The Adulterous Bride of Christ: Why the Catholic Church is Still Christ's Church
The Catholic Church is currently mired in a crisis of clerical sexual abuse that many think is unprecedented. Yet God certainly has not been surprised by this and provides the Church with Biblical guidance for this circumstance. In a lesser known story of the Old Testament, God called the prophet Hosea to take Gomer, an adulterous woman, as his wife. The reason for this unusual command is revealed throughout the book as Gomer’s unfaithfulness models Israel, and Hosea’s steadfast love shows how God continues to love his people.
In the New Testament, we learn that, as a Church, we are the bride of Christ, and that like Gomer, we are continually unfaithful and adulterous. As we learn of the depths to which clerical sexual abuse has polluted the Church, the words of Hosea seem to apply to modern day Catholics just as they did to the Israelites of his day.
Although the most memorable metaphor in the book is God’s love to an unfaithful bride, it takes the form of a harsh rebuke and gives a warning that serious sin brings dire consequences. Through Hosea, God tells the Israelites that their sin is so grave that it destroys their relationship with Him, “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord.” This passage should terrify Catholics.
Like Israel, we have, on a massive scale, abandoned our God to chase after idols. The Old Testament records instances of kings sacrificing their children on the altars of idols as one of the many sins that provoked God’s judgement. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report shows that Catholic bishops have been equally willing to sacrifice children in order to please the false gods of our day. Although we no longer bow to Baal, bishops and priests have been only too willing to sacrifice our children to appease the monstrous idols of sexual liberation and moral relativism.
In addition to proclaiming the guilt of Israel, Hosea also preaches the folly of seeking help from any worldly power, “When Ephraim saw his sickness and Judah his sores, then Ephraim turned to Assyria and sent to the great king for help. But he is not able to cure you, not able to heal your sores.” When our sin has separated us from God, it is hopeless to turn anywhere else for salvation. Yet, in this area it seems that Catholics have reason to hope. Although the silence of Pope Francis has left many wondering what he thinks of the scandal, lay Catholics and priests have responded to the crisis with prayers, fasting, and calls for a return to personal and collective holiness.
This is the only option that God left open to the people of Israel “Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me.” If this crisis does nothing else, it should liberate all Catholics from the delusion that we are holy by anything other than the grace of God. Like Israel, we must return to the Lord in humility and prayer.
Hosea leaves us with a message of hope, even in a dark time. Christ made the Church His bride knowing we would be unfaithful, just as Hosea married Gomer knowing she was a prostitute. Although there are always consequences for unfaithfulness, God’s love and care remains constant if we would just return to him. God promises that “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.” These are the words of God. We know they will come true. This only question is whether we will be there to reap the blessing.