Letters to the Editor

In response to Most Reverend Gregory J. Hartmayer

Originally Appeared in : 9820-9/27/18

Most Reverend Gregory J. Hartmayer,

 

Thank you very much for your heart warming and faith assuring August 29 letter to us faithful members of the Diocese of Savannah. Your caring and concern complement all the aspects of your strong and inspirational leadership that helps us faithful Catholics to keep on along the pathway of salvation that Jesus has laid for us.

 

The occurrence of sex scandals in the Church recently dramatized by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, the accusations of Archbishop Vigano and another report of decades of abuse in Germany is heart-breaking and deeply saddening that these events may lead many Catholics to leave the Church. It is heartening however, that many Catholics will decide to stay. Creation, Christianity and the Church had been saddled with crises over the years but as Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18, the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church built by Christ. Facts and history give comfort and reasons for optimism.

 

It is a fact that percentage of sex abusers in the Catholic Church is smaller than the percentage of abusers in the Protestant churches, despite the difficulty of collecting data from these churches which are so diverse and widely decentralized. It is also a fact that the secular media tend to exaggerate abuse occurrences in the Catholic Church and to tend to minimize those occur in Protestant churches. While these facts should not immune us from shame and disgust, we can get some consolation in realizing that we are not alone as victims of Satan’s constant barrages of temptations. For this reason, we need to fight back Satan with commitments to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus, help protect the most vulnerable among us, especially children, and constantly plead to the Holy Spirit for His presence, guidance and help.

 

History chronicles the rise and fall of humanity along sins and forgiveness. A few examples may suffice for illustration.

 

When Satan conquered 100% of the earth’s human population, creation did not end. For God, disobedience, the original sin, was redeemable. So, God allowed humanity to multiply, subdue the earth and be its steward, persist in faith through the inspired words of the prophets and laid down the pathways to salvation on the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

 

During Noah’s time, God drowned all of sinful humanity, leaving Noah and his family to carry on. Abraham was an adulterous man but God credited his unconditional faith as righteousness and he became father of all nations, Jews and Arabs. Jacob carried on the multiplication of nations, siring 13 children with four women (Leah, Rachel and their slaves). The Jewish migration to Egypt was paved with treachery and deception: Judah and his brothers selling Joseph to Arab merchants and lying about it to Jacob. But the treachery turned out to be the pathway to Egyptian prosperity paved by Joseph and prosperity that led Jewish migration to and multiplication in Egypt. During the Exodus, while Moses was up in Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, the Israelites down below, with the supervision by Aaron, were carving a golden calf and worshipping it with pagan rites and orgies. Moses, despising the sinfulness, asked those who were in the Lord’s side to come to him. Many came to the Lord’s side while thousands refused to repent and perished with their sins. Forgiveness followed sinfulness and God’s chosen people moved on.

 

When David became king of the united tribes of Israel, he committed adultery with Bathsheba, sent her husband, Uriah, to be killed in battle and took her as his wife. The adulterous union between David and Bathsheba produced a child which God killed as punishment for David’s terrible sin. Furthermore, David had seven other wives and many concubines and in many battles had killed more than 80,000 of his enemies, Goliath being the first one. But David repented his sins and remained passionately faithful to God and he was blessed with many children with his seven wives and another son, Solomon, with Bathsheba. David recorded his devotion to God in psalms which occupy a big chapter in the Old Testament. David repented, continued to love God, remained to be God’s favorite and became blessed with the distinction of being the ancestor of Jesus through the converging descendant lines of ancestry of Joseph and Mary, thus leading to the moniker: Jesus, the Son of David.

 

Solomon started very well, following the counsel of his father, King David, to walk in the ways of the Lord. When God asked Solomon what he wanted, he asked for an understanding heart to judge people and discerning between good and bad.  Pleased with Solomon’s humility, God gave Solomon wisdom, wealth and fame: more than he asked. As a wise man, Solomon judged wisely, knew almost everything about many things, wrote proverbs, psalms, the Song of Solomon and built the Temple of Jerusalem. God’s blessings for Solomon, however, contained provisos: no amassing of horses, no multiplying of wives, and no accumulating of silver and gold. These provisos were designed to prevent the king from trusting in military might, following foreign gods, and relying on wealth instead of on God. Sadly, Solomon broke all three divine prohibitions! He built a strong military with which he killed many people, accumulated fabulous wealth and had 700 wives and 300 concubines. In Hebrews 12:6 and 10 we read: “For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. ... but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness.” Solomon suffered severe consequences for his sins. The Lord stirred up adversaries against Solomon who plagued him for the rest of his life and broke up Solomon’s kingdom and giving ten tribes to Jeroboam, Solomon’s lead servant who rebelled against him. Whom God loved He chastened and Solomon’s troubles later in his life were severe forms of chastening. Solomon, by sinning, did not totally break away from the Lord; he continued to love and respect God. Toward the end, God made use of Solomon’s wisdom by inspiring him to write Ecclesiastes, a beautifully poetic chapter of Scriptures that serves as his confession that he found no happiness in all the wealth, fame, wine and women that he indulged in: it was all like chasing the wind.

