did not.
As I assess the modern reformers and the response of some Church leaders, I see the desire to make things right, to redress wrongs, to renew. I ask them to reflect further.
Consider the continuing failure of 21st century society to rectify present injustices before being totally dismissive of our predecessors. Before our very eyes immigrants are still badly treated, women are trafficked and enslaved, poor workers in other countries are shamelessly exploited, children are deprived of the joy of life, warfare destroys whole communities, countries look inwardly for their own interests alone. Is failure not endemic in all human enterprises? Must we not realistically accept that our best efforts are often inadequate because we cannot control the exploiters? That is why we must commit ourselves into the hands of the Lord, not despairing of our capacity to begin again yet never casting blame indiscriminately. I will focus on two examples of huge injustices today involving mothers and children that we do not seem capable of resolving.
(i) In impoverished societies many mainly female workers are forced to make a living in sweatshops where conditions of work and pay are lamentable. They make textile goods for rich countries so that we have cheap clothes. Yet if we deprive them of that work there is nothing except unemployment and prostitution. We could highmindedly boycott their goods but it would only make them worse off as the United Nations has revealed. It is right to feel horror and outrage at the conditions the poor women work under but we are powerless to supervise those who exploit them. The best response would be to pay more for their goods to compensate for our inability to make others behave more humanely. You can be sure future generations will blame us for our greed.
(ii) Modern science has developed hugely in the field of genetics. In 1958 a devout Catholic doctor Jerome Lejeune discovered the gene that causes Down’s Syndrome. He was dismayed when his discovery was used to promote the termination of pregnancies. His work was exploited by callous people for selfish ends. In response he began his fight for the pro-life cause eager to support the lives of unborn children. Last week Pope Francis praised his heroic virtues calling us to follow his example. Otherwise our grandchildren will blame us for promoting the elimination of innocent children.
It is no cause for rejoicing that some of the prominent social reformers promote ‘sexual freedom’ and abortion. Evil sneaks back into the synagogue. It is little cause for rejoicing when our religious leaders seem to be so pessimistic. Jesus is still with us, to ask us to identify the evil, to reach for the full truth. He assures his people of his support with his divine authority. He asks his church to continue to heal and give new life, to learn from the past, to atone for sins, to compensate those unjustly treated and ask for forgiveness for our own faults, judgemental attitudes and compromises, and to proclaim that his kingdom comes and that there is real cause for hope and optimism. We cannot control everything but we can let God’s will direct us along the humane life-giving path where Jesus leads his followers to face sinfulness, set the oppressed free, give hope, fail bravely.