How to Pray During a Time of Scandal


Here in New Jersey, a school superintendent was found to be defecating on a rival school’s athletic track. Meanwhile, a prestigious Catholic school has acknowledged that over a dozen of its priests have been accused of sexual abuse. Nationally, we’ve become accustomed to the President embroiled in legal battles over his own promiscuous behavior.

Scandal. It’s ugly and seemingly everywhere.

No matter who you are, scandal has an effect on you. It can make you negative. It can sap your hope. It can make you sick to your stomach.

The real question isn’t so much about stopping scandal, although that should be on the mind of anyone in a position of authority. Rather, the question I face is more interior: how should you pray in a time of scandal?

The recent flurry of news surrounding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is a painful case study. A prominent cleric who climbed the ecclesial ladder of success is being accused of decades of deviant behavior. He apparently led a secret double life and it’s coming to light as he approaches his 90th birthday.

As the stories of McCarrick’s shadow life emerged, I felt sick to my stomach. Having known people who served in McCarrick’s dioceses, the news seemed even more shocking. How could a charming and magnetic person have so much darkness? And, how could my church not have stopped this?

My anger then diffused to the wider church. Having run a Catholic high school for seven years, I knew every good, bad and ugly thing about my institution. Now magnify that kind of an awareness on the church that propelled McCarrick into higher levels of leadership. People knew. A lot of people must have known. Those that didn’t know the specifics at least knew the generalities.

Sickening. Frustrating. Maddening.

Are we that complacent that we didn’t speak up when children were being abused? Was our affection for a charming cleric so great that we lacked care for those who were being abused?

Resolve. That’s where my own prayers have fallen as the McCarrick story has developed.

  1. I am resolved to pray for the church and pray for those abused.
  2. I am resolved to pray for McCarrick’s soul for it’s clear that he is far from being canonized a saint.
  3. I am resolved to pray for our priests and bishops, that they will cast aside clericalism and pursue holiness above all aims.
  4. I am resolved to not get negative when I feel sad and frustrated by the church.
  5. I am resolved to find ways to improve whatever unhealthy structures have contributed to the church’s total failure related to McCarrick.

We’ve failed, yes. We all hurt in a time like this.

The questions we cannot avoid and must accompany our hurt are these: are we praying daily for the church and all of its members? Can our responsibility for the church make it better? Can we avoid negativism and pursue holiness?


So how can you pray during a time of scandal? First, remember that, no matter what is going on “out there”, you and I still have work to do on our own prayer lives. Just because McCarrick’s abhorrent behavior is the talking point of the news doesn’t mean that I am off the hook for having a daily quiet time. In addition to our own daily prayer, we can find creative ways to help the church be more whole and holy. Second, in a time of scandal, you can take the brave step of praying for those that are in the trenches. In particular, I’m thinking of our priests. They need not only prayer but a word of encouragement. Imagine how you would feel if your entire industry was marred by a perception of sexual abuse? It must be lonely and for that reason, our priests need our encouragement. 

I’m resolved. Are you?

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