Barely a week goes by without reading head-lines of ongoing or newly exposed sexual scandals in the Church. Yesterday was not a good day for bishops in the news. Here in Canada, the disgraced Bishop Raymond Lahey was “sentenced to 15 months in prison and two years probation but will receive a two-for-one credit for time served. Lahey pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography for the purposes of importation to Canada.” (CBC News Report) Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala has resigned after admitting he fathered two children. (NCR)
Both stories have started a flurry of online discussions. Many are infuriated that Lahey is already freed. (see National Post) Over at the National Catholic Reporter, an editorial by Michael Sean Winters and a letter from Pax Christi try to balance the news of Bishop Zavala with acknowledgement of his many social justice efforts. While some describe genuine shock and sadness over Zavala’s resignation, there appears to be no love lost over Lahey.
I’m presently reading Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church by Jason Berry. It’s a long, depressing slog of a read. It exposes not only the web of secrecy behind the abuse scandals, but also the abuse of parish and diocesan funds used to pay for cover-ups and legal costs.
Hopefully all this will explain my need for a good rant today…
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus sees Nathanael approaching and says, “”Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” (John 1:47) The NRSV translation replaces duplicity with deceit. Both words are effective, but there is something about the image of duplicity that is worth pondering. Duplicity is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is a two-faced person. It is someone who presents the world with one persona that can be trusted and respected, while secretly living a life of lies. Once the lie is revealed, trust is lost. And, sadly, the distrust is often passed on to others through association. This is what is happening in our church.
In no way can I relate my own frustrations and anger to those who have been directly abused, deceived or hurt by duplicitous, deceitful, sinful priests and bishops. Yet, I do have anger; and it’s not going away. I’m angry at the pomposity of clericalism that has put men on a pedestal by virtue of ordination. I’m angry at the men who defiled this sacramental gift in such horrific ways. I’m angry for all the years (centuries!) that Catholics have been told to pray, pay and obey; no questions asked.
I`m angry because my church is now being identified with these sinful and corrupt leaders. This is wrong. But, it is understandable. The culture of clericalism was built on inflated egos, greedily hoarding power and authority. Too many priests and bishops claimed to be the sole voice of the church, in all matters. They claimed to BE the church. All decision-making powers rested with them, and they made sure we understood this. Well, now they can take responsibility for the loss of trust and respect that our church has suffered. They can take responsibility for the aura of duplicity and hypocrisy that surrounds us.
I have been blessed with many priests and bishops of integrity in my life. These men have my respect, affection, and continued prayerful support; especially in these difficult times. These men also have the wisdom to know that WE are, together, the Church. And only together can we get through this mess. It is time for us all to more intentionally embrace a life of integrity, and demand it of our leaders.
And, it is time to bury the old clerical culture for good.