A “staggering” church abuse case in Baltimore

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A “staggering” church abuse case and the peril of religion: A Good Friday meditation

April 7, 2023 -

FILE - A Roman Catholic church in Lisbon is pictured on Feb. 10, 2023. On Wednesday, April 5, 2023, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office publicly released a redacted version of an investigative report detailing sex abuse allegations against more than 150 Catholic priests and examining the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)

FILE - A Roman Catholic church in Lisbon is pictured on Feb. 10, 2023. On Wednesday, April 5, 2023, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office publicly released a redacted version of an investigative report detailing sex abuse allegations against more than 150 Catholic priests and examining the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)

FILE - A Roman Catholic church in Lisbon is pictured on Feb. 10, 2023. On Wednesday, April 5, 2023, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office publicly released a redacted version of an investigative report detailing sex abuse allegations against more than 150 Catholic priests and examining the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)

This is the very last thing I wanted to write about on this Good Friday: the Associated Press headlines “Report details ‘staggering’ church sex abuse in Maryland.” The article begins: “More than 150 Catholic priests and others associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore sexually abused over 600 children and often escaped accountability, according to a long-awaited state report released Wednesday that revealed the scope of abuse spanning 80 years and accused church leaders of decades of coverups.”

The report released by the Maryland Attorney General’s office adds: “The sheer number of abusers and victims, the depravity of the abusers’ conduct, and the frequency with which known abusers were given the opportunity to continue preying upon children are astonishing.”

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori posted a response online in which he apologized to the victims and said the report “details a reprehensible time in the history of this Archdiocese, a time that will not be covered up, ignored, or forgotten.”

Let me begin my response by stating an obvious fact: the abuse of a single child anywhere in the world is a sin too wicked for words. When such crimes are perpetrated and covered up by those who claim to be serving the very One who passionately loves all children (cf. Matthew 18:10; 19:14), such claims rise to the level of blasphemy.

Those who abuse children are actually serving Satan, the one who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). I can only imagine how the Enemy is now using this horrific news to drive people further from the Lord and his church.

“How religion poisons everything”

Right now you must be asking what I asked when I first read the article: How can religious people do such terrible things?

You will probably never forget the video of ISIS terrorists beheading their orange jumpsuit-clad victims on a beach while claiming to be serving Allah and defending Islam. Human sacrifices to the gods have been common in religious history. Saul of Tarsus was convinced that he was serving God by persecuting Christians. On this day in Holy Week, the religious leaders of Israel joined together in condemning Jesus to die and then inciting the crowds to demand his crucifixion (cf. Matthew 27:20–23).

The prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens gave his bestselling book god is not Great the subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything.” In a very real sense he was right, though not in the way he meant.

The Bible is replete with warnings against false religions and their gods. We are commanded to “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21) and to “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14) in the knowledge that “the sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (Psalm 16:4). The psalmist declared, “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols” (Psalm 96:5).

Scripture warns us: “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lᴏʀᴅ than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3). Consequently, we are to “worship the Lᴏʀᴅ in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 96:9). And we are to remember that one day this holy God “will judge the world in righteousness” (v. 13).

Three practical responses

Here’s the point: a religion about God is not a relationship with him (cf. Matthew 7:21–23). No one, no matter how religious they may appear to be, can claim to be truly following Jesus who does the exact opposite of what he taught.

To be clear: no one living by the Spirit could commit a single one of the atrocities in the Maryland Attorney General’s report. Scripture identifies “sexual immorality” and “impurity” among the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19), but it lists “love” (agape, selfless love that serves others at all costs) first among the “fruit of the Spirit” (v. 22). It is painfully obvious which category describes the perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes.

Consequently, followers of Jesus should take three steps in response today:

  1. Pray earnestly for the victims of these crimes and their families, asking God to give them his sustaining comfort and healing peace.
  2. Take the strongest possible stand against such horrible sins and make it extremely clear that they violate every dimension of Christian faith and practice.
  3. Admit this fact: if you and I do not submit every day to the power of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) so as to manifest the “fruit of the Spirit,” we will manifest the “works of the flesh” instead.

If we do not take this third step, I trust that our “works of the “flesh” will not be as horrific as those in the report, but they will be sins, nonetheless. They will grieve the heart of our Father and dishonor our loving Savior. They will give Satan more ammunition in his war on the souls of humanity. And they will keep us from the abundant life Jesus died to give us (John 10:10).

How to walk the “highway of communion”

This week we have discussed the Holy Week roles played by the Father and the Son. Today we have focused on the work of the Spirit in empowering and sanctifying those who worship the Father and follow the Son.

On this Good Friday, as we contemplate with solemn reverence all that Jesus did for us when he died for us, let us respond by choosing to surrender to his Spirit in obedience to his holy calling.

Charles Spurgeon observed: “You cannot grow in grace to any high degree while you are conformed to the world. The life of separation may be a path of sorrow, but it is the highway of safety; and though the separated life may cost you many pangs, and make every day a battle, yet it is a happy life after all. No joy can excel that of the soldier of Christ.”

He added: “The highway of holiness is the highway of communion.”

Will you walk this “highway” to Calvary today?

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