We Need a Modern Cleansing of the Temple

The conclave of 2013 expected a pontiff who would clean up the Church

Most Sundays, the Church prescribes one Gospel to be read. This Sunday, the priest has a choice of two. That’s because, while the Sunday Gospels normally rotate over three years, there is an exception on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent. Lent is the season during which catechumens prepare for Baptism; therefore, although the Gospels of those Sundays continue to rotate, priests can always use the readings for year A (the so-called “scrutiny readings” connected with the examination of candidates) because of their special relationship to Baptism.

If your parish is using the scrutiny readings this year, the Gospel will be from John about Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well. If your parish is following the rotational cycle, the Gospel will also be from John, but about how Jesus cleansed the Temple.

I normally prefer that priests follow the scrutiny readings every year, but I want to draw some attention instead to the rotational Gospel for year B.

Jesus goes up to the Temple. He sees the extortion underway. The moneychangers are running personally profitable currency exchanges, because the Temple cannot be “profaned” by secular currencies. The lamb, goat, bull, and bird sellers are hawking their sacrificial wares. And there’s good reason to believe that a cut goes to the “big guy” — Caiaphas — who held the priesthood for 18 years at the time of Jesus’ public ministry. The high priest held office on Roman approval, and it’s doubtful that approval came gratis.

So, Jesus sees and is upset by the commercial enterprise interposed against the anawim, the poor and simple faithful Jews who came to the Temple to worship. And, for that reason, He fashions a whip and drives those thieves out of the Temple.

Sunday’s Gospel was chosen for this Sunday (as are two other Johannine texts over the next two weeks) to disclose Jesus’ path towards the Passion and Resurrection. That said, let’s consider this Gospel in itself.

As I read this text, I cannot but ask what Our Lord might say today? The Gospel speaks of the “Temple of His Body,” and we know that His Body is not just a figurative image. His Body is the Mystical Body into which we are engrafted by Baptism. It is His Church. It is His Presence in time and history today.

And that Church has been grossly marred in recent years by scandals, compared to which being a “den of thieves” would represent an improvement. In 2002, the Church suffered humiliation from the exposure of homosexual clergy sexual abuse, whose epicenter was the Archdiocese of Boston, though, from subsequent events it is now clearly naïve to have assumed the matter was so geographically limited.

The Catholic bishops of the United States paid lip service to getting “tough,” even promulgating a plethora of policies that primarily scrutinize lay people while leaving many priests and especially bishops free either to have continued preying sexually on young people and/or to cover up that preying. The whole sordid stench broke out again in 2018, when it became clear that the archbishop of America’s capital city, a man who reached the heights of clerical prestige — Theodore “Uncle Teddy” McCarrick — was involved. Since then we have endured a subsequent drip, drip, drip of sex scandals, with constant declarations that the bishops and pope are doing something.

And yet it goes on and on and on.

In an unusual manifestation of episcopal backbone, the American bishops themselves wanted to ask questions about how Theodore McCarrick got to where he was. They were shut down, not by the papal nuncio but by the Archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, who can otherwise be counted on to drone incessantly about the need for “dialogue” — except at that point when it mattered. Instead, the matter went to Rome which, in due time, issued a report assuring us that everybody who knew something was dead and anybody alive knew nothing.

The cardinals who in 2013 picked Jorge Bergoglio as pope were generally regarded as having expected a pontiff who would clean up the Church in terms of personnel and administration — not “make a mess” in terms of doctrinal or moral questions. That expectation has been largely unrealized; one can even argue that the pontiff appears to have gone out of his way to protect favored cronies credibly accused of sexual abuse.

One almost wishes an alter Christus appeared today to cleanse these ecclesiastical Augean stables, because it seems the Vicarius Christi isn’t up to the task.


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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