lent, a looming conclave, and the sexual abuse crisis

Mea Maxima Culpa; Silence in the House of God

This year, the global church entered into Lent with the bombshell announcement of Pope Benedict’s abdication. The news over-shadowed all other church stories in the media – for a day or two. Papabile prognostications quickly replaced emotional commentaries and quickly drafted summaries and evaluations of Pope Benedict’s legacy.

John L. Allen Jr. has provided daily commentaries for the National Catholic Reporter. Allen is my favorite Vatican journalist and writer. He has an amazing depth of knowledge and the ear of many at the heart of the action. His respectful and balanced writing has obviously won him the respect of many in Rome. Besides keeping us updated on the latest details of the transition period, Allen has been writing daily essays on each of the Cardinals who are considered possible contenders to don the papal whites. The essays are valuable, as he points out the positive and negative qualities (real or perceived) of each candidate.

Perhaps because we aren’t wrapped up in mourning the death of a pope, more attention is being made on vetting the cardinals in the public forum. This is a good thing. With transparency and honesty, though, comes a realization there is no perfect person to step into the shoes of Peter. The sexual abuse scandal continues to make international head-lines with new revelations each day.

Should Cardinal Roger Mahony, former Archbishop of Los Angeles, be allowed to participate in the conclave after court documents were released showing his role in the cover-up of abuse cases?

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, was deposed Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by clergy sex abuse victims. He was called to testify over his management of priests in the Milwaukee archdiocese, which he led from 2002-2009.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana was highlighted as the Papabile of the day by John Allen on Tuesday. By the afternoon, his remarks during an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN were making headlines. He told Amanpour that the sexual abuse crisis has not reached his country because, “African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency. Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society.” As the lid is blown off the abuse crisis around the world, his denial is either naïve or dangerously ignorant.

Hubby and I sat and watched Mea Maxima Culpa this past weekend. It was a difficult documentary to watch. The only thing worse than the ongoing abuse perpetrated by these most unholy of priests, was the institutional denial and cover-up from bishops and the highest offices in the Vatican. Sadly, the smoking gun too often pointed to the desk of the current Pope.

Perhaps this is the true Lenten penance of our church; to finally face head-on the reality of a scandal so evil and so far reaching. As the College of Cardinals prepares to elect the pope, it is a reality that can no longer be ignored. The people of God demand that justice be done. We must have a pope with a proven record of standing on the side of the victims, not on upholding the pure image of the church. Is there such a man?

Here is a short piece I wrote for the NCR Today blog.

reality and a 5 minute retreat

The international clerical sexual abuse and cover-up scandals are again making Catholic news head-lines this week. Signs of progress are coming from an Abuse Summit taking place at the Vatican. From heart-wrenching personal witnesses by victims, to public penitential prayers, to acknowledgement of the accountability of both bishops and priests; there is hope that eyes are being opened and denials will no longer be accepted. John Allen’s daily reports over at the National Catholic Reporter give an insightful commentary on the summit proceedings.

Another NCR article chronicles a well-known story of massive cover-up and re-victimization of the abused not just by the offending clergy, but by their own families and parishes. Clerical power thwarts victims in Poland is a difficult article to read. I found my heart racing, and my body filling with angry tension. This is the country of my heritage with a culture of devoted Catholics, colorful pilgrimages, and love for the Blessed Mother. Yet, it is also the Church that angered my grand-father decades ago for its clericalism and greed.

By now, we know that our Church consists of sinners and saints. We cannot run from the reality of evil, for it must be faced and eradicated. But we also need to be nurtured and reminded of the existence of a loving God. We need to be reminded that we are beloved by God. And, we need to be reminded that we are loved by others. This is especially true for those who have been so deeply hurt and wounded.

I began my daily online reading with an uplifting piece from Sandy Prather’s column, Breaking Open the Ordinary in the Prairie Messenger. It raised my spirits, and I returned to it again after the depressing reading later in the day. If you can, take some time to read the entire reflection. It makes for a wonderful 5 minute retreat…

We likely will never have the actual experience of clouds parting and seeing the Holy Spirit descending like a dove upon us, but each of us needs to hear at least once in our life the spoken words: “You are the beloved; in you I am well pleased.” As disciples of Jesus, we carry the message to each other: God delights in you. It is to be affirmed into life.

more bishops in the news

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.