inquisitions are not the answer


Blanket accusations and indiscriminate purges are part of the dark history of the Catholic church. From the killing and pillaging associated with the “holy” Crusades, to the mass executions of “heretics” during the Spanish Inquisition and the Protestant Reformation, the church showed no mercy in its self-righteous mission to defend the one and only true faith. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Pope John Paul II made a public act of repentance for these sins of the church.

Inquisitorial times, whether in churches or governments, feed authoritarian power in those who hold power and those who seek power. In the desire to purge the named evil, false accusations are inevitable. Whispered rumours morph into fact from sheer repetition. Personal vendettas and ideological battles lead the unscrupulous to name perpetrators with little or no evidence. Officials snitch on other officials. Neighbours snitch on neighbours.

Today it is easier than ever to spread calumny, rumour or innuendo. Social media gives everyone a voice and a platform. It also gives everyone the opportunity to hear all voices, whether true or false. We demand instant reporting and instant responses. Out-of -context headlines are retweeted before sources are investigated or proven, often by well meaning persons.

The recent news on the ongoing sexual abuse crisis has ignited understandable anger. We want it ended. We’re tired of the shock and the disgust. We want heads to roll. And, let me be clear, guilty heads should and must roll.

But, due process must be put in place and followed.

Some are calling for a mass resignation of American bishops. Is this the answer? I don’t think so.  Many of us know, and perhaps are friends with, priests or bishops of integrity. Blanket accusations and assumptions of guilt are unfair, and dangerous. Even if proven innocent, the initial assumption of guilt is seldom forgotten.

Cover-ups or canonical slaps on the wrist for serious crimes of abuse must end. The answer is a due process of law, with punishment suited to the severity of the crime.

Another inquisition is not the answer.


statues, history writ large


Statues, as with any art, are seldom neutral. Images frozen into stone, marble, bronze or wood are more than a reproduction of an actual person or event.

the medium is the message

We stand before seemingly unchanging massiveness,  firmly grounded and soaring above us. Physical immutability etching a permanent message for the ages.

And yet, messages can change. Sometimes they must change. Should statues and monuments reflect that change?


history is not neutral

Many of us learned history by memorizing facts from a text book. The facts we learned depended on the dominant view at the time. For example, as a child I learned of heroic Jesuit missionaries martyred by the savage Iroquois. The historical focus was on courageous colonizers of foreign lands, who brought civilization and Christianity to uneducated natives.

Today, there is an increasing awareness about the dark side of colonialism. European domination and empire building led to enforced assimilation, loss of cultural and linguistic identity, pillaging of natural resources, slavery and war after war after war.

In my university studies, I learned the importance of historical criticism, the need to judge sources carefully. Who is recording the history? What sources are they using? What is their ideological leaning? The most important lesson I learned is that history is never without bias. The honest historian will acknowledge their own bias while trying to be as objective as possible.

But, history is never completely objective or neutral.

historical bias in the church

Some of the most blatant experiences of historical bias can be found in our churches and cathedrals. If history is written by the victors, than those same victors and their followers wanted to make sure we remembered them in all their glory. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is filled with tombs and monuments of military heroes. Massive statues of the apostles stare down at you as you walk the nave of St. John Lateran in Rome. St. Peter’s Basilica itself is dizzying in its proportions. Statues of saints and popes tower over us lesser humans.

The effect of these historical edifices, at least for me, is an “in your face” shout out to patriarchal leadership. If we, in the present, are standing on the shoulders of giants, then those shoulders are predominantly men. And they are GIANT…or at least their egos were.

sinners and saints

As history is read more critically, we learn that many of our saints were more sinner than than we realized. Our heroes were more scoundrel. The fact is that our public squares and worship spaces are filled with monuments to historical figures who have an odious past; who have no place in the public square. Their pasts were whitewashed by faithful scribes. Their looming presence chiseled in stone.

The question is what do we do with them?

Sometimes destruction is necessary for societal healing. Tearing down monuments of toppled tyrants and dictators can be both cathartic and necessary. The problem is, that one person’s tyrant can sometimes be another person’s hero. There is no easy answer.

education and dialogue

As with all controversies, education and dialogue is vital. The more heated the controversy, the more difficult it is to reach a consensus. Often, a consensus will never be reached. What to do?

