Jan 12, 2010

We All Knew

And speaking of lying and reputations...

Cardinal George spoke to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their recent meeting and spoke directly about how they have a tarnished reputation and they too, have a need to reconcile with the Catholic faithful and continue to lead us as Bishops into the next decade.

If there is a loosening of our relationship between ourselves and those whom Christ has given us to govern in love, it is for us to reach out and re-establish connections necessary for all to remain in communion....

Our pastoral concern for ecclesial unity does not diminish our awareness of our own mistakes and sins. There are some who would like to trap the Church in historical events of ages long past and there are others who would keep the bishops permanently imprisoned in the clerical sexual abuse scandal of recent years. The proper response to a crisis of governance, however, is not no governance but effective governance.

Loss of trust, we know, weakens relationships and will continue to affect our ministry, even though clerical ranks have been purged of priests and bishops known to have abused children and the entire Church has taken unprecedented means to protect children and to reach out to vicitms.

In any case, the sinfulness of churchmen can not be allowed to discredit the truth of Catholic teaching or to destroy the relationships that create ecclesial communion.

Amen! We are one church! All of us together in the muck and dregs that we call sin. While we are often all-too-quick to point fingers at the Bishops when it comes to sexual abuse of children, one of the big responses that I heard throughout the abuse scandal was not one of surprise, but one of sadness for a lack of response from those with power.

But if the fact that little and not so little children were abused by clerics were not surprising to us as laity, then why did we not take more rigorous action? We too bear some responsibility here and I'll point the finger back at my own family and myself to start. I hesitate to share this information but the timing is right.

As a teen-ager I was always around the church as an altar boy. A priest, (who I won't name here, and he has indeed been removed from ministry) took an interest in me and in some of my friends. He was friendly and had a humorous tone at all times. I enjoyed his company when we spent time together in the sacristy before mass. I remember at a parish party when he had a few glasses of wine and he put his arm around me and nuzzled his head on my shoulder. I was about 15.

It was then that I got the heeby-jeebies. And more important, so did my mother. It seemed a bit familiar and intimate. While I hug most of my friends and colleagues that I know well, even today, this seemed to be a bit odd.

Fast-forward a number of years, and my mother told me a hair raising story. At the height of the scandal I got word that this priest had been accused and found guilty of molesting many young boys. I called Mom and told her the sad news. She replied:

"Did I ever tell you that "Fr. X" called me and told me that he thought you had a vocation and that he wanted to take you on a trip to Rome? He thought that would have solidified your call to the priesthood."

Yikes! God bless a mother's intuition in not allowing her young boy to go off to Rome with someone she found suspect.

And while she protected me, perhaps she needed to do a bit more? She didn't call a pastor or a bishop (and reports mentioned that his religious order ordained him even though they knew of a past history of abuse). She didn't report the suspicion that he might very well be a predator. Perhaps she had no proof and perhaps it may have fallen on deaf ears, and while uncomfortable, perhaps something more should have been said?

Who knows? Hindsight is always 20/20. But let's face it: We knew Mark McGwire was juicing and we didn't want to let ourselves see that. We knew that some priests were a bit odd and inappropriate with children and perhaps not well sexually integrated, even though they'd say openly that they were straight celibate men. We knew. We all just didn't want to say that we did and were taken aback when some of the bravest amongst us did in fact, make accusations.

And therein we have our conundrum. It is us that want to have heroes, people of repute that we look up to and often, our heroes fall short of the reputations that we'd like them to have. Be they Presidents or Popes, Bishops or Batters, Prophets or Parents, our heroes often fall from grace.

Indeed it is up to us to not merely point fingers but also to help mend fences. How do we point ourselves in new and healthier directions to bring the church out of disrepute and into a place where people see us as honorable and justice-seekers? I think that's where Cardinal George is hoping to lead the Bishops.

And it is my prayer that they lead all of us to embrace that same challenege.


god googler said...

Via Facebook
From Mary Anne Reese

I don't really think we all knew. Nor do I think anyone coming forward would have been taken seriously or treated well; recent experience has shown the opposite. This one lies squarely at the feet of the U.S. bishops. No laity need take a shred of the responsibility.

god googler said...

Via Facebook
From Maggie Stahl

I agree with Mary Anne. I've never had any poor experiences with a priest. There was a great article in the NCR over the summer about the Bishops having a year of atonement, and I wholeheartedly agree. Political heads can be refused the eucharist for simply voicing alternative views, yet priests and bishops get a slap on the wrist for sexually abusing young people? That hardly seems right.

god googler said...

Via Facebook:

From Dawn Sweeney

I wonder if the lack of men entering the priesthood "forces" the church to ordain those who should not be ordained? Also, if the church was more lenient with who it allows to be ordained as a priest and more could be called, the church would not feel pressured to take those it shouldn't?

god googler said...

Via Facebook

From Larry Rice

I like your perspective, Mike.

I have to say, though, that Cardinal George's many references to "governance" rather than "service" sound like *precisely* the episcopal attitude and approach that led so many of his fellow "governors" to place the reputation of the church over the safety of children.

And his saying that the ranks of priests and bishops has been purged of known abusers may be true as far as it goes, but very few bishops have been held accountable for their actions and lack of action during this crisis. At least in Ireland the worst responsible bishops had the good sense and grace to resign. Governance without accountability begins to sound like despotism.

god googler said...

Via facebook
From Connie Lane Neuman

Lack of hard proof and deaf and denying ears in those days...thanks be to God these tragic things are painfully out in the open now. But our Church is not praying about this...we prayed about 9/11; we do not pray for healing for the victims, for the perpetrators, for ourselves.

god googler said...

Via Facebook
From Mary Sperry

Dawn, initial research from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice seems to indicate that many of the priests who became abusers were actualy ordained before the numbers started falling. And Connie, I can offer you two prayer resources. A simple prayer for victims: http://www.usccb.org/ocyp/PrayerCard.pdf

And a rosary for healing and protection: http://www.usccb.org/ocyp/rosary_guide_online.pdf

I'm rather partial to the rosary since I was the author.

god googler said...

Thanks to all for the comments. My thoughts:

I HIGHLY disagree with the esteemed Ms. Reese in this case (a rare time when we disagree). I think we all knew someone who was just a little off, perhaps it's just my circle of friends or people that I've heard from--maybe it's also regional--East Coast vs Midwest. Perhaps it's also because the Midwest went through this early especially in Chicago where Cardinal Bernadin was well ahead of the curve on this.

Maggie...I agree with the latter part of your comment and am glad to know of your great experience with priests.

Dawn--I think there's some merit to what you say in part. I think it was a lack of checking for proper sexual integration (for both straight and gay men--not one over and against the other as many would have us think)

god googler said...


I guess it depends on how you look at what he says. I can see your point clearly--but I also think that many would like the church to come to a dead standstill and that is what Cardinal George is fighting against. You may be right about his clerical attitude.

god googler said...

Thanks Mary--those are great resources and great additional information.

god googler said...

Via Facebook

From Mike Young:

"Fr. Andrew Greeley mentioned it on the Phil Donahue show when I was in Grammar school, My Mom was shocked and would not believe it."

St Edwards Blog said...

I am late to this but I wanted to say that this is an outstanding post and thread of comments. Mike, you and your blog are true light in this world. Thank you and God bless you.

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