If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. 1 Cor 13
Nothing in my own background or education equipped me to deal with this grave problem. Cardinal Roger Mahony February 1, 2013
The day after the unfolding saga of Cardinal Roger’s Mahony’s shielding and shuffling around of predatory priests gets front page media attention, and on the eve of the HBO documentary Mea Maxima Culpa, I yearn for something substantive from the Sunday homily. Religious bromides will not suffice. Hearty exhortations ring hollow.
People in the pews need words that reflect a measure of awareness of how deeply the foundations of trust have been shaken in our church. Over the familiar assertions that “we are all children of God,” and “temples of the Holy Spirit” we can hear only too clearly in our heads the cries of the little ones who have been grievously harmed.
It is astonishing to read Cardinal Mahony’s explanation that “nothing in his background” prepared him to respond to knowledge of real crimes against children. The Cardinal might have found some spiritual guidance in Matthew 18. And he would have found plenty of civil guidance in the law. Even if he appears to have been at a loss as to how to act as a person of faith, was it too much to expect that he would know what to do as a civic citizen when faced with, not one act, but a pattern of heinous crimes against children? This was not some bureaucratic conundrum. This was a crime.
We need to keep saying that—“these were crimes”— loud enough for Rome to hear. Because Rome knew all about these crimes. In detail. And did nothing—except protect the predators and their patrons.
Faithful priests like Fr. Roy Bourgeois have been cast out. Prominent theologians, politicians with courage to legislate against the tide of regressive church teaching and nuns breaking new ground in how we understand and live our faith have been investigated, publicly castigated, excommunicated. Meanwhile, those who have perpetrated and facilitated through their silence and active cover-ups, the ongoing abuse of children, including children made especially vulnerable because of disability or poverty, continue to occupy their positions as “ordained” religious.
How are the people in the pews to make sense of these flagrant double standards?
It would help if we heard how those ordained to celebrate the Eucharist make sense of it themselves. It is not enough to simply say sexual abuse happens everywhere.
Other institutions of similar sin and scandal are not founded on the premise that they are there to light a path to virtue. The Catholic Church asserts that it is.
The Church has devoted enormous energies to responding to “the silent scream” of the fertilized egg in a woman’s womb through its campaigns against abortion and its obsession with denying contraception to women who desperately need it. But it appears to have been deaf to the very real screams of children and women already in our midst.
Millions of lay Catholics have chosen to leave a church whose integrity as an institution has been so deeply damaged. Others, still reeling from the revelations of the systemic hypocrisy of the establishment Church, remain. Many cope by continuing to maintain a polite silence in the face of platitudes while drawing sustenance from the Eucharist.
Perhaps a loud enough chorus of dissent will someday usher in real, not cosmetic change. Is it time to center our faith amongst all those who have been forced out? Because the pronouncements of the Catholic Church, as represented by Rome and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, increasingly sound like the din of gongs and clashing cymbals.
Are we in the pews being called with greater urgency than ever to do our part to nurture the mystical heart of Catholicism, not its material manifestations? Because in that mystical heart, not in the man-made power structure that has evolved around it, beats a world beyond our capacity to fully comprehend, but which animates our souls.
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