As we have touched upon, one of the most significant reasons for the loss of faith boils down to the sins of the church . Over the years, the Church and its members have been guilty of numerous sins, atrocities and wrongdoings. The church’s relationship with science in particular has been cause of great animosity. In 1633, for example, the great Galileo was found guilty of heresy by the Inquisition for proposing that the world indeed revolved around the sun. Even Christians must admit that, as a Faith, we have perhaps been too protectionist and anti-science in our approach. We hope to counteract that within this exploration. Let us not digress, however…
Just twenty years ago, John Paul II attempted to cleanse and purify the Roman Catholic Church, apologising for just this. “Never again,” he said (Rory Carroll). Never again. The statement, mainly in reference to the 2000 years of violence and persecution in events such as The Crusades, The Inquisition and The Holocaust to name a few, preceded yet another promise to purify the Church, by the current pontiff, Pope Francis. It must be said, straight up, that those who follow a continued practice and lifestyle of sin and immorality cannot be said to be Christians or persons of faith. The Bible very explicitly makes it clear that those who follow such practices, such as that of “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries,” shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).
The discussion of sin, excommunication from the Church, and forgiveness has become all the more relevant today, following the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, one of the Vatican’s most prominent members and advisor to the Pope himself. Such a discussion is vast, complicated and, inextricably, controversial. Let us take this in succession. First, exploring what it means to sin, whether all sins are indeed forgivable and what grave sin should mean in light of prominent members of the Church. Of course, following on from that is the idea of excommunication; should we leave punishment, judgment, purely in the hands of God? Clearly, the law will have a role to play. But is it within the powers of the Church to punish those beyond the final judgment of our heavenly Father? And finally, forgiveness. Can we? Should we? Must we?
According to the Bible, to the divine perspective, it is not the gravity of the sin that counts (Tim Chester). Indeed, the ‘gravity’ is measured by us, as humans, who do not ultimately hold the power to final judgment. Rather, it is faith and repentance that determines forgiveness. There is one; one unforgivable sin described in in Mark 3:28-29. Those who deny the power and authority of God, commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, reside with “an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:30). Essentially, this comes back to the same point. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness, so such a person is in danger of unforgivable sin (‘What is the unpardonable sin? What sin won't God forgive?’, Beyond Today)
But what of Cardinal Pell’s actions against children? Of course, anyone who does not live under a rock will also note that this is not a standalone event. It has been over 16 years since The Boston Globe conducted its award-winning 10 investigation into child abuse (Edward Morrissey). The crisis has only worsened; it has stretched across pontificates, continents, and clearly, cardinals. Pope Francis addresses the problem head-front on - “none of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence, and left scarred by painful memories.” He talks of the “betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family.” The betrayal that is felt is real and very widespread. We see it in the traditional Church losing ground on a number of ‘moral’ issues; euthanasia, same-sex marriage, abortion, to name a few. Let us point out that we are not passing judgment on these issues here; it is simply a fact that traditional ‘values’ and perspectives have lost traction. People have lost faith in the Church while it seems particular members of the Church have lost something of their own faith.