This Easter, A Priest Prays For The Church's Rebirth Good Friday reminds us that Jesus went to his crucifixion freely and surrendered his life for something greater, says commentator James Martin, a Jesuit priest. This year, he says, the day has special meaning for the Catholic Church, as it faces a growing scandal over the sexual abuse of children by priests.
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This Easter, A Priest Prays For The Church's Rebirth

The Rev. James Martin believes that this year, Good Friday has special meaning for the Catholic Church as it faces a growing scandal over sexual abuse by priests. Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

The Rev. James Martin believes that this year, Good Friday has special meaning for the Catholic Church as it faces a growing scandal over sexual abuse by priests.

Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

The Rev. James Martin is a Catholic priest and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.

The religious symbolism could not be clearer. On Good Friday, Jesus of Nazareth willingly surrendered himself to his fate, which led to his trial, torture and crucifixion. The Catholic Church, too, is undergoing a crucifixion.

And I'm not talking about the hierarchy here, but the entire church, the "People of God," as the Second Vatican Council said. The primary suffering in the church has been among the victims of sexual abuse, which destroys lives and entire families. So the church suffers.

Good Friday, though, reminds us that Jesus went to his crucifixion freely and surrendered his life for something greater, which came on Easter Sunday. This profound image may help the Catholic Church meditate on what it is invited to do. But that means that something has to die.

What needs to die is a clerical culture that fostered power, privilege and secrecy. An attitude that placed a priest's reputation above a child's welfare. A mindset in which investigations of dissident theologians and American Catholic sisters were more swiftly prosecuted than investigations of abusive priests. What needs to die is a certain pride. All this needs to be surrendered freely.

But the story does not end on Good Friday. That's what critics who say that the church is dead aren't seeing. "Dying to self," painful as it is, always leads to something new. Jesus' willingness to die led to everlasting life on Easter Sunday.

If we can let those old habits die, the church can be reborn as well. It can be a church more willing to confess its sins, more willing to seek forgiveness, more willing to do penance. Simple, humble, poor — like Jesus.

This is not to say that God intended abuse for the "benefit" of the church, any more than God intends any other kind of suffering. But the passion, death and resurrection of Christ invites the church to ponder what must die — so that it may live anew.