One solution is to acknowledge the controversial past of the person or event with a plaque, or other educational method, explaining the controversy and encouraging dialogue and education.

Another positive action is to put money and resources into statues and monuments depicting those who have been denied a place in history,

  • Those who have been silenced.
  • Those who have been erased from history literally and/or metaphorically.
  • Those whose backs were broken to fill the purses and feed the egos of the “giants”.

Today, we are experiencing a resurgence of nativism, racism and white supremacy; evils that we thought were safely locked away in the annals of the past. We are watching, horrified, as history is repeating itself.

We cannot erase history. We must remember the evils of the past in order not to repeat the horrors in the present.


Here is an older blog post reflecting on the photo attached to this article…a woman in the the church






the end of american exceptionalism

As a Canadian, I have long been impatient and angered at American exceptionalism; the belief that America shines above all other countries. Chants of U…S…A!!! sound egotistical to those of us used to a more subdued nationalism. At its worst, the chants sound like a rallying war cry against the rest of the world.

I bristle whenever I hear the American president described as the “leader of the free world” or “the most powerful man on earth”. I live in a free country with its own leaders. I am a Canadian, not an American. With the recent election of Donald Trump, I want to shout ever more forcefully, “your president is NOT my president!”

Trump fed this need for superiority with promises to make America “great” again. He preached a nativism that too often morphed into racism. He promised to build walls to keep the unwanted out, and to take away basic freedoms from those who are already in. He vowed to make American interests a priority, regardless of global ramifications. A “great” America meant a pure America, embracing its God-given role as leader of the world.

The history of the Catholic church shows us the dark side of exceptionalism. The deep seated belief that Christianity was the only true religion, and the Church of Rome was the sole heir of this religion, paved the way for horrific inquisitions and disastrous crusades. Religious exceptionalism nourished a spirit of superiority while feeding the populace on a regular diet of fear and distrust of the “other”. It turned the church into a militant fortress focusing more on fighting heretics than dialoging with other people of goodwill.

Examples of the exceptionalist model of church can be found today in extreme right wing church leaders, blogs and movements. Their voices are loud, proud, and too often filled with hateful rhetoric. They are the “heresy hunters”, bullies seeking out all who dare question the church or who do not live up to their narrow version of Catholicism.

Others, myself included, have had our images of a perfect church shattered long ago. The sins of the church have been laid bare to the shame of us all. We might try to stand back and claim no responsibility for the scandals and abuses, but we were all part of an institution that demanded, and received, blind obedience to both its leaders and its doctrine.

But, we do not despair. When we hit rock bottom, we believe that hope lies in reform. We must work together to rebuild the church. We have a pope who now calls us to leave behind the fortress mentality and head into the streets and bring gospel values and actions into the world.

Perhaps this is the message for America. It is time to let go of your exceptionalist mentality. The sins of history are not sins of your past. Sadly, they continue to be the sins of the present. The U.S. boasts of equality and freedom, yet this election has exposed your divisions to the world.

We have stood by in shock watching a mud-slinging, racist, misogynistic, hate-filled man become your president. Of course, one evil man does not a country make. And yet, we couldn’t believe the crowds that rallied to his support, men and women cheering as their candidate thumbed his nose at political correctness and basic human decency. Rudeness and crudeness was given a green light. It’s going to take a lot of work to restore civility into public discourse.

While the victors rejoice, many believe that America has hit rock bottom. There is a sense of a Great Depression, emotionally and spiritually, spreading not only across the U.S. but across the world. There is an old adage that when the U.S. sneezes, Canada catches a cold. This whopper of a sneeze is being felt beyond North America.  Who knows how this virus will effect global politics, what epidemic it will bring?

I have little faith that President Trump will be any different than Businessman Trump or Candidate Trump. No, he will not make “America great again”.

It is time for America to face her historical and present day demons. It is time for honest introspection. It is time for reform. The reform might have to come outside of its bizarrely long, sinfully expensive and obviously flawed electoral process.

In moments of darkness, the light shines even brighter. Voices for dialogue, sanity, equality, justice and peace will not be silenced. They have just been handed a mandate to speak even louder. To challenge even more. To work ever harder.