 

The twelve apostles that Jesus recruited did not all provide perfect service. Judas betrayed Jesus to His captors and Peter, the first apostle recruit, denied Jesus three times, as Jesus had earlier foretold. Betrayal was a horrible act but it appeared it was part of the Divine Plan: to facilitate the process toward the planned crucifixion. Peter’s denial also appeared to be part of the Divine Plan. Had Peter not denied Jesus, it would have made Jesus a liar which could not be. Peter’s alternative to denying his Master would have been to attack the tormentors of Jesus; he had the capability and temperament to do it. After all, Peter had earlier cut off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant. But Peter’s resort to violence would have interfered with the Divine Plan. So, Peter’s denial, which could indicate human weakness and fear, was actually an instrument for the Divine Plan to proceed. Betrayal made Judas a fallen apostle and denial made Peter a fallen apostle as well. But the big difference is this: Judas committed suicide, no repentance, while Peter, having made the denials three times, heard the cock crow and met the eyes of Jesus, he remembered what Jesus had earlier said about the acts of denials and cried bitterly. Judas got no redemption but Peter, though fallen, repented and continued to follow Jesus. After the ascension of Jesus, the apostles, led by Peter, replaced Judas with Matthias. But Jesus had another plan: He directly recruited Paul as an apostle to help convert the Jews and Gentiles to Christianity. Before he became an apostle of Jesus, Paul was a terrible man: persecuting and killing many Christians. But, because of Paul’s love and devotion to Jesus, he became an important icon in the Catholic Church. God redeemed the sins of Peter and Paul and they stand together as the two greatest apostles.

 

Jesus built His Church upon Peter, the rock, with a mandate (Matthew 16:19): “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Catholics use this divine mandate as the basis for conferring upon Peter the title of first Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church.

 

The reputation of the papcy, however, greatly suffered when several popes engaged in corruption, sexual immorality, material greed, iniquitous exercise of political power and other deeds that were inconsistent with the character of the vicars of Christ. These problems may have been presaged by Peter. In Matthew 14:22-33, Peter attempted to emulate Jesus by trying to walk on water but he sank because his faith wavered. And as mentioned earlier, Peter denied Jesus three times. But Jesus restored His favorite apostle. As recorded inin Luke 22:31-32, Jesus said: “Simon, Simon! Remember that Satan has asked for you, to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may never fail. You in turn must strengthen your brothers. After His resurrection and during a fish meal by the Lake of Galilee (John 21:1-19) Jesus asked Peter 3 times “Do you love me?” To each of Peter’s yes answer, Jesus said: “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep.” The Catholics consider these re-instating statements as justification for calling the Popes, the successors of Peter, Vicar of Christ and the affirmation of Peter’s appointment by Jesus in Matthew 16:13-19. Peter got the help from the other apostles in building the Church. Likewise, the succeeding popes got the help from the other bishops, priests and the believers many of whom faithfully kept up and continued practicing faithfully and passing on the apostolic teachings. While some popes wavered, the other members of the Church kept on, with the help of the Holy Spirit. So, the Church survived persecution, a series of heresy, savage barbarian attacks, occasional apostasy, terrible corruption, deep schism and the Protestant rebellion, and it continues to grow, reaches all corners of the globe and now tallies over 1 billion believers. From Peter, to whom the title of first pope was ascribed and to Pope Francis, the 266th pope, the papacy has spanned more than two thousand years, the longest reigning institution on earth.

 

I am greatly optimistic that based on facts and history, the Church will survive the terrible lapses perpetrated by wolves in sheep’s clothing. Because of our unwavering faith and repentance for our sins, God will help us deal with these lapses more effectively. The Dallas 2002 Charter is a great move. It is reminiscent of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) which corrected some malpractices of the Church, refuted the errors of Luther in his 95 theses and redefined more clearly and strongly the doctrines that served as foundation of the Catholic Church since the beginning.

 

May God bless faithful believers who decide to continue in faith and our Church leaders who we need to sustain our faith, lead our good works and most of all protect the weak and vulnerable, particularly children.

 

Terry Sarigumba
St. Francis Xavier Parish
Brunswick, Georgia

Letters published do not necessarily reflect the views of the Southern Cross or of the Diocese of Savannah.

Go to top