How do I stay in a church with sinful leaders?

The Examen with Father James Martin, SJ

This week we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. It may seem odd to celebrate a piece of furniture, but, of course, what we’re really celebrating is the important role of St. Peter, and all the subsequent popes, in our church. In this way, it’s somewhat similar to the Feast of St. John Lateran on November 9. That feast honors an ancient church in Rome, but we’re not celebrating the building as much as what it symbolizes. Both feasts are about the papacy. Now, thinking about the hierarchy these days, in light of the sex abuse crisis, can be difficult. We all know that some church leaders have committed both crimes and sins. Yet most Catholics remain in the church, even in light of sinful leadership. Still, our leaders have always been sinful, all the way back to St. Peter, who himself sinned by denying Jesus. It’s a hard thing to realize but every Christian who belongs to any kind of church belongs to a church of both saints and sinners, where the saints do amazing things and the sinners do horrible things. So one question this week might be: How do I stay in a church with sinful leaders? And perhaps more importantly: What role am I called to play in my church?

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