The Catholic Church's sex abuse crisis in 2018 has become, for many Christians, a crisis of faith, one to which some simple reply or reassurance is not possible. Faith is not a product of sufficient thought, but a gift from God. And losing one's faith is a real possibility, especially if that gift is not properly received and cultivated. The institutional dimension of faith—the holiness of the Church—is essential to receiving faith the way it's given. When the sinfulness of churchmen, or even our own sinfulness, overwhelms us, faith becomes harder to square with our everyday, integrated experience.
A crisis of consciousness
This points to the idea that, on another level, our present crisis is really one of consciousness. When faith suddenly "drops out," an abscess forms in our self-perception. We find that faith isn't so much something we "have," but something that shapes and even creates the "I" we inhabit.
Losing faith doesn't mean that the propositions of faith no longer make sense to us—that Jesus is the Son of God, or that Mary is the immaculate virgin mother of God. Losing faith means that these propositions no longer help to form our perspectives on other propositions: e.g., that belief in divine causes is more sane than reductive materialism, or that the Church is a culturally important, even indispensable institution.
This epistemological rupture is nothing new. Great thinkers have seen it coming for decades; it's part of a global trend away from tradition and institutions in favor of modern isolationism and radical autonomy. Although, I think it's safe to say, the present dimensions and scale could hardly have been predicted exactly.
Accepting our fate
For those who want to cling to faith, things will only get worse before they get better. There's a certain healthy fatality to accept, here. This fatality is not fatalism, though, which comes in two forms. Either it says that faith is insufficient, and that the answer to any problem is more knowledge; or that we must replace the broken framework of faith with a new, better one.
These alternatives are closely related. On the one hand, to keep faith but demand more from it is a type of gnosticism. It's rampant among responses to the sexual abuse crisis, and manifests by way of endless personal opinions on complex, contingent topics. This fatalism exerts the energy and attention of faith on less worthy, very fleeting ends. On the other hand, replacing faith with something better invariably means to replace it with politics—either Church politics or secular politics. Politics can easily fill the abscess left by a loss of faith, since it also creates and shapes our "I" in powerful ways. For most of us, playing Church politics is far worse than secular politics, since it viciously misrepresents the degree to which faith, itself, is lacking. Politics as a replacement to faith is a type of motivated reasoning that is both naturally and emotionally unfulfilling.
Radical change is spiritual change
The sooner we reject false fatalism, the sooner we can get on with addressing the Church's deepest problems at their root. These problems are spiritual, and their roots are buried well beyond the reach of one generation. Thus, there is both an "active" and "passive" dimension to our work. The active dimension involves positively reforming the institutional Church in whatever ways we can, given our state in life, our awareness of specific situations, our skills and capabilities, etc. The passive dimension involves a disposition of filial concern, not only for the veracity of sacred doctrine, but for the Church's "incorporation" itself.
And so, we have a responsibility to demand more from our bishops, to reject their stagnant committee-forming and policy-making. As members of the baptized, we have a duty to promote the truth of the Gospel, and to question short-sighted or wrong-headed plans when we see them. We even have the right to suggest, with charity, better avenues for picking our spiritual leaders, themselves. But none of this will work in the Church's favor, or in ours, if we don't also reflect deeply on the causes and affections of our faith in the first place. If we don't reject a self-help mentality that only glorifies "better" and "smarter."
We will never begin to understand the Church's sexual abuse crisis—or our own crisis of consciousness—if we don't first appropriate the same radical unity that animated the first Christians to begin building the magnificent culture, and the wonderful identity, we fear we're losing.