Catholic News Service

Sept. 25, 2019

The title of Bishop Robert E. Barron’s “Letter to a Suffering Church” led me — as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse — to hope for a book like Fr. Thomas Berg’s excellent 2017 work “Hurting in the Church.”

Fr. Berg wrote for Catholics who were victimized by fellow Catholics. Using St. Paul’s image of the Church as body of Christ, he sought to help wounded readers come to see how the Church’s fundamental holiness remains despite the sins of individual members.

Bishop Barron, an auxiliary bishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, echoes some of Fr. Berg’s points — he observes that the Church “is an organism, not an organization” — but with a different aim. His book is not for those who are themselves suffering; a more apt title would be “Letter to a Scandalized Church.” Bishop Barron’s mantra, repeated seven times across 105 pages, is that Catholics angry about clergy abuse should not leave the Church but should rather “stay and fight.”

What we have here, then, is a pugilistic, often polemic book — heavy on seething, light on healing. Bishop Barron writes that “sexual abuse of young people … is a rot, a disease, a threat to the great principles of the Church that we hold dear.” The answer is to “fight by raising your voice in protest; fight by writing a letter of complaint; fight by insisting that protocols be followed; fight by reporting offenders; fight by pursuing the guilty until they are punished; fight by refusing to be mollified by pathetic excuses.”

On the positive side, Bishop Barron advises, “fight by your very holiness of life; fight by becoming the saint that God wants you to be; fight by encouraging a decent young man to become a priest; fight by doing a Holy Hour every day for the sanctification of the Church; fight by coming to Mass regularly; fight by evangelizing; fight by doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.”

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