What a sad, sad, parade of powerful men making the news. Their predatory behavior is damning enough. But the behavior of each one also speaks to a spiritual and emotional deafness to those in whose midst each man built his life. Perhaps it is that deafness that explains their serial sins and their apparent inability to understand why their actions dehumanize them and those around them.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF until his resignation this week, in his words, to “protect the institution he has served with honor and devotion.” Deaf to the dignity of the daughter he was reportedly meeting in New York and the many professional women who worked with him in an institution that told nations how they should curb their excesses and behave with restraint.
Bishop Vangheluwe, former Bishop of Bruges and unembarrassed guest on Flemish television in April, recounting the “little bit of intimacy” and the “kind of game” he played with his nephews. Deaf to the voices of the nephews he molested for years while the church in which he wielded power told lay Catholics, and women in particular, how to manage their sexuality and be “pro-life.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor and former Governor of California. Deaf to the voices of the family he showcased and the second family he hid in plain sight even as he told Californians he was going to sweep government clean. What did the son in his satellite family hear from this public official who touted the importance of parental attention to their children’s homework?
Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity, Yale. Demonstrated their deafness by chanting “no means yes, yes means anal” at an initiation event in fall 2010. The fraternity has just been suspended for five years. Yale University itself is being investigated for violating Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination, violence, and harassment.
Monsignor William Lynn, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia. Deaf to the cries of clerical sexual abuse victims. Deaf to their own public pledge enshrined in the charter posted on the website of the US Conference of Bishops to keep children safe. They assured the world that they were mindful of Christ’s warning that it would be better for anyone who harmed a child to “have a great millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6). Yet these men in high places in the Church shielded predatory priests for years after their crimes were made known. Whose voices were they listening to? Not that of the “Spirit of the Lord” they invoked in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
And then there is each of us: deaf, as we all are from time to time, to the inner voices that should keep us from allowing our skills and our trades – marketing, the law, journalism, public service, discipleship – to be used to advance other people’s lusts. Or our own. Deaf to the voice that says being paid for our services to advance an agenda we believe to be counter to the public interest does not make it right.
The struggle to live authentic lives requires us to shine the light of honor, the power of high office, professional competence, and faith, if we have it, on all the private and public corners of our messy lives. Doing so should allow us to stand in that light, not cause us to shrink into the shadows in shame. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s also what makes us human.