Tradition has an uncanny ability to cover a multitude of sins.
In 1975 a primarily Catholic lay community called the Army of Mary was founded in Quebec by Marie-Paule Guigere. She was a very prayerful and devout person who reported that she at times had interior dialogues with our Lord and with Our Lady. Her community quickly grew, and by 2001 had 25,000 members throughout the world including several priests and religious. This group was very traditional in their approach to their Catholic Faith. However, in 2007, after years of investigation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared the group schismatic and excommunicated Fr. Jean-Pierre and Marie-Paule. The primary reason for this was the assertion that Marie-Paule was the embodiment of the Blessed Virgin Mary and because they has simulated the ordination of several priests without the presence of a Bishop.
In 1941 the religious community of the Legionaries of Christ was founded by Fr. Marciel Maciel. They flourished with papal blessing; and were supported by John Paul II. For many they were the standard of orthodoxy and solid priestly formation. They had religious houses throughout the world and Fr. Marciel Maciel was a living saint in the eyes of many. In 2006 it had over 2000 religious, 500 priests, and thousands of lay associates. In 2009, after he had died, it was revealed that Fr. Marciel was in a prolonged relationship with at least one woman and that he has a child by her. It was also revealed that he had been using funds for personal gain and had been involved in sexual relations with minors. The Community suffered a severe test of its identity, and many became disillusioned and left. The Legionaries of Christ continues its mission but only after a period of intense spiritual renewal.
In the 1990s and early 2000’s Fr. John Corapi became a prominent figure in the world of traditional Catholics. In 2011 he was accused of sexual misconduct, drug use, and the misuse of funds. He promptly quit his ministry as a priest and left his religious order, the SOLT’s; to the shock of many of the faithful.
These are but a few of the sobering stories we could find of traditional Catholics behaving badly.
So, what is my point in airing out this dirty laundry?
Well, first of all, let’s make it clear that I am not encouraging a distrust of tradition. Tradition is essential to our life, identity, and culture. It pays respect to those who have gone before us. It is very valuable, especially Catholic traditions, both big T and small t traditions, and I would general distrust anyone who didn’t have a respect for tradition. The good Christian is able to bring out of the store house both the old and the new.
I am also not saying that traditional Catholics are any more sinful than liberal or lukewarm Catholics. They take their faith very seriously, and they are the first ones to condemn such nefarious activities when they are revealed. I would even say that liberal Catholics could learn a lot from more traditionally minded followers, and vice versa.
With those caveats, my first point is to emphasis that just because a group wears nice vestments and sing Gregorian Chant doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the best conduits of the Gospel message. There are many white washed tombs out there. That being said, I don’t think anyone should become overly skeptical of ever group that comes around becoming paranoid, bitter, and indifferent. There are bad groups, and if you step out to join a group you may end up the member of one, and your act of faith and good intent will not go unnoticed by your heavenly Father. Don’t let yourself become paralyzed by a few bad apples.
Even more, the deeper message I want to emphasis is that the strength of the Church is not based on its spotless record. Building our faith on that sort of foundation will only lead to ruin; something that happens far too often. Too many times we, as individuals, and as a Church, try desperately hard to defend the Church by either denying or diminishing the sinfulness of its members. We want to present this impeccable record of Church history that is glorious and without spot or wrinkle. We become defensive when people speak about our sordid past; our faith becomes shaken when we see the sin of its members exposed. We down play it, compare it with other institutions, or try to emphasis all the good that the Church does.
The truth is, if you cannot honestly look at the sinfulness of the Church’s history then your faith is on very shaky ground.
In general, secular society only has two responses to sin. It either denies the sinfulness of an action, like fornication, or it condemns them, like those who we place in prisons. The Church’s response, Christ’s response; is to look at the sin in all its horror, to take the place of the sinner, and to forgive the sinner. This is the true source of strength for the Church. The Church is the community of sinners. Not just petty sins, not just sins mitigated by circumstances, or sin by some of the lesser members; but real and unspeakable horrors.
Yes we must have a defense against false accusations, and yes individuals who are accused of crimes need to confess, do penance, and make amends; but our faith in the Church should not be shaken by scandals. On the contrary, we are the confessing community who has nothing to hide, who is comfortable with the sinfulness of its members and never excludes a contrite heart. We are the community that believes in the redemption won for us in Christ which forgives all sin. When we build on that sort of foundation we can go out into the world and say, “yes, you are right, and I have no defense except for my contrition and the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.”