Villanova won the NCAA championship for the second time in three years. At the same time, Loyola of Chicago, a 11th seeded team, made it to the final four. They won four games in the playoffs, all within one or two points. And their chaplain was a 99-year-old nun in a wheelchair.
Then, in the women’s league, Notre Dame won their national championship, winning the last two games by an average of one second each.
What is it with these Catholic colleges? What is the connection between these championship sports teams and the New Testament? And the Catholic Church? Is God, as we understand Him, on their side? Are prayers effective? Does the Creator of the universe care about who wins?
At the same time Villanova won, the Buffalo Evening News published the names and photos of 50 priests who abused young boys in the last 50 years. Now, what is the connection here? (Just to get you thinking.)
One difference between Villanova and Michigan (its rival in the championship game) is that Villanova is a much smaller college with a common mode of spirituality. The team prays after every game, win or loose, thanking the Lord for His help, as do many of the students pray for victory.
This spiritual unity of the whole school – regardless of one thinks prayer is effective or not – seems to have an effect on the spirit of the basketball team. Even from a secular view, a whole school praying for victory could have an effect on the energy of the game, not unlike the belief that meditation has an effect on world events.
Another difference between Michigan and Villanova is the Villanova, and the other Catholic colleges, focus on the whole student, not just the basketball-playing aspect of the student’s personality. They insist that the player’s academic success is more important than his athletic success.
It is a seemingly contradiction (an antithesis) that a school’s focus on the whole student has better results that the focus on individual players’ basketball skills, with some of the top players having as their main goal to make the NBA as soon as possible. However counter-intuitive this may seem, the focus on the whole student seems to periodically result in better basketball results. This seems to be what has been happening with Villanova, Notre Dame, and Loyola.
The pedophile scandal
Now let’s tackle the pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church. This may be impossible to fully understand it, but let’s give it a try.
One way to look at this scandal is through the cognitive eyeglasses of Karen Horney: idealism versus authenticity.
Historically the Catholic Church presented itself to the world as an idealistic institution, led by holy and pure leaders. (Some “protestants” protested that, no, the Church as not idealistic, but rather evil.) Catholic believers put the Church on a pedestal, not unlike man has historically put women on an idealistic pedestal (see Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique).
Then, as was destined to happen, the secrets of the Church were finally exposed. This was not unlike the secret Betty Friedan exposed: that a woman being on an idealistic pedestal was, in fact, oppressive. The shocking perception of the Catholic Church by its believers was: “Oh, my God, the Church is human! It is led by imperfect, fallible human beings!”
After the scandal, the Church lost much of it’s moral authority: Catholics thought, “If the Church leaders don’t know that protecting pedophiles is wrong, how much can they know about the differences between right and wrong in other areas?”
The existential deductions made by many believing Catholics, especially in Ireland and Quebec, was, “Well, let’s just throw the Church out.”
The problem with this conclusion is that perhaps it was throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Perhaps the Church also has a divine aspect to its identity. Like Jesus, perhaps the Church is fully human and fully divine.
This may also be a characteristic of the Notre Dame, Villanova, and Loyola teams. Perhaps there is an element of divine Spirit going on there, in these very human teams, playing for very human universities.
So, what is the synthesis, the conclusion?
Perhaps the scandals of the Catholic Church will historically have a beneficial result. Perhaps the Church will end up being – and perceived as – an authentic institution. One that is fully human and fully divine. Like the Villanova victory.