According to the internet (always a reliable source), Christmas saw a Presbyterian who wondered if the world would not have been a better place without Jesus, one Roman priest who did not believe the creed and refused to say it, and one who canceled parish masses for Epiphany because he found the whole story (including Christmas) a fairy tale supported by capitalist consumerism.
As if we did not need evidence of Europe’s wholesale abandonment of its Christian faith! But the danger is more internal than external and always has been. Sure, the culture is skeptical and disinterested and there is a political will that is at odds with the whole idea of objective truth. To the people in the pews, however, and the folks who have not yet heard the Gospel, the real danger lies in clerics who feel it necessary to preach their own crisis of faith more than the Word of Christ and Him crucified -- the ministry to which they were ordained.
The Presbyterian was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Derek Browning. He chose Christmas to confess that his darker moments included wondering whether “the world [would] have been a better place without [Jesus]. If there was no Jesus, and therefore no Christianity, would there have been no Crusades? Would there have been no Spanish Inquisition?” One of the priests was Fr. Fredo Olivero of the Church of San Rocco di Torino (Archdiocese of Turin) who replaced the creed at midnight mass with a sentimentalized Italian pop-religious tune “Dolce sentire.” He explained: “Do you know why I do not say the Creed? Because I do not believe it. . . . After many years I understood that it was something I did not understand and that I could not accept. So let’s sing something else that says the essential things of life.” The other priest was a priest of Genoa, Fr. Paolo Farinella, who abruptly cancelled parish masses for January 1 (the Octave of Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God) and January 6 (the Epiphany) because Christmas is “a fairy tale from the nativity scene with lullabies and bagpipes, the exclusive support of a capitalist and consumerist economy, transforming the whole of Christianity into civil religion.”
Pastors have doubts. Even good ones. But good pastors do not feel obligated to share those doubts with the people they have been called to serve or lead people astray because they must be true to themselves. Good pastors who have doubts that make it impossible for them in good conscience to continue serving, resign and go away quietly. Good people who find themselves in the grip of despair over a loss of faith quietly seek out counselors to assist them and do not blab their doubts in a vain attempt to draw people away from the faith with them. We live in an age when we feel duty bound to admit every doubt and announce them across the pages of social media and whoever will listen. In the end, it is always more about the person than the doubts. Perhaps the person cannot abide being the center of things and so chooses to exploit his or her position within the church to betray the faith or to steal the faith of the faithful as much as they are able. All is vanity, says the real preacher. This is nothing more or less than vanity.
If a pastor cannot keep his ordination vows, he is duty bound to resign. If he does not intend to keep those vows, he is duty bound to renounce those ordination vows and leave quietly. People of God, this is why you need to know what those ordination vows are. You need to know what your pastor has promised to do. . . and not to do. You deserve to have a pastor who intends, by the grace of God, to keep those promises. The real undoing of the Church comes not from voices of skepticism and doubt outside or even threat but from those inside who betray the faith and the faithful and lead people away from the Christ they have promised to preach and teach. If a pastor no longer believes or cannot confess the creed with integrity, that is his problem. If he spreads his doubts and unbelief to those he serves, that is their problem. We have a zero tolerance for this. Love the man but don't let him continue to serve.