It’s clear that we are living in a time of confusion and division, both in the Church and in the world. I am not qualified to evaluate whether this is the worst confusion the Church has seen or not—we have been through some pretty bad times over the centuries—but it is serious. And it is our time and our confusion, so it is something we must deal with.
The world is always beset by confusion and division, but it is certainly intensifying throughout the world as hostility to the Church and its teachings grows. Many human rights groups who track the persecution of Christians worldwide claim that even more Christians are being persecuted and killed for their faith today than in the early centuries of the Church when Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire.
Fortunately, none of us reading this have had to live through the terrible centuries and decades where there were corrupt popes engaging in immorality, selling church offices, and carrying out military adventures. We have been blessed in our lifetimes by solid popes, some of whom have been canonized. We are not, then, a generation dealing with profligate popes, but we are dealing with serious confusion in the Church over doctrinal and moral matters of the utmost importance. This confusion sometimes seems to be emanating now also from Rome.
It isn’t that heretical doctrine is being formally taught, but confusing and ambiguous documents, informal comments, and perplexing events and actions seem to regularly muddy the waters on what exactly the pope or a particular synod of bishops might actually be attempting to communicate and what we are still supposed to believe as Catholics. This has left national bishops’ conferences and individual cardinals and bishops openly disagreeing, sometimes in very disagreeable ways, about how to interpret these documents, comments, and actions. Along with these confusing statements and actions, there is good solid teaching that is clearly in continuity with the Deposit of Faith, but how to put the two streams together is often quite a puzzle.
Is there a way forward that avoids these polarizing extremes without compromising the truth in any way? I believe there is. It’s the path that Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI tried to guide us on during the many years of their pontificates: the authentic interpretation of Vatican II, the challenging way of the Gospel, of the real Jesus, as revealed to us in Scripture and tradition and articulated for us today in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But it is not enough to just point to these sources of light and truth. We must specify what truths must be recovered today in light of what is being attacked and bring clarity where the confusion is greatest.
In 1982, I published A Crisis of Truth: The Attack on Faith, Morality, and Mission in the Catholic Church, which became an immediate bestseller. To this day, I still run into people who tell me that reading that book saved their faith or, for many priests, saved their vocations. Over the years, I’ve had several friends recommend that I revise and republish the book, as the issues it discusses are still happening today.
But after some consideration, I’ve decided that revising it wouldn’t be the best way to address the current manifestation of the crisis, and so I decided to write what is virtually a new book: A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward.
It’s available now for pre-order with Emmaus Road Publishing, and I hope that just as many people, and more, find hope and clarity in this book as in my first.
As we begin to address specific issues and hopefully bring the truth and light of the Gospel to them, it is important to remember that all this confusion and division is happening under the providential hand of God. He is permitting the confusion, the ambiguity, the division, and he has a plan to bring good out of it. It is clear that the Church is in need of a deep purification. God is permitting the darkness to be exposed so that the deep wounds of sin and infidelity may be healed, that profound repentance may take place, and the light of Christ shine forth ever more brightly.
Author: Ralph Martin