Many Catholics justify their inertia and passivity by repeating to themselves and others the Gospel passage that says, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Thus, this promise to the Church supposedly dispenses us from combating those working to destroy Her from within and without.
God cannot break His promise that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail.” However, it should not be understood in a fatalistic sense. We cannot conclude that we should leave to God alone the task of watching over and preserving the Church, the Faith and customs. God makes use of secondary causes. Moreover, He wants us to demonstrate our fidelity.
We cannot stand idly by while the Church of God is outraged, and souls are lost to eternal damnation rather than salvation.
Church History Shows Periods of Darkness
Church history shows how this promise that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail” did not prevent many nations from losing the Faith. It did not save many flourishing Christian communities from being wiped out, as seen, for example, by the Islamic conquest of Northern Africa.
The French theologian Father Joseph de Sainte-Marie, OCD explains:
“The real issue is: We must be faithful to the Church even when Her hierarchy, through a mysterious divine permission, is failing so dramatically. Her infallibility is by no means in doubt, nor is the promise of Christ that ‘the gates of Hell shall not prevail against Her.’ However, this promise does not mean there will not be times of darkness.”1
The Darkness of the Recent Scandals
One such period of darkness is the current crisis of sexual abuse scandals, where believing in the sanctity of the Church is a trial for many.
The Church is holy and pure in itself but composed of sinners in its members. Therefore, by rejecting the scandals, we are not turning our back on the Church, but rejecting and saying no to the sins, sometimes committed by eminent Church members.
Far from contradicting the holiness of the Church, the infidelities of members of the clergy and the hierarchy underscore how only an institution of divine origin could endure for centuries, despite human weakness and the tendency toward evil that is the inheritance of Original Sin.
The Church remains as holy and sanctifying as it was in the beginning, and will be forever, because Her soul is the Holy Spirit, the sanctifying Spirit. She alone has the truth, the way, and the life. She alone continues the work of He who immolated Himself for Her: “Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
Pope Pius XII confirms this explanation in the Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (1943):
“And if at times there appears in the Church something that indicates the weakness of our human nature, it should not be attributed to her juridical constitution, but rather to that regrettable inclination to evil found in each individual, which its Divine Founder permits even at times in the most exalted members of His Mystical Body, for the purpose of testing the virtue of the Shepherds no less than of the flocks, and that all may increase the merit of their Christian Faith. For, as We said above, Christ did not wish to exclude sinners from His Church.”2
When All Seems Corrupt and Lost
One might object that the Church cannot be holy when most members of the clergy and hierarchy are totally corrupt.
Homosexual scandals by members of the clergy are reported—even by conservative media outlets—with extreme insistence and exuberance of lurid details. These reports create the impression in the minds of the faithful that not a single priest or bishop remains faithful to their vows and adheres to sound doctrine.
This is not true. Despite the vast scope of the crisis, it is clear that a large number of seminarians, priests, and bishops have remained faithful to their vows.
We must be careful that our righteous indignation at the crimes perpetrated by ecclesiastics unfaithful to their noble calling does not lead us to revolt against the Church itself, despair and even the loss of the Faith.
That is why we must combat the climate of sensationalism trumpeted by the secularist, and even some Catholic and conservative media, which is unfortunately aggravated by the cynicism of many ecclesiastics.
We need to avoid a feverish state when reporting or commenting on the current crisis. We have to keep the Faith, and we have to not lose objectivity and logic. Cold reasoning and common sense are very important in dramatic situations like the present one.
Where to Find a Solution to the Crisis
When facing a crisis, we tend to seek an easy, effective and complete solution. Such easy solutions often neglect to understand in depth the real characteristics of the crisis and its possible causes. As a result, such solutions aggravate the crisis by adding new problems, which are often more difficult to solve than previous ones.
This happens with political, economic and other crises that involve natural events. It is all the truer when dealing with crises in Holy Mother Church. In this case, supernatural elements of Revelation and divine Grace are added to natural and human elements.
Thus, we must avoid a naturalistic perspective that looks at the present crisis of the Church with purely human eyes without taking into account its supernatural aspect. We then become liable to falling into traps set by the enemies of the Church.
A naturalistic attitude leads us to propose human solutions of a sociological or political nature when what is needed are matters of supernatural Faith, theology, piety and sanctity.
- Fr. Joseph de Sainte-Marie, O.C.D., “Réfléxions Sur le Probléme de la Messe Aujord’hui dans l’Eglise,” in La Pensée Catholique, July-Aug. 1974, p. 25 (our translation).
- Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi ─ On the Mystical Body of Christ, June 29, 1943, n. 66. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_29061943_mystici-corporis-christi_en.html.