Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose show Life is Worth Living made him an unlikely TV star of the 1950s, liked to tell his audience the following story about corruption within the Catholic Church:
Once there was a man who’d decided to convert to Catholicism. But before he could agree to be baptized, he planned to visit Rome. His parish priest pleaded with him to be baptized first, but the man insisted. The priest was sure he’d never see him again. However, the man returned weeks later more eager to be baptized than before.
“You’ve been to Rome?” the priest asked.
“And you’ve seen how things work?”
“I have, and I’m convinced that the Catholic church is the one true church.”
“Yes. Only a truly divine institution could survive that level of corruption and immorality.”
The story would draw big laughs from crowds of committed Catholics who knew a thing or two about corruption among the ecclesiastics. It also allowed them to chuckle at their own loyalty to an institution that has, in addition to a great many saints, produced some real reprobates in its multimillennial run. But despite it all, despite even the horrors of the priest abuse scandal that rocked the United States at the turn of the century, Catholics (myself included) remain convinced of the church’s legitimacy due to its unbroken apostolic succession and the belief in the power of the sacraments.
However, news out of the Vatican this week is enough to strain the loyalty of even the most impassioned papist. On Wednesday, reports surfaced that the previously excommunicated predator priest Marko Rupnik had been restored to active priesthood in his native Slovenia. The disgraced priest, who is also a highly accomplished mosaic artist and a personal friend of the pope, had been found guilty in a secret Vatican tribunal in 2020 of crimes involving the sexual and psychological torture of at least 20 nuns and one man. In June, it was reported that he had been expelled by his religious order, the Society of Jesus.
But following a September meeting between a key Rupnik ally and the pope, the Diocese of Rome issued a statement that whitewashed the abuse by citing “grave anomalous procedures” in the investigation. This attempt to rehabilitate Rupnik’s reputation was met with shock and horror by his victims , as well as by the wider Catholic world.
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