During the Long Lent of 2002, Sister Betsy Conway, who lived in the Bostonian epicenter of the clerical sexual abuse crisis, spoke for many self-identified progressive Catholics when she told syndicated columnist Michael Kelly, “This is our Church, all of us, and we need to take it back.” Mr. Kelly, a thoughtful liberal columnist who died tragically in Iraq a year later, agreed. But they were both mistaken.
The Church is not “ours;” the Church is Christ's. As I wrote at the time, the Church “was not created by us, or by our Christian ancestors, or by the donors to the diocesan annual fund – a point the Lord made abundantly clear himself in the gospels: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you'” [John 15:16]. As a friend put it at the time, “the Church is not ours to take back because it never belonged to us, and the instant we make it ‘our own' we are damned. No merely human institution, no matter how perfectly pure and gutsy and dutiful to its members, can take away even a venial sin. That's the point St. Paul takes sixteen chapters to get across to the Romans.”