Looking back, I’m grateful for the education the Church gave me. I walked out, I dare say, with its best principles in my heart, and maybe I left its worst behind. The Church stands yet and probably always will. It tells us that our lives mean something. It tells us that an individual existence has a shape, beginning with baptism and passing to confession, communion, confirmation, and marriage all the way to extreme unction and the grave. Without that inner structure, without some moral code, without forgiveness, what is life? Something closer to the experience of animals that merely eat, couple, and sleep. That the very best wisdom in the world is wrapped up with some of the worst crime is not easy for one to reconcile. But the Church now, even under the guidance of a new and invigorating pope, is a spiritual treasure guarded by a murderous dragon—and it is no less the treasure than it is the dragon.
For a major human riddle—maybe the major human riddle—is this: the worst kind of corruption is the corruption of the highest ideals. Where there are high ideals, there will often be corruption and often of the vilest sort. But without ideals, where—and what—would we be?