The Reformation was a theological challenge and not a moral one. Yes, Luther railed against Popes and their excesses, bishops and their lavish lives, monks whose vow of poverty did not prevent them from living better lives than the people outside the monastery, and priests who were ignorant and immoral. But the Reformation was not primarily a call to moral reform but to theological reform, to the renewed voice of the Scriptures in defining what is believed and how it is practiced in the worship life of the people. It was a theological debate over the core and center of why we are able to stand before God and what commends us to Him. It was a question of authority that compelled Luther and the Reformers to turn away from erring popes, erring councils, and erring magisterium. Luther did so not by turning away from the Church but by digging down to the foundations -- to the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ the chief cornerstone.
The Reformation took place within a culture that was, at least on the outside, distinctly Christian. The secular rulers were not entirely secular and the community and culture of the people was thoroughly imbued with the Christian identity of the past. Yes, new things were happening. The birth of humanism and the printing press and the notion of state supported education were all shaping what was happening at the time but the landscape was a Christian one -- people believed in God, they had respect for the Church, they observed their lives through the Sacraments, their calendar was shaped as much by the Church Year as by season, and they saw themselves within the context of God's unfolding work and will.
The post-Reformation period did not see the decline of Christianity but its renewal, albeit within the fractured state of Protestantism and the competing claims of different churches. Judged by the number of books published alone, it was a fruitful time of considering, study, confession, and theological endeavor. Even Rome was renewed, becoming even more Roman following the Council of Trent. This Counter-Reformation was not simply a me too movement but an attempt by Rome to confront some of the things that they believed the Reformation had exposed -- liturgical abuse, failure of catechesis, and corruption among them.
The modern day abuse scandals are far different and they have occurred at a far different time in history. It is not so much about theology but about morality. The scandal here is that priests not only abused children, youth, and young adults but that this was primarily homosexual abuse that betrayed a culture of secret acceptance of homosexuality. The scandal here is that bishops not only knew but turned a blind eye to it all -- from the active homosexual behavior of the clergy to the abuse of children and youth. The scandal here is that the message of the Gospel has been betrayed not by false theologies but by the immorality of clergy. Yes, I know, it is not strictly morality at play here but those outside the Church see this as a grave moral failure and not a theological crisis. The world has stopped listening to those who speak for the faith not because they found them to be speaking falsely but because they found them to be unworthy voices and untrustworthy ones at that.
All of this comes at a time when the culture is already unfriendly toward Christianity in general and the specific jurisdictions in particular. Europe is a declining Christian landscape in which the people have largely privatized what faith they have and ignored the Church -- except for the cultural expressions that accompany seasonal feasts and festivals. The diversity of Europe's ethnicity and its culture have competed against Christianity and the decline in the vitality of the Christian faith have been hastened by the moral scandals. In other words, those who reject the Church's theology have no found good reason to reject the Church's witness -- one with which the faithful who remain find hard to disagree. This is not primarily a theological crisis but a moral one and yet it has profound theological implications. The voice of the Church has been tainted, perhaps even silenced, and at least muted by the loss of moral authority and credibility. While this abuse scandal is largely, at least in terms of the media, a Roman Catholic problem, it will affect the witness of Christianity as a whole.
The aftermath of this scandal will most certainly be met with some sort of reform and yet it will also be accompanied by definite decline in Rome. The renewal may very well take the shape of a smaller Roman Church and the turnover of leaders responsible for the scandal or who have failed to be agents of its rightful repair. The consequences for non-Roman churches may be similar. In the end, the efforts of those to silence orthodox Christianity will be bolstered by this moral failure and will require other faithful Christian institutions to regroup -- as well as Rome. Finally, the one positive fruit of the scandal may well be the renewal of ecclesiastical supervision within the churches -- renewed attention to the fact that we are all accountable and this accountability has consequences.
So, will it be worse than the Reformation for Rome? Possibly, at least from the secular forces aligned against Rome. The moral house must be set in order for Rome to survive but to one Lutheran looking from outside, the theological house still requires serious attention. The heart and soul of orthodox Christianity is under attack and morality alone will not turn back these enemies of Christ. What we should all hope and pray for is not the end to terrible news from the media but an honest and faithful movement of renewal in creed and confession, clergy and church, doctrine and life.