This year the religious symbolism of Easter could not be more resonant for the Catholic Church. Each day from Good Friday to Easter Sunday offers the Church a profound spiritual message as it confronts the horrific effects of the crimes of clerical sexual abuse, which have convulsed the church, first in the United States, and now in Europe.
Start with Good Friday, the day that commemorates the death of Jesus of Nazareth. On that day, Jesus willingly surrendered himself to his fate, which would lead to his brief trial, his grueling torture, his arduous walk to Calvary and his ultimate crucifixion. The Catholic Church, too, is undergoing a kind of crucifixion.
But not in the way that you might think. And not in the way that you might think of "the church."
Because I'm not talking about the hierarchy here; nor am I talking about the recent critiques of the Church in the public square. I'm talking about something else, something more fundamental: the "People of God," to use a striking image from the Second Vatican Council, which transformed Catholics thinking about the church. Despite the common parlance, "the church" is not simply the hierarchy -- the bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes -- but the men, women and children in the pews, particularly those who are poor or suffering in any way.
Thus the primary and greatest suffering in the Catholic Church in past decades has been among the victims of the crimes of sexual abuse, which destroys lives and entire families. It is a scourging for them, as surely as Jesus was scourged at the pillar. These are the victims; these are the crucified ones; these are the Christ-figures in our midst.