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Often we forget a potent passage in Scripture that says:

"The season of judgment has begun, and begun with God's own household."

Does this not tell us that we are in special times? It's in 1 Peter 4:17, and, it would seem, relates directly to what we are seeing in the Roman Catholic Church: a true crisis, and a true cleansing.

Indeed, the clergy abuse scandal, which first hit headlines in a big way during 2002, has continued -- in some cases, frighteningly. It has become clear, to be blunt, that evil infested hundreds of clergy (according to one report, in 2002, at least 4,392 priests and deacons in the U.S.). Most recently, horrendous reports have surfaced of similar abuse in Ireland and Germany, as well as blogs asserting that the founder of a huge, major order, Father Marcial Maciel, of the Legion of Christ, had at least five separate identities and died in the company of an exorcist (at the same time, claims the report, that Father Maciel, who was laicized by the Vatican for abuse, was no longer attending Mass).

This indicates an obvious prayer need. The presence of more than one identity and the need for an exorcist implies the obvious, although less discussed and just as dark has been the devil's influence in the way of those who criticize our Popes, who attack other Catholics (calling each other "heretics"), and have separated from Rome, or, on the liberal side, in the way of parishes that are sterile, seminaries that (still) tolerate homosexuality, convents that have adopted New Age beliefs, and priests who have chosen psychology over the spiritual.

The Church has taken it from all sides.

This might be what Pope Paul VI saw when in 1972 he warned of the "smoke of Satan" entering the Church; we know now the 1970s were the decade when abuse was about to peak (it is the decade, along with the Eighties, under scrutiny in German scandals).

In fact, it was the tremendous spread of modern philosophy and psychology in the Church during that period (see especially Carl Rodgers) that in large part led to the abuse scandal and its cover-up (the notion that it is okay to act on one's impulses, or that a transgressor should go through therapy instead of penance and discipline).

Those temptations had been planted by the devil, but too many bishops -- ardently seeking acceptance by the scientific world, and intensely concerned with public scandal -- were hamstrung in dealing with the onslaught because they had largely dispensed with exorcism (in favor of those same psychiatric explanations).

We love our bishops. We respect our priests. There are many incredible ones. Always, obedience to Rome is paramount.

At the same time, the Church is in a crisis (if one includes the general decline in churchgoing) that may be comparable to the time of the Reformation, or even 1049, when St. Peter Damian's Book of Gomorrah recorded great debauchery in the Church, especially "incestuous relations with spiritual children."

There remain priests who should not be priests. They have not yet been rooted out. The horror stories roll on: of priests allowed to lead flocks even when they have been found fondling youngsters or replaced by a new pastor who also has a record -- and was simply shifted to another parish. We all know these accounts. But they continue. They seem endless. There was true diabolical behavior. The shepherds were infiltrated.

This week, 24 Irish bishops huddled with the Pope in Rome over scandals that have already cost four bishops their chanceries.

The explosion of abuse in the very heart of devout Catholic Ireland (once an exporter of priests) is startling -- putting Catholicism there on the ropes, much to secular glee. The Irish scandal has come close to damaging the Vatican itself.

Meanwhile: bishops in England, Wales, and Scotland are now publicly instructing the faithful that not everything in the Bible is to be taken as literal truth. In Rome, the Catholic newspaper L'Osservatore Romano has paid tribute of late to performers such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones and now is regularly reviewing the latest fare from Hollywood.

One can respectfully question this. While some can see the point of doing so to deflect views that the Church is out of touch and archaic, our Holy Church steps onto a slippery slope when it cares what the world (including those stuck on Galileo) think of it.

There has been an infection of pride, along with the intellectualism, and it is this that will be rooted out by God in the cleansing -- while also there are glimmerings of hope.

A remarkable core of devout, faithful priests has survived against all odds in the U.S., and conservative seminaries continue to see a rise in enrollment. According to a survey released last week, 65 percent of Catholics who are 18 to 29 year olds  are "very or somewhat interested in learning more about their faith." This is good news indeed.

Among practicing Catholics, it was 84 percent.

And so despite all the horrendous news (and there is no doubt about how incredibly extensive it has been), the Church itself -- the people in the pews, and their faithful shepherds -- remain firmly planted. We are rooted in the unshakable sacraments.

And we can rest assured, when it comes to the Church, and Rome, no matter how much worse things may appear, that as Jesus promised, "the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18). As it states elsewhere in Scripture, God chastises most those who are closest to Him.

We are seeing this. It is a sign of the times. Churches close. So do schools. Women defy Rome to become "priests." A priest is arrested for cocaine, making headlines. Sad, but our Church is true and our leadership and so many priests are good and we will survive this storm -- the greatest since the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, as the secular world snickers, they should recall the entirety of the quote with which this article began:

"The season of judgment has begun, and begun with God's own household," it said -- but adds:

"If it begins this way with us, what must be the end for those who refuse obedience to the gospel of God?"

[resources: Prayer of the Warrior and Spiritual Warfare Prayers]

[see also: My personal horror story, Vatican cardinal vows to rid Church of abusers, Huge meeting in Rome with Irish bishops, Florida and female 'priests', The greatest threat since the Reformation?, L'Osservatore Romano's top ten albums, and Bishop will excommunicate those who attend priestess Masses]

[Midwest retreat: St. Louis, St. Augustine, Fl. retreat, March 6, and San Francisco retreat: 'secrets', prophecy, spiritual healing: February 27: we ask for your prayers]

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