Flannery O’Connor once said: “You have to suffer as much from the Church as for it. We are all familiar with instances of people suffering for the Church.  There innumerable martyrs both officially recognized and those unrecognized.  We know also of people suffering from the Church.  The most outstanding instance of that is the Inquisition.  However the Inquisition is interpreted or described historically, clearly it represents  instances of people suffering from the Church.

A different level of suffering  from the Church can b seen in the treatment of persons like Galileo.  Contemporary examples are theologians like Yves Congar, Henri duLubac, and John Courtney Murray.  There is also the unknown number of persons who suffered because of treatment by Church Officials e.g. on the occasion of a baptism, wedding or funeral.

The Church is the privileged source of blessings and grace, especially in the sacraments.  How can the Church also be a source of suffering?  Therein lies a paradox.  The Church has an historical, human dimension.  The Church has an eternal, divine dimension.

A study of the Church under both dimensions, the divine anf the human, requires looking at the Church historically, sociologically as well as theologically.  Any single method would result in only a partial picture and less than full understanding. Studying the Church on a purely theological level would result in what could be called an idealist ecclesiology; a description of what the Church should be ideally.  But that bears little resemblance to the actual church as it has been experienced in history.  Reading the actual history of the Church, even when written by sympathetic authors, can be quite disturbing.

There are abundant examples of the dark, human side of the Church from which people have suffered:

– the Inquisition
– certain aspects of the Crusades
– the confusion about papal succession in the fourteenth century
– the corruption within the Church that contributed to the Protestant Reformation
-the failure of the Church to uphold consistently basic human values by becoming identified with the dominant class that was often unjust and oppressive of minorities
-(most recently) clergy sexual abuse

The Church is divine in its origin but remains human in its membership. For that reason it can appear as deeply flawed.  According to its founder holiness was not a qualification for membership.  “For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”  (Mt. 9: 13)

For anyone suffering from the Church it can be helpful to recall the plight of Job.  At the end of his anguished questioning, God appeared to Job, not to defend his wisdom but to stress his majesty.  The mystery of the Church reflects the mystery of Christ, where love transmutes suffering into redemptive sacrifice.