Can We Stop Talking Judas and Start Talking Peter?

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September 2, 2018 by lucieromarin

It is the custom among conservative Catholics, whenever a scandal surrounds a bishop’s failure, to refer to Judas, and to say something to the effect of ‘Even among the first bishops, there was a traitor. But the other Apostles didn’t leave Christ because of that traitor, and neither do we.’ Persons who speak this way don’t actually mean that bishops have the right to be traitors, but their (unintended, I think) implication is that because one of the Apostles was bad, the massive failings of other bishops are only to be expected. Therefore, if you’re so scandalised by a bishop that your faith is shaken, that’s not the bishop’s fault. It’s yours. Your sole duty was to look the other way.

Comparing the current crop of bad bishops to Judas is no good. Judas was dead by Pentecost. He was out of the Church before Her official birth-day. He never presided over a See or oversaw the lay faithful. He never said Mass, never heard Confession, and never gave the Last Rites. He certainly never ordained any priests. He did not benefit from his membership of the original twelve, or from his relationship with any of the other Apostles. Far from covering up for him, they published his actions in the Gospels and explicitly declared those actions to be the work of Satan.

Judas is not the rule by which we measure other bishops. We measure bishops according to the actions of the other traitor, the one who wept for his sin, did public penance for his sin, and, far from covering up that stain on his history, had sufficient humility to publish his fall and repentance in the Gospels. I’m talking about the first Pope. Nobody covered up for him, and he never asked them to. He never demanded protests of his innocence as a sign of loyalty from the lay faithful. Certainly, he expected truthfulness from them too, but first, he set the example of public repentance. And, far from being a blow to his ego or the end of the Church, that repentance purified him so deeply that his shadow could heal the sick.

It’s great to read history and daydream about the saints, but the brutal reality is that if you want to see a St Francis, St Catherine, St Teresa, or St Colette in your lifetime, you have to live in a time of crisis. The great saints are so often great reformers, and they’re not going to appear when there’s nothing to reform. That means, if you want to see that great grace in action, you need to live in a time when the Pope’s actions aren’t okay and can’t be considered exempt from scrutiny, just because he outranks the people around him. St Peter outranks every bishop and every Pope who ever lived, and it is to him we look for definition and example. Should we find ourselves in a Church unhappily governed by a Borgia or an Urban VI, our duty is not to make excuses for him in the name of loyalty. Our only duty is to get out of St Catherine’s way.

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