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Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)
This morning, The Hartford Courant had yet another story about the ongoing debacle of priests with a history of pedophilia. The story was concerning the Diocese of Norwich and its attempts to keep secret hundreds of documents pertaining to Thomas Shea, a retired priest accused of molesting as many as 16 girls at 11 different parishes over his 40 year career. The potential scandal in this case is that one of the letters was sent to Joseph Ratzinger, the man who is now Pope, when he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the office that decides whether accused priests should have trials that could lead to them being defrocked. Regardless of what is in those documents, the fact remains that this whole scandal is a black eye not just on the Catholic Church but on the very name of Jesus.
James, in the third chapter of his letter, writes that not many should presume to be teachers, because they will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). In Ezekiel 34:2, God says “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” The warning is clear to anyone who desires to become a leader, teacher, or pastor of people in God’s church – don’t do it out of selfish reasons, be it prestige, honor, monetary reasons, or anything else. And once you are in a position of leadership, your responsibility is to serve and care for others as a shepherd cares for his sheep. Leaders in the church can be sure that if they misuse their position, they will be judged more strictly, for when others are harmed through their teaching or actions, leaders can not only hurt many people, but can also reflect poorly on the God they serve and do damage to the kingdom of God.
Certainly, we serve a God of great grace, a God whose forgiveness and restoration can extend not only to the victims of child molesting priests, but also to the child molesting priests themselves. We should never become so self-righteous and judgmental that we forget that we are all sinners saved by grace, all capable of unspeakable acts of wickedness if placed in the right circumstances. We are all desperately in need of God’s grace and mercy, and just as God used the murderer Paul to spread the gospel around the world, God is able to redeem even the most hopeless situation. But do not presume on the grace of God by acting in sin because you believe that you can just ask forgiveness tomorrow for whatever you do wrong today. The harmful effects on others and on the name of Jesus are worse than any fleeting pleasure you might receive.
I am curious whether the ongoing child molestation scandal in the Catholic church has had an impact on you or on those you love. Has it affected your faith in God at all? Has it damaged your trust in church leadership? If you have any thoughts or experiences to share, please leave a comment below.
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